Saturday, November 6: In the morning, we head out toward the coast to see the Saemangeum Tidal Embankment, a seawall dubbed “The Great Wall on the Sea.” This is the world’s largest sea dike measuring 33.9 km in length, beating the former largest dike in the Netherlands, the Suiderzee Afsluit. It was completed in April, 2010 after 18 years and 5 months.
The purpose of the dike was to secure enough arable land to ensure food security for the future. The reclaimed area is about 2/3 the size of Seoul, about a square meter of new land for every Korean. The original intent was to allocate 70% of the land for farming and the remaining 30% for industrial use. Now, with an oversupply of rice, the plan has been changed to give 70% to industrial use, tourism or logistics, and the remaining 30% for agriculture. A large part will go to tourism, such as casinos and other facilities, which is hoped to bring 8 million tourists by 2012.
We walk down to stand over the water as it roars out of the dam. When one level is higher, they open the gates for 45 minutes and let the water flow out. It is a quite impressive and powerful flow of water we see bursting from the floodgates. I walk up to a hill where there is a park and observation area.
From the embankment, we head south to Buan-gun, a peninsula that juts out into the Yellow Sea. Within the Byeonsan Peninsula National Park, we walk through a gorgeous scarlet-hued tunnel of fir trees, and then rows of cherry blossom trees, to see Naesosa Temple. Originally called Soraesa Temple, it means “a place to visit to be reborn.” The weather is cool and crisp and the autumn colors are stunning. Naesosa was built by a Buddhist monk in 633 A.D. during the Silla Dynasty and rebuilt in 1633 during the Joseon Dynasty. Daeungbojeon, the main building, is built with interlocking wood blocks without nails. Each door is decorated with lotus blossoms and chrysanthemums. The temple also boasts the Goryeo Bronze Bell, with three Buddhas on its body, from 1222. It is thought to be the leading creation of the late Goryereo Dynasty.
The best thing about visiting Naesosa Temple is the setting, with its bright tunnel of trees. My interest is also piqued because they offer temple stays.
Finally, we start our journey west to Daegu, with a stop in Mt. Maisan Provincial Park. Mt. Maisan’s claim to fame is its donkey-ears shape. A myth tells of two gods that came down from the sky, had a child and lived on earth for a while. As they were going back up to the sky, a village woman saw them ascending, and were trapped on earth and were transformed in to a rock mountain. Even today, you can see the father peak and the child peak, and the mother peak on the other side.
When the bus drops us at the entrance, we are told we have until 3:40 to go explore. We jauntily walk off, not even knowing what we’re supposed to be looking for. We linger along the path, checking out the interesting food stalls and restaurants along the way, snapping pictures.
Finally, we come to a temple with a bright gold roof, Geumdangsa Temple, or “Gold Hall Temple,” built in 814 during the Silla Dynasty. I think this is the temple we have come to see, so I take a bunch of pictures and spend too much time exploring the grounds.
I see other EPIK teachers walking further down the path, and I meet my friends Anna and Seth, who are heading to the really cool and unusual temple we are meant to see, Tapsa. By this time it is 3:20 and though Anna and Seth are determined to walk to it, none of knows how far away it is. I keep walking with them for a while, but as we round each corner and don’t see it, I become worried it about making it back in time, with my troublesome knee. Finally at about 3:30, I say I better turn around. I make it to the bus at 3:40, but no one is in any hurry to leave as they apparently changed the departure time to 4:00! I would have had time to see the amazing Tapsa after all! I am so disappointed, especially when Anna finally returns with her pictures of the very unusual temple. I can’t believe I was right there and didn’t see it. I have determined to return to this park sometime in the next couple of weeks to see it.
Tapsa is a temple where a retired scholar built numerous pagodas one stone at a time over a period of decades. There are some marvelous towers which are so tall and massive it’s hard to believe they were erected by just one man. It is said that he built 108 towers over 30 years from 1885, but only 80 of them remain today.
We are on the bus a long 4 hours after this, heading back to Daegu. By this time, I am bus-burned, especially as these seats are tight and narrow with little leg room, unlike most public transport buses in Korea which have plenty of room to stretch out. We arrive at the Gyeongsangbuk-Do Provincial Office of Education around 8 p.m. Wiped out, but happily so. 🙂