Archive for May, 2010


Friday, May 28:   Today, I venture out on over an hour-long train ride to Daegu Arboretum.  When I finally arrive, I enjoy a long walk around the grounds, taking pictures of the lovely greenery.

Daegu Arboretum was built on a sanitary landfill. It is home to more than 1,000 species of plants including giant cacti, flowers, medicinal herbs, and trees. In addition, the facility regularly holds ecology experience programs for students and young children. Meanwhile, Daegu Arboretum has been recognized as an excellent model of ecosystem restoration (Visit Korea: Daegu Arboretum).

at Daegu Arboretum

at Daegu Arboretum

at Daegu Arboretum

at Daegu Arboretum

at Daegu Arboretum

at Daegu Arboretum

at Daegu Arboretum

at Daegu Arboretum

at Daegu Arboretum

at Daegu Arboretum

me at Daegu Arboretum

me at Daegu Arboretum

heart-shaped leaves at at Daegu Arboretum

heart-shaped leaves at Daegu Arboretum

at Daegu Arboretum

at Daegu Arboretum

pond at Daegu Arboretum

pond at Daegu Arboretum

pond at Daegu Arboretum

pond at Daegu Arboretum

pond at Daegu Arboretum

pond at Daegu Arboretum

at Daegu Arboretum

at Daegu Arboretum

After my long trek to and around the Arboretum, I make my way slowly back my apartment near Keimyung University, where I’m too exhausted to do anything the rest of the day.

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Thursday, May 20: Buddha’s birthday was cause for celebration in teaching circles as we got our first official holiday from school!!  I took advantage of the three-day weekend by traveling to Seoul for the first time… all alone.  It was the first time I’ve traveled alone in Korea…in fact I think it was the first time I ever traveled alone period.  And I found it incredibly depressing.  During the dreary weekend, I decided definitively to stop calling Ahmed, and though the decision took a huge burden off of me, it also felt hauntingly lonely.  Frankly, it ruined Seoul for me.

In essence, Buddha deserted me.  On his birthday, no less.  Funny, back in April I had hiked up the mountain to make a wish to Gatbawi, the Buddha with the flat hat.  I don’t see any harm in telling my wish, because now it certainly will never come true.  I wished wholeheartedly (apparently wholeheartedness is required if Gatbawi is to grant your wish) that Ahmed S would be lovingly with me for my life.  That was the way I worded it.  I wanted him to be with me, though not to necessarily marry me, and to love me, as long as I was alive.

I had spent an amazing 4 days with Ahmed in Egypt on my way to Korea.  But when I arrived in Korea, I posted the pictures I had taken of us in Egypt on Facebook.

Ahmed and me in Cairo - February 2010

Ahmed and me in Cairo – February 2010

Right away, I discovered he had hidden them on his page.  I went ballistic on him, accusing him of having ulterior motives with me… I accused him of trying to get citizenship to the US,  or wanting me for some reason other than that he liked me.  He didn’t really have an answer for me as to why he hid the pictures, but instead was furious that I doubted him and said I would never understand that by questioning him, his pride was at stake.  He said I could never just believe that he liked me from the beginning.  And then he told me he needed some space from me and he would talk to me at some unknown future date.

I suffered a lot in March over this.  I liked Ahmed immensely and believed him to be a good man.  I foolishly continued to call him about once a week, just to touch base, while also giving him the space he asked for.  Meanwhile he was taking a series of exams for his Master’s degree and said we would start talking regularly after the exams were over in mid-April.   I talked to him once a week by phone and finally, after giving it much alleged thought, he said he DID want me in my life.  He just wanted me to give him time to finish his exams.

So I continued this agony of calling him once a week through April, when his exams were over.  It was difficult to reach him as he works every day except Friday in the hospital and clinic from 8 am to 11 pm.  Between the time difference and the fact that when I called he was often with patients, he wouldn’t answer many times.  This caused me incredible anxiety, because when I called I feared he would never answer me and in fact never talk to me again.

Finally, on Thursday night, May 20, before I was to leave for Seoul Friday morning, I spoke to Ahmed by phone and had a nice conversation.  He said he was excited about my upcoming trip to Cairo, for which I had already bought my plane tickets.  I told him I was going to Seoul and he said, oh, so we won’t be able to talk on my day off – Friday?  I said, well, I suppose I could get online but since I’ll be in a hotel, I’ll have to go to an internet cafe.  So if I get online, you really need to be there at 5:00 your time.  He said, well, call me first and I’ll tell you if I can get online.  Then we can chat.

Friday, May 21: So, on Friday, I took the 4-hour train to Seoul.  I arrived and checked into my hotel, then took off to visit the palaces.  I first went to the most famous palace, Gyeongbok-Gung, the Palace of Shining Happiness, built in 1394.  The palace was really disappointing to me; it wasn’t really interesting and seemed in a sad state.  It was also incredibly hot and I felt really alone.  There was a nice pond and some gardens that offered some respite, but overall, I was not impressed.

Gyeongbok-Gung Palace

Gyeongbok-Gung Palace

Pavilion at Gyeongbok-Gung

Pavilion at Gyeongbok-Gung

Pond at Gyeongbok-Gung

Pond at Gyeongbok-Gung

A pretty garden at Gyeongbok-Gung

A pretty garden at Gyeongbok-Gung

Garden and arbor at Gyeongbok-Gung

Garden and arbor at Gyeongbok-Gung

Arboretum at Gyeongbok-Gung

Arboretum at Gyeongbok-Gung

Pond at Gyeongbok-Gung

Pond at Gyeongbok-Gung

Next I went to Changgyeong-Gung Palace (Palace of Bright Rejoicing), originally built as a summer palace by Goryeo Dynasty King Sukjong in 1104.  Again, I found this disappointing, except for one lovely pond with a pavilion.  Everywhere I looked I saw couples and happy families.  I wanted to have a few pictures of myself taken at some spots, but I couldn’t find people who seemed open to taking one for me.  I was hot and alone and tired.

Changgyeong-Gung

Changgyeong-Gung

Changgyeong-Gung

Changgyeong-Gung

Changgyeong-Gung

Changgyeong-Gung

Changgyeong-Gung

Changgyeong-Gung

Pavilion at Changgyeong-Gung

Pavilion at Changgyeong-Gung

Pond and pavilion at Changgyeong-Gung

Pond and pavilion at Changgyeong-Gung

Changgyeong-Gung

Changgyeong-Gung

Lonely me at Changgyeong-Gung Palace in Seoul

Lonely me at Changgyeong-Gung Palace in Seoul

I sat in a little restaurant and had a pomegranate juice and watched all the people.  Everyone was with someone else; it seemed I was the only one alone in the world.  I felt anxious about having to get online to meet Ahmed, because I had a feeling that once again he would let me down.  I wished I had told him I would just talk to him when I returned home to Daegu, instead of having it hanging over my head to try to meet him online and then have him not show up.

Anyway, after wandering about the palace for a while longer, I finally made my way to the National Folk Museum of Korea.  There I found on the grounds some cool statues that I photographed.  I enjoyed this place most of all because I found the statues really cool.  The grounds were lovely and shaded.  I went into the actual museum only to promptly turn around and walk out because it wasn’t air-conditioned.

National Folk Museum of Korea

National Folk Museum of Korea

National Folk Museum of Korea

National Folk Museum of Korea

me at the National Folk Museum of Korea

me at the National Folk Museum of Korea

National Folk Museum of Korea

National Folk Museum of Korea

National Folk Museum of Korea

National Folk Museum of Korea

After leaving the Folk Museum, I headed to Seoul Tower to try to see the view of Seoul. On the way to the Tower, I happened upon the Ganghwamun Lantern Exhibition.

Ganghwamun Lantern Exhibition

Ganghwamun Lantern Exhibition

Ganghwamun Lantern Exhibition

Ganghwamun Lantern Exhibition

Ganghwamun Lantern Exhibition

Ganghwamun Lantern Exhibition

Ganghwamun Lantern Exhibition

Ganghwamun Lantern Exhibition

Ganghwamun Lantern Exhibition

Ganghwamun Lantern Exhibition

Ganghwamun Lantern Exhibition

Ganghwamun Lantern Exhibition

Ganghwamun Lantern Exhibition

Ganghwamun Lantern Exhibition

Lanterns from the previous weekend's lantern festival

Lanterns from the previous weekend’s lantern festival

When I finally arrived at Seoul Tower, the line to the cable car was two hours long!!  Instead, I went to a pasta restaurant and had a horrible pasta dish with chewy hunks of clams and some strange mushrooms.

I went to my hotel after dinner, got comfy and watched TV for a while, waiting till 11 pm when I would try to call Ahmed.  I felt so anxious and wished I hadn’t told him I would talk to him.  Sure enough, when 11 rolled around, I called and he didn’t pick up.  I called again two more times and no answer.  Finally, furious at him for making a plan to meet me online and then not showing up for the appointment, I quit calling and went to sleep.

Saturday, May 22:  The next day I spent shopping.  I went first to Itaewon which is supposed to be geared to American soldiers and foreigners.  I didn’t find anything of interest there.  I went next to Insa-Dong and found nothing there.  Finally, I went to Dongdae-Mun Market, the largest general market in the country.  I have never seen so much ugly stuff in my entire life!  I finally found a decent department store, but when I saw several things I liked, the salespeople refused to let me try them on.  In one case, I really wanted to try on a cute green shirt.  I asked to try it on and the saleswoman vehemently refused.  By then I was sick of this attitude and I said, “Why?  How do you expect me to buy something without trying it on?”  She said, “My English not good.” And she grabbed the shirt away from me and put it back on the rack.  I went over to the rack and started to unbutton the shirt to try it on over my shirt.  She came over an grabbed it away from me.  I said again, Why can’t I try it on?  Why?  I can’t buy something without trying it!!”  She said again, no English!  I said, You know what?  You’re a BITCH!  Do you understand THAT English word?  She clearly did, as her face registered extreme shock!

Later that night, I tried to call Ahmed again.  He had given me a general rule that if I called while he was at work, if he didn’t answer it meant he was with a patient and I should try back in a half hour.  I did this 4 times and he never picked up!  I never have understood why he could never just pick up the phone and tell me he couldn’t talk and I should call him back at such-and-such a time.  After these four attempts, I gave up and felt a relief that I’d decided not to call anymore that night.  It came to my mind then that in order to erase all such anxiety from my life, I should just stop calling him altogether.  He had never contacted me once since I arrived in Korea; it was always me doing the contacting.  Before I met him, he had made all the contacts online.  But after, it was always me.

Sunday, May 23:  As Sunday came, I slowly resolved never to call Ahmed again.  I knew with absolute certainty that if I stopped calling him, he would never contact me.  I FINALLY understood, deep in my heart, that he didn’t care for me at all.  I could no longer continue to deceive myself about this.  And deceiving myself all this time is exactly what I had been doing.

I checked out of the hotel and went in the rain to the Han River to take a cruise.  It was such a dreary day, and though I felt a sense of relief that I’d made this decision about Ahmed, I also felt incredibly sad.  I knew he didn’t care for me, and that hurt pervaded all my being.  The clouds and the rain during the Han River cruise only echoed my deepest feelings of loneliness.

The park by the Han River

The park by the Han River

Park by the Han River

Park by the Han River

Gardens near the Han River

Gardens near the Han River

Han River

Han River

Cruise boat down the Han River

Cruise boat down the Han River

Han River views

Han River views

Han River views

Han River views

Lonely on the Han River

Lonely on the Han River

During the cruise, an older Tunisian man with extremely bad teeth made sad attempts to flirt with me.  I thought, this is what it’s come to.  I can only attract men now who are old and have bad teeth.  I felt even more depressed at this sad state of affairs.

Han River views

Han River views

Han River views

Han River views

I left the cruise and went to see Jogye-Sa Temple, the only major temple right in the heart of Seoul.  Neither ancient or historic, it’s the HQ of the Jogye sect of Korean Buddhism.  The main hall is one of the largest temple halls in Seoul and it has beautiful carved lattice-work designs on the front doors.  Inside, set on a pedestal and seated on a cushion, a large gilt image of the Seokgamoni Buddha is flanked by two other statues.  A 7-tier stone pagoda sits in the courtyard, supposedly housing relics of the historical Buddha brought here by a Sri Lankan monk in 1914.

Entrance to Jogye-Sa Temple

Entrance to Jogye-Sa Temple

Jogye-Sa Temple

Jogye-Sa Temple

Jogye-Sa Temple

Jogye-Sa Temple

Colorful Jogye-Sa Temple

Colorful Jogye-Sa Temple

Carved door at Jogye-Sa Temple

Carved door at Jogye-Sa Temple

Buddhas at Jogye-Sa Temple

Buddhas at Jogye-Sa Temple

The Buddha at Jogye-Sa: He deserted me:-(

The Buddha at Jogye-Sa: He deserted me:-(

I rushed from the Temple to Seoul station and caught the slow train back to Daegu.  I felt absolutely certain I would never call Ahmed again.  I had mixed feelings, including relief at finally being able to rid myself of all the anxiety I had felt over him for 3 months.  I felt bitter that I had let him ruin my first 3 months here in Korea, an especially difficult time anyway.  But I also felt sad that what I felt for him was all in vain.  I felt that all the love I’d been sending his way all these months had just evaporated into cyber-space.  Plainly, I felt alone and wondering about where I belong in this world.

Later in the week, I removed his number from my phone.  I took the tags off of the pictures from Egypt so that my photos would no longer appear on his page.  Then I deleted him from Facebook, from Skype, and from Yahoo messenger.

 

Thursday, May 27:  I wrote Ahmed a final email:  In the subject line, I wrote: Now I know…

I’m sorry Ahmed.  I just can’t bear to make one more phone call to you and have you not pick up.  I was in love with you….I was from the beginning and still am.  But it has become so obvious to me that you don’t care about me.   Since I’ve come to Korea, you have made absolutely no effort with me.  Your actions speak louder than all the words you can ever say. 
 
I am hurt beyond what I can say.  But I can no longer deceive myself that you care anything for me.  I just wish you had told me this directly instead of just avoiding me when I called and making absolutely no effort whatsoever.  I don’t know what I ever did to deserve this kind of treatment from you.  I have always been kind and giving to you and all I ever did wrong was to love you.
 
Anyway, I will miss you.  Take care,
Cathy

DONE!  I’ve erased him from my life.  Now how do I get him out of my memory?  Only time, I fear will help….

May 20, 2010:  Soon after my arrival in Korea, on March 26, 2010, the Cheonan, a 1200-ton South Korean navy ship carrying 104 people, sank off the the country’s west coast near Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 seamen.  For more on the incident, see mail online: Korea tensions over claims that warship was sunk by torpedo.

The strange thing for me, newly arrived in Korea, was the Koreans’ nonchalance about the matter.  Most people I talked to, including my co-teachers Coffee J, Kim Dong Hee and Julie, all shrugged the incident off as inconsequential.  Of course, many of my fellow English teachers were a little worried about this confrontation and wondered if we had made a mistake coming to the peninsula.  When I asked Coffee J whether I should be worried, he shook his head and shrugged.  It’s normal, he said.  This kind of thing happens from time to time.  It’s nothing to worry about.

So, I went about my daily life, much like we do in the U.S. when a hurricane strikes or some other threat looms.  Life goes on and it did continue to do so for us in Korea.

Wednesday, May 19:  Today after school, Mr. O insists on taking me to see the Placenta Chamber of King Sejo the Great, about 14 km north of Seongju.  According to the Memorial Stone Tablet for the Placenta Chamber of King Sejo the Great: “In the 21st year of his reign, His Majesty King Sejong…ordered his royal servant to spot the auspicious ground for the placenta chambers of his many princes.  Subsequently, they were built on the ridge of Mt. Seonseok, 14 km north of Seongju.  Each chamber was marked with a memorial stone.  One of them was the placenta chamber of the reigning king with the stone tablet inscribed with ‘Placenta Chamber for Prince Suyang.'”

Though Mr. O means well, his English is atrocious, so I cannot understand anything he tells me about this place.  The only information I glean is from the stone tablet mentioned above and from the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea website.

Placenta Chambers

Placenta Chambers

The placenta jars of King Sejong’s 18 sons (legitimate and illegitimate) and grandson Danjong are buried in a group on the top of Taebong peak, just below Seonseoksan Mountain in Wolhang-myeon, Seongju-gun.

Of the 19 jars, 14 retain their original appearance but in the case of the five sons who opposed Sejo’s usurping the throne, their jars have been destroyed and only the large rectangular base stones carved with lotus leaves remain.

Placenta Chambers

Placenta Chambers

The placenta jars were placed here some time between 1438 (20th year of King Sejong) and 1442.

This site is also important for being the only one in Korea where the placenta jars of royal princes remain intact, and for showing changes in the way such structures were built during the transition from Goryeo to Joseon (Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea: Historic Site 444: Placenta Chamber of Princes of King Sejong in Seongju).

me with the Placenta Chambers

me with the Placenta Chambers

After visiting these bizarre placenta burial chambers, Mr. O takes me to see a traditional village.  There aren’t many of these left in Korea, as the country has been overtaken by bland high-rise apartment buildings to accommodate the huge population.

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

Traditional village near Seongju

me with a traditional Korean house

me with a traditional Korean house

the lanes in the traditional village

the lanes in the traditional village

This weekend is Buddha’s birthday weekend, and I’m planning a trip to Seoul for the 3-day weekend.  Though this is a lovely outing, I would have preferred not to do it this evening, as I need to pack for my trip.  But what can I do?  Mr. O had his mind set on this, and I didn’t care to insult him any more than I usually do.

Sunday, May 16:  Today, I go on a field trip with the teachers from Chojeon Elementary School to explore Palgongsan National Park.

Palgongsan Natural Park is centered around Palgongsan Mountain, one of the larger mountains (1.2km high) in the Taebaek mountain range. Palgongsan Mountain is located 20km northeast from downtown Daegu, where the Nakdonggang River and Geumhogang River meet. The mountain has three peaks in a row: Birobong Peak, in the center, with Dongbong and Seobong on either side.

The Chojeon Elementary School teachers beginning our day trip to Palgongsan National Park

The Chojeon Elementary School teachers beginning our day trip to Palgongsan National Park

The park has numerous rocks and valleys and is carpeted with azaleas in the spring. In the autumn many visitors flock to the park to admire the falls leaves on the trees lining the 16.3km-long road through the park (Visit Korea: Daegu > Dong-gu > Palgongsan National Park (Gatbawi District)).

Our first destination is the Bangjja Yugi Museum, at the foot of Palgongsan Mountain.  However, when we arrive, we find the museum is closed.  Oh well, so much for great planning.  This is the first museum in Korea to specialize in brass ware. The museum was founded with the goal of preserving the delicate art of Bangjja Yugi (Korean brass ware) and to educate future generations on the meticulous crafting process (Visit Korea: Daegu City Tours).

Since the museum is closed, we wander around the perimeter of the parking lot.  Here, we find two places that sell statues and sculptures. One of them sells normal statues like lions, Buddhas and other Korean-related things.

other rock sculptures

other rock sculptures

rock sculpture

rock sculpture

me with the rock sculptures

me with the rock sculptures

fun-loving rock sculptures

fun-loving rock sculptures

Coffee-J drinking his favorite beverage at the sculpture garden

Coffee-J drinking his favorite beverage at the sculpture garden

The other one has an array of penis-shaped statues. Some of them are a few meters tall!  My Korean co-teachers tell me that these phallic symbols are a great symbol of power and statues such as these are thought to offer protection from evil spirits.

phallic statues at Palgongsan National park

phallic statues at Palgongsan National park

statues at Palgongsan National Park, South Korea

statues at Palgongsan National Park, South Korea

more rock sculptures

more rock sculptures

the principal of Chojeon Elementary School, me and the sculptor who lives on site

the principal of Chojeon Elementary School, me and the sculptor who lives on site

Palgongsan Mountain is considered the center of Buddhist culture in Korea. The mountain offers plenty of things to see all year round thanks to the knots of trees and scenic rocks and valleys that cover the mountain. Treasured not only for its natural beauty, the mountain also hides within its folds a number of old temples and historic sites from the Silla Dynasty (57 BC – 935 AD) (Visit Korea: Daegu City Tours).

We take the Palgongsan Cable Car, which runs 1.2.km from the base of Palgongsan Mountain to an 800m elevation (Visit Korea: Palgongsan Cable Car).

the Palgongsan Cable Car

the Palgongsan Cable Car

views from the Palgongsan Cable Car

views from the Palgongsan Cable Car

Palgongsan Cable Car

Palgongsan Cable Car

At the top of the Palgongsan Cable Car

At the top of the Palgongsan Cable Car

me at the top of the cable car with two tall & skinny friends

me at the top of the cable car with two tall & skinny friends

me with a view of Mt. Palgong

me with a view of Mt. Palgong

Atop Mt. Palgong

Atop Mt. Palgongsan

atop Mt. Palgongsan

atop Mt. Palgongsan

We stop for some tea and snacks at the cable car restaurant.

some of my Korean co-teachers at the cable car restaurant

some of my Korean co-teachers at the cable car restaurant

more of my Korean co-teachers

more of my Korean co-teachers

Then we walk up to a Buddhist temple or hermitage, but I’m not sure which one it is as there are so many in these mountains.

Buddhist hermitage (?) all decked out for Buddha's birthday

Buddhist hermitage (?) all decked out for Buddha’s birthday

Colorful Buddhist hermitage

Colorful Buddhist hermitage

Buddhist hermitage

Buddhist hermitage

Coffee-J and a Buddhist pavilion

Coffee-J and a Buddhist pavilion

me and the Buddhist pavilion

me and the Buddhist pavilion

the Buddhist hermitage

the Buddhist hermitage

Finally, after our little day trip, we go to a Korean restaurant for a group dinner.   A fun full day on Mt. Palgongsan. 🙂

heading to a Korean restaurant for dinner

heading to a Korean restaurant for dinner

 

 

Saturday, May 15:  This morning we checked out of the Kolon Hotel, and Anna and Seth headed back to Daegu.  I decided to stay till later in the day so I could return to Bulguksa Temple and see a few more of Gyeongju’s amazing “cultural assets.”  I had seen a few things in the Bulguksa gift shop that I wanted to buy: a necklace and a beautiful painting.

me back at Bulguksa Temple

me back at Bulguksa Temple

Me at Bulguksa Temple

Me at Bulguksa Temple

I then headed to the Tumuli in Hwangnam-ri, built in the early Silla period.  The large tombs scattered throughout this park are wood-lined chamber tombs with stone mounds.  The small tombs do not have mounds at all.

Tumuli in Hwangnam-ri

Tumuli in Hwangnam-ri

The Royal Tomb of King Michu of Silla is a park with 20 large or small tombs from the Three Kingdoms Period.  Most of them have round earthen mounds, but there are double gourd-like mounds for the burial of a husband and wife.  In the center is the Tomb of King Michu, the 13th King of Silla.

Royal Tomb of King Michu of Silla

Royal Tomb of King Michu of Silla

Royal Tomb of King Michu of Silla

Royal Tomb of King Michu of Silla

Royal Tomb of King Michu of Silla

Royal Tomb of King Michu of Silla

Royal Tomb of King Michu of Silla

Royal Tomb of King Michu of Silla

pond at Tumuli in Hwangnam-ri

pond at Royal Tomb of King Michu of Silla

pond at Tumuli in Hwangnam-ri

pond at Royal Tomb of King Michu of Silla

pond at Tumuli in Hwangnam-ri

pond at Royal Tomb of King Michu of Silla

me in front of the pond

me in front of the pond

As I headed out of the park, I came across a little shack of a shop with this enticing sign.

Everything is very cheap!! Oh boy!

Everything is very cheap!! Oh boy!

And then as I headed to the bus station, I passed this little pond with running stallions.  I didn’t know the significance of this.

a pond with horses

a pond with horses

horse statues near the pond

horse statues near the pond

horses

horses

Finally, as I left the park, I saw wide open fields where kids were playing football.

field of dreams

field of dreams

I headed back on the bus to Daegu, where I relaxed for the rest of the weekend. 🙂

Friday, May 14:  On our third morning Anna, Seth and I went up to Bulguksa Temple; Myrna ended up joining us.  Construction of this temple was begun by Prime Minister Gin Dae-seong in 751, the 10th year of King Gyeongdeok, and was completed in 774, the 10th year of King Hyegong.  It served as a center of Silla Buddhism and of prayer for the protection of the country from foreign invasion.  Sadly, prayer didn’t save the temple as Japanese invaders burned it to the ground in 1593; it was finally restored in 1973.  In 1995, along with Seokguram grotto, the temple was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

a pond at the entrance to Bulguksa Temple

a pond at the entrance to Bulguksa Temple

Anna & Seth at Bulguksa Temple

Anna & Seth at Bulguksa Temple

me at Bulguksa Temple

me at Bulguksa Temple

at Bulguksa Temple

at Bulguksa Temple

Myrna with a drum at Bulguksa Temple

Myrna with a drum at Bulguksa Temple

Lanterns at Bulguksa Temple

Lanterns at Bulguksa Temple

Bulguksa Temple

Bulguksa Temple

Bulguksa Temple

Bulguksa Temple

Making wishes at Bulguksa Temple

Making wishes at Bulguksa Temple

Wishes at Bulguksa Temple

Wishes at Bulguksa Temple

Wishes at Bulguksa Temple

Wishes at Bulguksa Temple

me back at the entrance to Bulguksa Temple

me back at the entrance to Bulguksa Temple

With some strange company near the Bulguksa Temple entrance

With some strange company near the Bulguksa Temple entrance

After Bulguksa, we visited the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia, called Cheomseongdae.  It was built during the reign of Silla Queen Seondeok (reign: 632-647).  The bottle-shaped tower made of square granite stones stands on a square stone base.  Up to the 12th layer from the bottom,  this hollow tower was filled with soil and pebbles.  Between the 13th and 15th layer, there is a square opening through which an observer can ascend to the top.

Cheomseongdae

Cheomseongdae

Cheomseongdae

Cheomseongdae

Next to Cheomseongdae was a lovely field of green grass where families were out running around….such an idyllic scene, with a nice breeze and tombs and mountains in the background.

fields of green near Cheomseongdae

fields of green near Cheomseongdae

I also loved the strange Gyerim Forest, where apparently a baby king was found in a tree when people heard a rooster crowing.

the strange surreal Gyerim Forest

the strange surreal Gyerim Forest

Gyerim Forest

Gyerim Forest

me in Gyerim Forest

me in Gyerim Forest

Thursday, May 13:  This morning I went to the seminar, searching the room for Coffee J’s smiling face.  No sign of him.  I rang his phone and it was turned off.  An hour went by.  Another.  Finally, he showed up, with bright red face and reeking of soju!!  There were no further meetings with co-teachers and we were released at 1:00!  Coffee J and I parted ways, as I planned to stay in Gyeongju for the weekend to explore the innumerable “cultural assets” there.

Mr. Che, Seth’s co-teacher, drove us around Gyeongju to see several cultural assets, including: Three Royal Tombs in Bae-ri (tombs of 3 Silla dynasty kings).

map of Mt. Namsan and the royal tombs

map of Mt. Namsan and the royal tombs

 Three Royal Tombs in Bae-ri

Three Royal Tombs in Bae-ri

Me, Anna and Seth at Three Royal Tombs in Bae-ri

Me, Anna and Seth at Three Royal Tombs in Bae-ri

Seth, Anna and Mr. Che in the forest surrounding the tombs

Seth, Anna and Mr. Che in the forest surrounding the tombs

the forest around the Royal Tombs

the forest around the Royal Tombs

We then went to see the Poseok-Jeong site, or the royal playground, which we found fascinating because of the story: During banquets in the last days of the Silla kingdom, the king’s official and noble guests would sit along the watercourse chatting and reciting poetry while cups of wine floated past. One participant would start a poem, or propose a subject for a poem, and would then choose another of the group to finish it.  A cup of wine was floated down the channel.  If the cup arrived at the chosen person after the poem was completed, all was fine.  If not, he had to drink the wine to the last drop.

Queen Cathy and Princess Anna at Poseok-Jeong

Queen Cathy and Princess Anna at Poseok-Jeong

the water course at Poseok-Jeong

the water course at Poseok-Jeong

Poseok-Jeong, the royal playground

Poseok-Jeong, the royal playground

After this, Mr. Che took us to Oreung Royal Tombs, 5 tombs holding four kings and one queen.

Me, Seth and Anna at Oreung Royal Tombs

Me, Seth and Anna at Oreung Royal Tombs

Oreung Royal Tombs

Oreung Royal Tombs

Anna and Seth at Oreung Royal Tombs

Anna and Seth at Oreung Royal Tombs

on the grounds of Oreung Royal Tombs

on the grounds of Oreung Royal Tombs

at Oreung Royal Tombs

at Oreung Royal Tombs

Anna at Oreung Royal Tombs

Anna at Oreung Royal Tombs

Anna and Seth in the doorway of a temple at Oreung Royal Tombs

Anna and Seth in the doorway of a temple at Oreung Royal Tombs

Finally, we explored the Gyeongju National Museum.  Gyeongju National Museum has a history of about 90 years. Representing Gyeongju, which used to be the capital of Silla (BC57~AD935), the museum showcases the cultural history of Gyeongju district. Gukeun Memorial Hall exhibits 666 artifacts, which are the personal collection of Dr. Lee Yang-Seon, donated to the museum for preservation purposes. Artifacts from the great tombs of Gyeongju are exhibited:  golden crowns, crown ornaments, belts, earrings etc. Approximately 30,000 artifacts were excavated from Anapji Pond. The other galleries exhibit household goods. These various types of items show life in the Royal Court during the Silla Period (Visit Korea: Gyeongju National Museum).

In the outdoor exhibit Area, on the museum grounds, we see King Seongdeok’s Bell.  It’s the most renowned of Buddhist temple bells.  Buddhist sculptures make up the majority of the stone artifacts.

a huge bell at Gyeonju National Museum

King Seongdeok’s Bell at Gyeongju National Museum

Gyeonju National Museum

Geongju National Museum

on the grounds of Gyeonju National Museum

on the grounds of Gyeongju National Museum

Anna and Seth inside Gyeonju National Museum

Anna and Seth inside Gyeongju National Museum

On the grounds of the museum, we see a Standing Stone image of Avalokitesvara, which seems to have been made during the 8th century during the Unified Silla period.

Standing Stone Image of Avalokitesvara at Gyeonju National Museum

Standing Stone Image of Avalokitesvara at Gyeongju National Museum

We also come across a Standing Stone Buddha image.  Both Buddha and his halo were carved from one large piece of granite and it seems to also be from the mid-8th century.

Standing Stone Buddha image at Gyeonju National Museum

Standing Stone Buddha image at Gyeongju National Museum

Mr. Che took off after that, and Anna, Seth and I walked to Anapji Pond, a lovely spot built during King Munmu’s reign to hold banquets celebrating joyous occasions of the country.  This place had such a pleasant ambiance, created in part by quiet Buddhist music playing over loudspeakers interspersed through the park.

Anapji Pond

Anapji Pond

Anapji Pond

Anapji Pond

Anna and Seth at Anapji Pond

Anna and Seth at Anapji Pond

me at Anapji Pond

me at Anapji Pond

Anapji Pond

Anapji Pond

Anapji Pond

Anapji Pond

Anapji Pond

Anapji Pond

We were craving a margarita after this long day of sightseeing, so we went in search of one, only to end up in a Flintstones-looking restaurant where the waiters were incredibly snooty and the prices were outrageous.  We ended up having a glass of wine and then heading back to our lovely Kolon Hotel.

A little Flintstones-looking restaurant on Bomun Lake

A little Flintstones-looking restaurant on Bomun Lake

 

Wednesday, May 12:  Today, all EPIK teachers in Gyeongsangbuk-do province met in Gyeongju for a co-teaching seminar.  My co-teacher, Coffee J, told me a month earlier to put it on my calendar; however, a couple of days before the seminar he informed me he had to attend a number of business meetings elsewhere on Thursday of the seminar.  So, I hitched a ride with Myrna’s co-teacher, Mr. Smith, and several other teachers from the Seongju English Village, and we were on our merry way.  Thursday of the seminar was booked with meetings between the native English teachers and their Korean co-teachers, but I was left to fend for myself as Coffee-J was a no-show.  Everyone else seemed pleased with their co-teacher interactions, while I attended makeshift meetings for “those with no co-teachers.”

Thursday evening I went out with Jarrod and Virginia (& of course their co-teachers) to stroll around Bomun Lake and drink some beer and soju at water’s edge.  It was quite pleasant but a little chilly, so we went into a bar with other EPIK teachers.  Jarrod and Virginia, who are incredibly kind and fun, left because their Korean co-teachers didn’t feel comfortable coming into the bar. But I stayed because it was too cold to continue hanging outside!!

Jarrod's co-teacher, me, Jarrod, Virginia at Bomun Lake

Jarrod’s co-teacher, me, Jarrod, Virginia at Bomun Lake

Times like these are when I feel more than a creeping suspicion that I don’t fit in!  The EPIK teachers were hanging out, playing drinking games, joking among themselves.  I felt totally on the outside, as I often do in these groups, since everyone is so much younger than me.  Cliquishness is pervasive.  So, I didn’t stay long, but took off to return back to the hotel alone.

Funny thing, this.  I have a lot of time to think about attitudes toward age here in Korea.  It’s always in my face that Koreans look at me as old; this is now unsurprising to me based on their culture; the fact that no matter how old they are, they dye their hair black in order to “look younger” (which they DON’T by the way); the fact that they are expected to treat their elders with deference.  Koreans will never hesitate to openly ask me my age.  Even my students ask me this all the time.  I have now started responding with random ages: I’ll say variously 25, 30, 35, 29, 39, 40, 50.  I have tried to fight this perception so much since I’ve been here.  But now, I’ve given up trying.  I now just accept that I will never truly fit in here because I refuse to succumb to their perceptions about age.  I am young at heart and I hope to be this until the day I die!!  So let them think me old.  I know I’m not and so will continue to live as I have always lived, exploring life, looking for adventure, laughing, sticking my neck out into the crazy world.

Of course, Koreans aren’t the only ones who view me as old.  Since I am here in Korea with mostly 20-35 year old Westerners, I encounter this among them as well.  But this varies with the person.  Some people (who I adore, btw) are age-blind.  Some are not.  That is the only way I can describe what I encounter.  If they are age-blind, they don’t look at my age, but they see me as a person.  And when they see me this way, and act as if my age doesn’t matter, then I open up to them and they can know me for the young person I really am inside!!  They can hear my crazy stories (of which I have aplenty), and they can tell me theirs, and we relate as friends.

Me with my boyfriend Paul at age 19.... I am STILL that person!

Me with my boyfriend Paul at age 19…. I am STILL that person!

As for the people who look at me and see “old,” then they miss out.  They miss out on enriching their lives by knowing someone different from them.  And in turn, I miss out on knowing them, which is sad.  What these people don’t see is that, wrapped up in the person that is me are all the ages I was once and now am.  I am Cathy: I am the 11-year-old who used to play horses in my backyard; I’m the 18-year-old who went streaking in Virginia Beach when “streaking” was in vogue; I’m the 24-year-old who took a 3-month vagabond trip around the USA in a van with two pugs and my new husband; I’m the 25-year-old who packed up everything and moved to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; I’m the 27-year-old who rafted down the Salmon River in Idaho for 7 days; I’m the 30-year-old who went through a divorce and then the 33-year-old who remarried and then had two kids.  I’m also the 50-some year old who went back to school and got a Master’s degree in International Commerce and Policy, who traveled to Egypt to study Arabic and who lived a number of hilarious stories in the process.  I have done as many or more crazy things in my lifetime than they have.  Yet, they sadly see me as someone they don’t want to know because I’m older!! Ahhh, such are the perils of age!!  Strange thing, though, this aging stuff.  All of us will age.  Those people who stare vacantly through me as if I don’t exist…. just a sweet reminder.  You WILL be here one day.  Either older or dead….LOL 🙂

Me at 24 in Yellowstone

Me at 24 in Yellowstone

It’s funny, soon after my good friend Ed from the State Department read this column, he sent me an email with a wise observation about the age issue.  He said, “i dont deny my age but i really have no idea how to be 54, and i dont want to be defined (or confined) by someone else’s idea about it.”  I LOVE this… Neither do I want to be defined ~ or confined ~ by anyone else’s idea about how I should be my age!!

Anyway, I left the bar where I felt quite invisible, and met my really young friends Anna and Seth, the married couple in their early 20s who seem blind to my age.  I met some of their friends, and all of us strolled pleasantly around the lake.  While walking, my phone rang and, lo and behold, it was Coffee J, who had finally arrived in Gyeongju for the seminar.  He said, “What are you doing?  Do you want to go out and have some drinks?”  I declined b/c I’d already been drinking enough.  I continued my walk and then went back to the hotel to relax.

 

Wednesday, May 12: One day I was walking down the street near my apartment and an older Korean man caught my eye.  He pointed to my hair and shook his head, then he made a gesture with his hands: he formed a cup with one hand and then he dipped his other fingers into the cup.  Then he wiped his fingers on his hair.  The gesture obviously meant he thought I needed to dye my hair black, like most Koreans do.  He had a kind of disgusted look on his face; he was not at all happy that I was walking around his streets with my whitish hair so indecently exposed!

I refused to take this insult lightly.  I shook my head vehemently and said “NO!” accompanied by the Korean style NO gesture, which is crossing my forearms in the shape of an “X.”  I then said, “I LOVE (making the sign of a heart with my fingers) my hair (pointing to my hair)!” And then I promptly turned my back on him and walked away.

Wow!

OMG, she has white hair, a big nose and fat arms!!

OMG, she has white hair, a big nose and fat arms!!

The attitude toward age in this country is infuriating.  My experience has been that basically if you are over 25, you are considered old.  I have two young Korean lady friends in their late 20s who truly believe they are old because they are no longer in university.  And, heaven forbid, they are not married!  I find this attitude really irritating.

Clara and Naree..."over the hill" in their late 20s!!

Clara and Naree…”over the hill” in their late 20s!!

One day I was in the carpool, sitting in my designated backseat, with Mr. O in front.  He said, “Mrs. Cathy (as he always says), do you find that you have problems with memory at your age?”  I said, “No, Mr. O, I don’t have any problems with my memory.  Besides, I am NOT old!”  He said, “I have seen your papers and I know your age.”  I said, “Mr. O, I am NOT old!”

Another day, Mr. O said, “Mrs. Cathy (keep in mind, Mr. O is older than me in body and MUCH older than me in spirit!), do you color your hair?” I said, “No, Mr. O.  I don’t believe in coloring my hair.” He said, “Well we Koreans people, we color our hair because we think it makes us look younger.”  I said, “No, Mr. O, coloring your hair black does not make you look younger!  It actually makes you look older.  Because when you get older, your skin changes and black hair does not look good against aging skin.” This I truly believe, because up until 5 years ago, I myself colored my own hair dark brown.  When I finally removed all the dye and went natural, people came out of nowhere to compliment me on how much younger I looked!

Another day I was hiking up to Gatbawi, the Buddha with the flat hat, and an older Korean man pointed to my hair and said something nasty to his wife in Korean.  I could tell it was nasty because of the perturbed expression on his face.  Again, I think he was really disturbed about my hair!

Then there are my students, some of whom are rude beyond belief.  I have one student in particular in the 4th grade.  Every day, she wears the same pair of knit pants with wide black and gray stripes.  They look like jailbird pants.  One day I wore a ribbed knit tank under a cardigan.  She grabbed the bottom of my tank and asked in Korean if I was wearing my underwear.  Coffee J laughed about this as he translated it for me.  I actually found this rude of him — that he found it funny and translated it so lightly, without reprimanding the girl.  I said, “No, this is a tank top, not underwear!” Of course, the girl couldn’t understand me.  But what I really felt like saying was, “No, this is not underwear, but are those your jailbird pajamas that you wear every day?? Do you ever wash them??  Why are you here?  Did you escape from prison today?”

Little Miss Jailbird and the Pig Farmer's daughter

Little Miss Jailbird and the Pig Farmer’s daughter

I went on a field trip and sat beside another girl in the same 4th grade class.  Funny thing is, this girl’s father is a pig farmer.  She pointed at my nose and made a funny gesture on her own nose, touching her nose and then lifting her finger in an arch away from her nose.  I wasn’t sure what she was trying to say, so I asked Coffee J what she meant.  He said she thinks I have a big nose.

Later in this same day, Miss Jailbird Pajamas pointed at my nose and made the same type of gesture.  Again, Coffee J translated this to mean she thinks I have a big nose.  Do I have a big nose?  Do I have a PIG nose?? How has this insult escaped me my entire life??  I have been insulted for things I know to be true before, but this?  Maybe people have been dying to tell me this my whole life but have kept it all bottled up inside.  Maybe this insult to my nose has been gnawing at people’s insides, churning and burning away!!

I’m not the only one who has gotten the big nose gesture.  Anna Schuett said she was walking down the street one day and some kid came up to her, pointed at her nose, and started making pig noises.

Finally, Miss Jailbird also had a comment about my arms.  Granted, my arms are my least favorite part of my body.  I wish they were thin and graceful, but alas, I have the German body!  So, the first day I wear a short sleeve shirt, little Miss Jailbird comes up to me, puts her hands around my arms and then expands them, showing me she thinks they are fat!!  OMG!  How can I shut this girl up???

OK, OK, I admit my arms are chubby...

OK, OK, I admit my arms are chubby…

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