Friday, April 2: The Buddha with the flat hat is beckoning. He waits on the mountain top, as he has for over a thousand years, and I have a wish that begs to be wished. Thus I must climb the mountain. This is no small feat, especially for someone who hasn’t fully recovered from a partial knee replacement done only 3 months ago. But, I am determined. I have formulated this wish very carefully in my mind, and it’s a beautiful day, and my fellow adventurer Myrna is with me. Myrna and I haven’t seen each other all week, and we are chatting and laughing and enjoying catching up with each other. We’re full of Dunkin’ Donuts and we’ve paid our 5,ooo Won and we are the only ones on the Daegu City Tour. The annoying tour guide keeps chatting to us in his bad English, interrupting our conversation. But we’re excited to be on our adventure, and we try to ignore him as best we can.
We want to visit Gatbawi. He’s a seated Buddha of Medicine sculpture from the 800s that looks out over the foothills of Palgong-san. A wide flat rock sits on the Buddha’s head. It is a weathered sculpture, but highly revered by Buddhists; legend has it that Gatbawi will grant you one wish as long as you wish it wholeheartedly. We are told the hike will take one hour up and one hour down, so we take our time, stopping along the way to explore a youth hostel with a spa inside, and taking a few unintended detours.
We stop and photograph several brightly colored temples along the route.
Myrna, who is a wonderful photographer, takes a black and white photo of me sitting on a bridge to the temple complex.
After an hour and a half, we are confronted by the true climb, up a steep incline of boulders and rough steps. We are breathing hard; it’s so strenuous for someone as out of shape as I am! We start to worry as it has already taken us 2 hours and we can see the Buddha far, far up the mountain. We’re afraid we won’t be able to catch our bus back to town, so we try to rush. Along the way, we pass more temples and a hillside overrun by mini-Buddhas.
At one point Myrna hangs upside down on a rock and wants me to take a picture of her. We don’t notice at that moment, but she has put her phone in the pocket of her sweater jacket and it falls out. We continue our hike and make it, out of breath, to the top of the mountain. It is 4:00 and we stared the hike at 1:15. We have one hour and 15 minutes to make it back to the bottom to catch the last bus.
There are probably 60 people up there on the platform, the wide patio in front of the Buddha, pilgrims who have come to pray and meditate in Gatbawi’s presence. People kneeling, faces to the ground, people sitting with crossed legs in true meditating style. I am not a Buddhist, but I am interested in Buddhism and have read much about it. I sit on a mat and I ask the Buddha for the wish I have been thinking about all the way up the mountain. I feel good, and hopeful, and I ask wholeheartedly.
Myrna and I stop in the gift shop, buy matching decorative handkerchiefs with some kind of Buddhist symbol on them and strands of glass chili peppers. Then we head down the mountain as fast as our sore legs will carry us. Myrna is running down, but I am more cautious with my sore and wobbly knee. At several points, I slip on uneven rocks and fall on my butt. Once, I slip on a gravelly spot and my knee snaps under me all askew. I fear I have damaged it irreparably, undoing the work of the surgeons! Later, as I am walking along minding my own business, I feel a hand sweeping my butt. I look and a Korean man is brushing the dirt off my ass. He smiles… I say “Kamsamnida…” Hmmm….what else is there to say?
About halfway down, Myrna, who is somehow above me although she was way ahead of me going down, yells to me that she has to go back up because she lost her phone! I keep going down because I’m so slow. When I reach the temples further down the mountain, I call Myrna’s phone in case she is near it, so she can hear it and find it. A Korean woman answers, “An nyoung hasayo.” I say, “You have my friend’s phone! She’s looking for it!” She says something in Korean. What we have here is a failure to communicate. I see Myrna racing down the mountain again. I call out that someone has her phone. She gets on and someone now is on the other end who speaks a little English. We get it all sorted out and the woman returns her phone to an agreed upon location.
We are sore beyond belief; we can hardly move our legs. But we are proud! We made it! I presented my wish wholeheartedly to the Buddha. Maybe someday I can say it came true. We shall see if this Buddha is true to his word:-)