Posted by: C. Cali Martin | October 9, 2009

Chuseok Weekend: Gyeongju

Punhwangsa Pagoda

Punhwangsa Pagoda

Chuseok: Korean Thanksgiving holiday honoring the full-moon harvest and ancestors. As a result, we had a three-day weekend (asa!). I recently discovered my best friend’s brother’s fraternity brother’s high school friend (oh yes, I went there) is teaching in Ilsan, a town northwest of Seoul. I’ve met him before three years ago; it was a good weekend, so he decided to come visit Daegu for the weekend. Since we don’t have family here, this was the closest thing to it. For both us, this is the first time we have met someone in Korea whom we have met before in the States (albeit it was a brief weekend three years ago). We had a wonderful time, exploring Jisan, downtown Daegu, and Gyeongju together. It was a very relaxing weekend, but also rather productive. His Korean is exponentially better than mine, so between my knowledge of Daegu and his Korean, we only managed to get lost once.

On Saturday, we took a lazy journey to Gyeongju, which is a small traditional town about an hour southwest of Daegu. We nabbed a map and started off in a random direction just hoping to encounter something on the way. We did, however, make one temple our goal: Punhwangsa. On the way, we meandered quite a bit, though it was a more than pleasant stroll around Gyeongju. The temple itself wasn’t much to sneeze at, but the three-story pagoda was a gem. It was originally built in 834CE as a seven-to-eight-story pagoda, but was destroyed by the Japanese (go figure) in 1915. In the 1980’s, it was restored using the same bricks to build the current three-story pagoda. There are four entrances with four lions posted on each of the corners. All in all, it was a very beautiful pagoda, temple, and environment. We planned to return to the bus station and navigate to a park nearby and grab some of the famous mountain bibimbap, so consulted the map. That bloody map. It was our undoing! After walking the better part of an hour and retracing our steps, my friend works up the courage to ask a Korean family piling into their car. Lo, and behold! This amazing, sweet, kindhearted Korean family offers these disheveled Waeguks a ride to downtown (near the bus station)! I will probably never forget the kindness of this family – it was not the mere act of offering us a ride (I have found that the majority of Koreans are incredibly sweet and helpful), but just the experience in itself. Come to find out, they are not from Gyeongju; Chuseok is a very traditional and special holiday; being foreigners, it’s not always easy to find someone that can help; their attempt at English was so earnest and heartfelt. After dropping us off downtown, we ambled along scavenging for food. Instead of finding the elusive bibimbap we had our hearts set on, we settled for… McDonald’s. Yes. We just chalked it up to Chuseok and the fact that nearly every traditional Korean shop was closed. Oh well – there is always next time!

Beautiful Korean Countryside @ Gyeongju

Beautiful Korean Countryside @ Gyeongju

Sunday, we had a big, late lunch and settled in for a walk around Jisan. After a while, we found a playground in front of a school where my friend played soccer with some little Korean kids. One even had a mullet! Yes, they exist in Korea. Monday, we visited Seomun Market, a traditional market in Daegu. It was just like any Asian outdoor market you could imagine: vendors lined up on both sides of a small alley purveying their wares. There was a food section (millions of dried fish of varying sizes at every stand!), the bedding and linen section (Daegu is known for it’s enormous textile industry), the shoes section, and of course the “name brand clothing” section. Apparently there are no copyright laws in Korea, so it’s certainly possible to find a pair of Adidas track pants for 5,000Won (less than $5). What a deal! We saw Polo shirts, The North Face jackets, Coach bags, and Chuck Taylors (HUGE over here). It was definitely a sight to behold! There was, however, a most disturbing sight: as we were walking down one of alleys, we stumbled upon a few stands that had set up cages full of chickens. In some cages there were easily 10 big chickens in a smallish cage. The worst: one cage held three small puppies… I have a hard time imagining that these poor pups were being sold as food even though the Koreans do still eat dogs. I have been told various stories about dog meat: one is that they only eat dogs that are disabled in some way (mentally retarded, physically disabled, what have you); another is that they sell dogs like this in the markets for food. I am more inclined to believe the first; however, it is not my culture and therefore, I do not understand. All I know is that I was a snap away from buying the little white one as a pet… I am still contemplating it…

Overall, it was a great weekend! Very relaxing, yet productive. The rest of this month will prove to be rather boring, I’m afraid. I have a teacher’s workshop in Seoul Saturday the 17th, but will be spending the next two weeks working on homework due next weekend. Fun. Fun. It’s turning cold, so who really wants to be outside anyway?

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