Saturday, August 20, 2011

High Culture is Strenuous Exercise

Forgive us, dear readers, for it has been too long since we last updated you on the state of Korea.



Two weeks ago, Katie and I went to the Gagwonsa Buddhist Temple nestled under Mt. Taejo.  The Buddha statue is one of the five largest in the world.  After taking bus 24 to the end of its route, we found ourselves in one of the most peaceful areas of Cheonan, with little traffic, small businesses, and a beautiful pond.  The trees and mountains gave such an eerie since of awe that we could almost hear the music of the forest.  Coming up to the long set of stone stairs leading up the foot of the mountain, we realized that the music was actually a series of speakers set around the stairs to make it more mystical... and yet mystical it was.



As you come up the stairs, the first thing you see is the 15 meter tall tarnished bronze Buddha, meditating beneath the peak of Mt. Taejo.  The walkway to the statue was lined with small rock piles, and a large statue of a turtle with a pillar coming out of its shell.



This made me think of all the symbols each civilization has developed that I can't understand.  I was an alien in the worship setting of another people,  ignorantly appreciating their symbols.  The most beautiful part of the Buddha was the fact that the tarnished green allowed it to sit unassumingly beneath the trees of the mountain, seeming as if it naturally belonged with the trees.



In an endeavor to see the Buddha from up high, Katie, Matt Haas, Sarah Bean, and I all began to trudge up a rocky path to the peak of Mt. Taejo.  It was an 800 meter hike.  Not even a Kilometer.  It took us an hour or more to do it.  I can run 5 Kilometers in 30 minutes...  All along the way there were large rock piles next to the mountain creeks, reminding Sarah and I of the Old Testament altars built out of 12 stones as markers.  We made it to the top of Mt. Taejo, and saw a network of paths leading down into valleys, and along the summit to other peaks.  But, alas, the trees blocked our view of the Buddha.  Having achieved this feat, we trudged back down the mountain to go explore the rest of the temple.



Bruised and drenched in sweat, we investigated the rest of the temple grounds.  Each building was built in the traditional Korean pagoda style.  But each tiny detail was elaborately painted.  The main prayer hall had three golden Buddha statues sitting beneath painted clouds and hanging cranes.  The sides of the prayer hall had two large dragons coming out of the ceiling.  Each rip of the ceiling was painted in patterned colors, leading to a lotus blossom at the end.  Across from the prayer temple was the bell temple, with a gigantic bell hanging.  Even in describing this, I cannot capture the beauty of this place.


Independence Hall.
Monday, August 15th, Korea celebrated its independence day.  And, like all good tourists do, we decided to go to Independence Hall to celebrate.  So, Carly and Matt Hass, Katie, and I all shoved our way onto the 400 bus to travel there.  I left my personal space and self-dignity sandwiched somewhere on that bus between two Korean people.  Yet, after 45 minutes of standing, sweating, and falling into complete strangers, we arrived.



Independence Hall was amazing.  The statue at the front building attested to the power and determination of the Korean women and men in retaining their culture throughout the hardships of their people.  The Hall is divided into 7 buildings, each an amazing museum to the culture and struggle of Korea.  They outline the development of Korea, and then focus on the struggle of Korea as a nation over the past 150 years.  China, Japan, and Russia have all sought to control Korea.  After the Japanese/Russian war in the early 1900's, the USA recognized Japan as the rightful government of Korea.  Thus, Korea officially became a Japanese colony, used for resources and labor.  Japan even attempted to end Hangol (Korean Language) and assert Japanese as the language and culture of the people.  It was hard to read and experience the anguish Korea went through: forced starvation, cultural cleansing, massacres, and even sex slavery for Japanese soldiers.



This was also our introduction to the March 1st movement that began in 1919 in order to undermine the Japanese.  One of the leaders, Yu Gwan-Su, was a high school girl who led one of the first independence protests.  She was arrested and tortured severely until she died in 1920.  She is the face of Korean independence for her sheer determination and faith in the Korean people.



Independence is celebrated on August 15th, as the day marking Japan's defeat in WWII, allowing Korea to move toward final independence in 1948.

We will soon be posting about our spectacular new digs, just need to clean for pictures....

Stay tuned.

- Logan

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