Korea, Day 7

For once, I got an early (kind of) start today. I thought I’d go to Namsan first, hike around a bit and then come back and see what central Gyeongju had to offer, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find where the buses to Namsan picked up. The women at the information center had very carefully explained (twice) to me that I should wait at the bus stop on the same side of the street as the Intercity Bus Terminal and take any bus numbered 500-508, excluding 502. I waited for half an hour and never saw a single 500 bus. So I gave up and decided to see central Gyeongju first. My first stop was Noseo, a mini- public tumuli park. Silla tombs resemble grassy knolls and so they actually make for some nice scenery. I made my way across the street to Tumuli Park (entrance fee W1,500), where they have excavated two tombs. Cheonmachong is open to the public. Inside the tomb, you can see some artifacts that they found there, as well as the actual grave site of whoever was buried there. The name translates to “Heavenly Horse Tomb” and the image of a painted horse is popular on T-shirts and handkerchiefs around Gyeongju.

Tumuli Park

After Tumuli Park, I crossed the street again into Wolseong Park. Wolseong was like Noseo, in the sense that it seemed like a good place to take a morning jog or something. In it, was Cheomsongdae, the astrological observatory (W500). Cheomsongdae is pretty impressive architecturally speaking, but it’s not very tall (the trees around it are taller) so I don’t imagine it made a very good observatory. What’s interesting about it though is that it’s 12 bricks around the base (one brick for each month in the year), and 30 layers high (one layer for each day in a month). The whole thing is comprised of 366 bricks (one for each day of the year. The length of the year was 366 days back then, apparently).

After Cheomsongdae, I took a walk over to Anapji Pond (W1,000). It was over-run with school children at the time, but it was still quite nice to walk around, although I wish I could have seen it at night. I’d seen some pictures and the way they decorate it with lights is gorgeous. Anapji used to be where the king entertained guests, but something happened (probably Japanese invaders, since they seemed to have caused the destruction of everything in Korea) and the building was destroyed. At one point the pond was drained and they found a bunch of artifacts, some of which are on display in pavilions around the pond, the rest of which are at the Gyeongju National Museum.

From Anapji Pond, I took a short walk around Gaerim Forest and checked out Seokbinggo, where they used to store ice before refrigeration technology was invented.

At this point I was ready to try to get to Namsan again, so I went to the train station to try asking the people at the information center there where I could pick up the bus. The woman there told me to stand in front of the post office and wait for the same buses the people at the other information center told me to wait for. After 15 minutes in front of the post office without having seen a single 500 bus, I was starting to get pretty frustrated. Then, by chance, I saw an unmarked bus with a very small sign on it that said the name of one of the places I was trying to get to in Namsan. I held up a sign with the name of the place I wanted to go and the bus driver confirmed that the bus would take me there. With a sigh of relief, I flopped down in one of the seats. I got off at the Oreung Tombs (bus: W1,500; 10 min. Entrance fee: W500), which I’m sure have plenty of historical significance, but I was kind of getting to the point where if I’d seen one grassy knoll where a dead Silla-era king lay buried, I’d seen them all. From there I walked 2 km to Poseokjeong, a small canal (channel?) where the king used to play an interesting drinking game. The king sat on one end of the canal and composed a line of poetry. Then he floated a cup of wine on a raft down to someone sitting at the other end. If the person at the other end couldn’t compose a complimentary line of poetry by the time the wine got there, s/he had to drink the whole cup. I’m trying to figure out how to make this work in a modern day setting.

I walked the last 1.5 km to Mt. Namsan and braced myself for the final climb of my trip. I didn’t have as much time as I was hoping for, so I climbed the rocky trail (checking out a few of the Buddha images tucked away around the mountain) up to the hermitage and then stopped once I had gotten to a nice spot higher up with a good view of the surrounding area. I made myself comfortable and tried to meditate a little, but as usual I spent most of my time trying to think of devices to clear my mind. After a while a gave up and when I opened my eyes, I suddenly understood quite clearly how and why gurus come up to live and meditate in the mountains. I honestly felt like I would be quite comfortable and happy sitting there forever. Eventually I pulled myself away and headed back down the trail.

The way down was actually more grueling than the way up and I ended up slipping several times on all the loose rock and dirt. Once, I got to a place where the trail turned a corner sharply. I knew that if I slipped, I would be catapulted off the edge of the trail into the valley below, and I also knew that I was probably going to slip. There was a tree where the trail curved and I opted to aim for that in the hopes that I would either be able to swing myself around it, or, at the very least, that it would hurt less to crash into the tree than to go flying off the edge of the trail and land in who-knows-what. Thanks to years of gymnastics and yoga, and was able to pull off a giant-like arc around the tree without crashing. Okay, it was nothing at all like a giant, but I felt really cool afterward.

I made it safely to the bottom and took the bus back to the Express Bus Terminal where I’d left my bag. Then I boarded a bus for Pusan (W4,000; 1h). Once in Pusan, I took the subway from Nopodong Express Bus Terminal to Jungangdong, the stop nearest the International Ferry Terminal (W1,300; 45 min). There was hardly anyone riding the subway for whatever reason, so I was spared the anxiety of having a giant backpack on a crowded train. Once I got to Jungagndong, I checked into the Hwangum Hotel (W20,000) and, since I was feeling better, went to have my last Korean meal. I found an empty restaurant with pictures of food that I liked and had a pork, vegetable and rice soup. It was kind of spicy and it came with about three different kinds of kimchi, but it was still delicious and didn’t give me any trouble later. Back at the motel, I watched some more CSI and read some more Kafka.

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