These are the words of our field trip tour guide Ms. Minny every time we were scheduled to visit a Buddhist temple the next day. We didn’t get much information, but we always knew to “prepare the socks.”
The last couple of days on the road have been tiring and jam packed, but have been worth every minute of it. On Tuesday we started our day off visiting POSCO; the third largest steel mill plant in the world. We started our tour visiting the PR center which was a little propaganda, but still, it is impressive to see how Korea was able to rise up from the ashes after World War II and become one of the top producers of steel in the world. Now normally, this is my least favorite part of any teacher tour I’ve ever been on, but it’s understood that this is an obligatory part of the tour. That said, after we left the PR center and actually got to tour the factory, I was pretty impressed by how efficient, green, and, well, for lack of a better word, productive the Koreans are. The factory was started as a result of the government investing reparation money they received from Japan for World War II when it was founded in 1968. In essence, Korea’s history goes hand in hand with its economic development. The company was privatized in 2000 and has become a global leader. The fact that we weren’t allowed to take pictures in the factory is extremely interesting, because it shows the fear of technological and industrial espionage and how competitive Korea, Japan, and China are. Also, what’s interesting to note is that the notion that all the industrial jobs are overseas does have to be qualified by the fact that the “industrial” jobs that you and I envision don’t really exist anymore. When we walked through the plant there were 3 men on the floor and when I asked our tour guide if working in the factory was considered one of the three D’s in Korea (jobs nobody wants- Dirty, Dangerous, and Difficult) she said no because there really are no dirty jobs anymore; everything is computerized. So in order to work for POSCO, or a company of similar status, one has to graduate from one of the top three universities.
After the tour we had lunch, then proceeded to Cheon-Ma-Chong which means “heavenly horse tomb” which came from a painting found inside the tomb when it was excavated. Most of the jewels and other original pieces that were found inside the tomb are on display at the National Museum in Gyeongju which we visited earlier in the day.
After another traditional Korean lunch, which they refer to as Korean table, we visited Bunhwangsa Temple. Bunhwangsa Temple was built in 634 during the Silla Dynasty and is significant because it housed prominent Buddhist monks such as Wonhyo and Jajang.
Wednesday morning we checked out of the hotel and drove to Oksan Seowon; a Confucian academy that was built in 1572 in honor of Yi Eonjeok, a great Korean Neo-Confucian philosopher who stressed the primacy of material force over principle. The site is geomantically placed between three mountain peaks on the sides and a stream that flows through the main entrance. After crossing over the stream we arrived at the Gyejeong pavilion where Dr. Peterson lectured to us about Confucian literature and philosophy as we sat on the floor and listened.
From here, we traveled to Yang Dong village, a traditional Korean Confucian village that is still inhabited. The village has been managed by the same families for the last 500 years. The biggest Korean folk town, Yang Dong was designated as a UNESCO site in 1984. We were greeted by the Jong Son, the leader of the village and treated as his guests as we walked around and explored the architectural and geomantric delights of the village.
The key word in Confucianism is “patience.”
Riding back from Yang Dong village, we were all a little punchy. We were demanding Karaoke, but then were informed that its illegal on buses because so many people used to sing Karoake that there would be accidents. So now, if a cop sees a large bus with curtains closed, it will follow them to see if it moves a certain way because as our guide said “if you dance, the bus dances”. The fact that karaoke on buses was such a problem that had to pass a law to ban it is kind of hilarious.
Even though we could not do Karaoke on the bus, we all made up for it that night when we finally arrived in the city of Daego, made our way downtown, and enjoyed an evening of Asian Karaoke, which is the best kind.
Our final day of the field trip involved a trip to a Buddhist Temple. The Hae-In Temple is by far my favorite one yet. Nestled throughout a mountain, one gets a true sense of mysticism as one walks up through the forest and then comes upon this beautiful complex. The name “hae-in” originally comes from the expression Hae-in-sam-mae which means the truly enlightened world of Buddha and the naturally undefiled mind. The temple is most famous for the Tripitaka Koreana; woodblocks that contain the entire teachings of Buddha. As we walked through the temple, the clouds slowly rolled in over the mountain and we were able to watch the monks play the drums for twenty minutes. With the weather and the music, I was truly in a state of calm.
Then, it was as if the drums ushered in the monsoon, because no sooner were the monks done playing did the sky open up and the rain fell, and fell, and fell. Still, being in this mountainside Buddhist temple in the middle of a monsoon didn’t bother me one bit. Rather, it added to the ambience of the whole experience. Then, for lunch we ate in the temple’s eating hall with the monks. It was a “buffet” but we were instructed to “only take what you can eat” because you are supposed to be cognizant of waste. We were also instructed that we would not be able to talk during lunch because even eating is a form of meditation. When we arrived at the eating hall we lined up and each grabbed a giant metal bowl already filled with noodles. And I don’t just mean some noodles, I mean a pound of noodles. This became rather problematic for some, including myself, because it was a lot of food and again, we were not allowed to leave anything, we had to return our bowl completely empty. At one point, I looked around at everyone taking deep breaths and stretching so they could finish and I couldn’t help but think this would be a great reality show; “eating like a monk.”
But, besides the difficulty of having to finish the food, the whole experience was really cool. Eating in silence was a not respite from the constant chatter that is inevitable when you are traveling around in a group of 40 with a professor, a supervisor, two tour guides, and four intern assistances. Needless to say, I enjoyed it.
After lunch, we walked up to the Triptaka Koreana and got to glimpse the woodblocks that contain the Buddhist scriptures, but where they are housed is no longer accessible to the public so we were only able to see them through slits in the walls on the side. Then we had some free time to wander freely around the complex. Inside many of the temples, there were Buddhists praying and chanting. I don’t know what it was about this place, but it seemed more mystic and less touristy than the other temples we have visited.
After the temples, we had a long six hour bus ride back to Seoul where many of us could not fight off the sleepiness induced by Karaoke the previous night. Tonight we arrived back in Seoul. The last few days of the program seem to be more focused on modern Korean history and I am super pumped about visiting the DMZ on Saturday.