This morning I left for Pohang (W18,700; 3h20) at 8:35. There was a bus that went directly from Samcheok to Gyeongju, but it would have taken about five hours with all the stops along the way. I was sitting on the bench waiting for the bus organizing some of my stuff when a middle-aged man comes and acts like he wants to sit down on the bench as well. My bag was in the way, so I moved it to the ground beside me to make room for him. Instead of sitting down though, the man pointed to the bench and my bag and the ground all the while saying something in Korean, which I took to be, “No, no, it’s okay for you to leave your bag on the bench. The ground is very dirty.” But there wasn’t a lot of room, so I just smiled and nodded, but he went and picked up my bag and placed it in between us anyway. Then we struck up a conversation of sorts. This is how it went down in my mind:
Him: Where are you going? I’m going to Pohang.
Me: Pohang? Yes, I’m going there. Look, see, it says so on my ticket.
Him: Ah yes, Pohang. Like me. You know, I live in Pohang. There’s something very tall in Pohang.
Me: What’s tall? A mountain? Your house? Your single and good-looking son?
Him: Yes, it’s very tall. You should come home with me.
Me: Uh, there’s no way I’m going anywhere with you, buddy.
Him: No, no, we’ll go together, it’ll be fun.
Me: Hahaha, I really don’t understand a word you’re saying.
Him: Yeah, no shit.
And then he got up to get himself, and apparently me, some coffee. I’m sure it was just a nice gesture, especially considering that using a date rape drug three minutes before we got on a bus would be totally pointless, but my stomach was already a mess and I don’t drink coffee and I couldn’t help being a little paranoid. So I thanked him and fake-sipped it until he got up to go to the bathroom and then I tossed it. When he came back the bus had arrived, but he still creepily sat in the seat across the aisle from me and once when I woke up, I caught him staring at me.
In Pohang, my “companion” went off to his tall whatever and I hopped on a bus to Gyeongju (W2,700; 45 min). Once in Gyeongju I went straight to the information center outside the Express Bus Terminal and asked them a bunch of questions, which they were very helpful in answering. I dropped my stuff off at the Mido Motel (W25,000) and caught the #10 (or #11) bus to Bulguksa (W1,500; 50 min). I have a feeling Bulguksa Temple would have been a lot cooler if they hadn’t had everything taped off for construction. As it was, I couldn’t see anything, go inside anywhere or even get a decent picture. Consequently, I thought the W4,000 entrance fee was a little steep, but hey, anything to preserve World Heritage Sites, right? After that I opted to walk the 3.2 km (2 miles) to Seokguram Grotto (there’s a bus that you can take for W1,500 that only takes 15 minutes, but why do that when you can torture yourself needlessly?). The guidebook said that Seokguram was home to a very cool Buddha statue “up in the hills above Bulguksa.” I’m not really sure what I was thinking, or how I had not learned my lesson from days before, but I figured it would be a pleasant 30-min walk. 45 minutes of steep uphill climbing (reminiscent of the path up to Hwanseongul) later, I decided that Japanese invaders deserved to conquer Korea if they were able to ganbaru up all those hills and still fight a battle. As I was nearing the top, I started to feel pretty good about myself – look how tough I was, walking up this practically vertical slope instead of taking the bus. And then I saw an elderly couple up ahead making their way with the use of canes. Instantly, and perhaps ironically, I felt as if I were the one that was lame.
Seokguram Grotto is two temples, one of which houses a giant stone Buddha that they have kept very clean all these years with sand. I only caught a snippet of what was being said to the tour group in front of me, but it sounded as though since the time it was constructed, people had gone in regularly and used sand to scrub down the statue. It’s kind of amazing how clean sand can make things (I’m sure it also helps that the statue is now sealed off by a sheet of glass). The other temple was more of your every day basic kind of temple, with a few gold statues and lanterns hanging from the ceilings.
I went back down the way I came up and caught a bus back to Central Gyeongju. I looked everywhere for a nail file, but without success, so I settled on starting Kafka on the Shore instead.