Monday, October 17, 2005

...and we're back to the madness

After two nights spent in Kyungju, I wonder whether I've been living in the wrong city. Except for the disgustingly high taxi fares and the impenetrable pronunciation of the locals, Kyungju has a lot to offer to people interested in both Buddhism and quiet.

Here's a quick rundown of some places we visited, thanks to our intrepid taxi driver, Mr. Kim:

1. Kyungju National Museum

2. Anapji, which features reconstructed Shilla-era buildings and a model of a palace that used to stand there. The main feature is, of course, the pond, which contains a large number of fat, happy crap-- uh, carp.

3. Bulguk-sa (bizarrely popular non-Zen temple)

4. Seokguram (the grotto with the big honkin' Buddha in it)

5. Weolseong Janghangnisaji Seo O-ch'eung Seok-t'ap (this was a five-storey pagoda that was accessible only by a rather steep-- if brief-- hike)

6. Kirim-sa (ki-lim-sa, not kil-im-sa), a much nicer, quieter temple than Bulguk-sa, where I also bought a fantastic Dalma-do (will scan it in and display it later).

7. Geolgul-sa, a mountain temple that features a musul-daehak, or martial arts college. People from around the world study there, primarily learning the art of Seon Mudo, or the Zen Martial Way. I snapped some shots of the scary hanja proverbs inside one of the training halls, stuff like: Martial Mind, Zen Mind, and Zen and Combat* are Not Two.

While at Geolgul-sa, we also visited some Buddhist shrines (our cabbie was a Buddhist, so he may have had a personal interest in doing this). They were quite high up, and it was getting dark. Part of the climb involved using ropes, and we even had to crawl through a strangely placed hole in the rock at one point. Great experience, but not recommended for the acrophobic.

8. Kam-eun Saji, a pair of pagodas, one of which, if I remember correctly, was the legendary entry point for the dragon-spirit of King Mumun. The king's son built tunnels to allow the dragon to pass in and out of the grounds to continue to survey the kingdom-- something the king had promised to do even after his death.

9. King Mumun's watery grave rounded out our whirldwind tour. By the time we reached the beach, it was quite dark, but Dad took some shots of the grave all the same, and I think they came out all right. There's some controversy over whether the king's remains (ashes?) are actually buried there. Dad's shot of the grave, which lies a bit offshore, was probably aided by the bright lights of the squid boats floating out near the horizon.

Our driver was a wealth of information about the Three Kingdoms and Unified Shilla period, though I think Mom got more out of the narration than I did. It was too bad that we had to rush around so much (I'm never a fan of rushed tours, preferring to explore independently and at my own pace), but it was great to learn about some places I'd never visited before. Kirim-sa in particular deserves another, deeper visit.

Tonight I'm planning to upload my photos and maybe blog a few. The parents will, I hope, allow me to upload their photos as well (perhaps not all 300-some of them; maybe just a few dozen), and those photos will be featured on the blog over the next few days.

Stay tuned.

*The proverb's hanja reads seon mu bul i, or "Zen [Fighting] Not Two." The mu character, pronounced "wu" in Chinese and "bu" in Japanese, translates roughly as "fighting" or "combat" or "war." The latter meaning is why the Sino-Korean mu-sul (wushu in Chinese and bujitsu in Japanese) is rendered in English as "martial art(s)." It seemed wrong, however, to translate the proverb as "Zen and War are One." That might send the wrong message. I'm tempted, in cases where one sees the Chinese phrase bul-i (not-two), to treat the phrase as a sort of equal sign-- e.g., rendering seon mu bul i as "Combat is Zen." This would be even sloppier, though, than my current rendering, because the "not-two-ness" of bul-i signifies nondualism, not identity or unity.

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