Friday, August 03, 2007

back (early) from the mountain

Sperwer out-hiked me again. The man's got drive. Today was humid, though not quite as miserably humid as last night, but I still found myself quickly winded and needing rest breaks. I'm pretty sure this has less to do with cardio than it does with strength: my hikes up Namsan now include stairs, but I don't do the stairs every single time. Sperwer thinks I need to devote some of my gym time to squats. I may take him up on that. (Max, have you got a good leg- and back-strengthening regimen?)

We went up a different path this time, one leading up to a temple called Seung Ga Sa. At first, the signs for the temple were in hangeul, so I didn't know the hanja (Sino-Korean characters) for "Seung Ga." I guessed that seung would either be "monk" (the Korean word seu-nim is derived from the Sino-Korean seung (or seu-seung) or "vehicle," as in dae seung, so seung (Greater Vehicle and Lesser Vehicle, i.e., Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism). I had no idea what the ga would be; my guess-- admittedly a bad one-- was "family" (as in the Sino-Korean gajok, family). I couldn't think of another ga.

It turns out that I was right about seung but wrong about ga. As we neared the temple, hanja began to appear and it wasn't long before I saw the three characters representing the temple's name. The ga wasn't a character I recognized. Now that I'm home after having partaken yet again of Sperwer's hospitality (our rib-sticking brunch was eggs and Canadian bacon; Sperwer has to avoid carbs on his regimen), I see that the online dictionary has this to say:

승가사 僧伽寺

僧伽 seung-ga = Buddhist priest
寺 sa = temple

The 伽/ga character all by itself means several things, including "temple."

The temple is actually a nunnery, and it's quite a beautiful place. The grounds aren't large, but you do have to climb a lot of steps to see the sights, including the bell tower, the dharma hall, and way at the top, the seok-bul (stone Buddha), which is centuries old. A 20-something lady was meditating in front of the seok-bul. (Picture here. While on that page, click a photo to start a slide show, and you can see the 108 [plus some] steps leading up to the stone Buddha.)

Some nuns told me I needed to hike to the top of Bukhansan on a day like today, but I demurred, saying I had no strength left. "You should try, anyway!" they said. I ended up wussing out and going back down the mountain.

Our path back down was a road, which was both good and bad. Being a road, it was easily navigable-- no weird rocks or roots to step over, no strange curves in the path that mislead you into thinking you're done when in fact you've barely started. But the road also had a relentless downhill tilt which made my feet slide forward inside my boots, jamming my toes into the boots' fronts. We joked that the walk uphill along that road would have been murder.

The total time for this hike was only three hours-- half the duration of previous Bukhansan hikes. My boots, newly repaired, held up well, and as I was wearing sweatpants, there was no embarrassing rippage to report. Sperwer's on a trip next week, so I might tackle the mountain alone again on that Friday.

For the moment, though, it's just a relief to kick back and relax.


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