A Disclaimer

This blog will hopefully be an interesting and relatively witty account of my time in Korea. If this turns out to be false, please don't read it, and accept my apologies.

Also, I have lived here for 8 months, so I don't have all the amazing 'I've-just-got-here-wow-look-at- that' stories. But I saw a woman walking down a street with a dog on her head. Stood up. On her head. These kind of stories I will share.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Gyeongu (finally)

Here we go again.........

I promised, or threatened, to write about moustaches. Unfortunately in the intervening weeks my interest in facial arrangements has subsided. Interestingly enough it subsided around the same time North Korea shelled that lovely island. There's no space for daydreaming about moustaches when World War 3 was about to kick off.

Turns out everything's absolutely fine, as soon as the USA brought over a fantastic floating war machine that is the USS George Washington and parked it on North Korea's doorstep, they quietened down. Alot.

Family, don't be alarmed. We in Iksan are sensible people. We have formulated a retreat from Korea, which so far includes some petty theft, a car journey, so-ju, choco pies, and the purchasing of a yacht. My preferred destination would be Cambodia, but it's not yet decided.

So, without further a-do, I will now talk about my wonderful trip to Gyeongju.

I arrived in Gyeongju like I do any other city I visit in a foreign country; confused, bewildered, with a fair amount of guesswork and inevitable rushing. In my defence, the bus stopped at the side of a road, not a bus station, and was about to continue it's reckless, neck breaking-speed journey (Korean drivers are speed addicts) to somewhere else before realised a the last moment I had in fact arrived.
I gave thhe driver a hearty 안녕히계세요(goodbye, thank you) which was met with the vacant stare used by many drivers, as he shut the door and pulled away.
He gave me an uglier, meaner stare about fifteen seconds later when I ran after the bus, banging on the sides of it to get it to stop.

Alas, I had left my camera on the bus.
Happy he was not.

But I had arrived, and had my camera to document the weekend.

Basically, Gyeongju is a great city. It's great for many reasons, but the main one is, with the exception of the 25 story love motels around the bus station, quite traditional. And, for once I'm not met with the high rise after high rise. I'm not criticising Korean cities, but most of them are concrete jungles of uninspired messiness. With little planning.

These are some pictures from the historic area of Gyeongju. The mounds in the pictures are tombs.

My Rough Guide tells me that the reason for all this low-rise, lots of green space city is due to 'a bit of good, old fashioned dictatorship.' Which I think that's the Rough Guides idea of a 'tongue in cheek' remark, but I'm not as witty as them, so I cannot be sure.

The dictators name was Park Chung Hee, if anyone is interested, and his popularity in the South East of the country is matched with the opposite feelings in the South West, who were angry about many things, but the perceived exclusion from the economic advancement was a chief concern. (I've always thought Gwangju to be an angry city, and the province in general to be poorer than most, so this makes sense.
I suppose dictators are only good when your on their side. He jailed people for criticising his rule, but he did introduce economic reforms that laid way for the economic advancement that was to come in the future. He argued that 'you peasants cannot have your cake AND eat it'. Probably.
However, all love stories must come to an end, and this was did quite abruptly for old Parky, he was assassinated by members of his intelligence service, succeeding where North Korea failed. Twice.
However, when he wasn't abusing human rights or being generally corrupt, he introduced building regulations, and that is to be commended. The roofs are also very pretty.

For me, the biggest advantage of not placing eyesore high rises everywhere is that you can see the natural environment. Korea is beautiful. Sometimes it seems they are trying their hardest to spoil the beauty, but Gyeongju proves that it can be done. To quote a man who recently left remarks on my facebook account questioning my sexuality, 'too much concrete, it all looks a bit shit really.'

Not the most eloquent quote you'll ever hear, but he does make some sense. Concrete everywhere is not a good idea. How can I say that in Korean? Or 'Are you sure you want to build a massive concrete bridge over that beautiful lake? You might regret it later'.

Gyeonju is a very bicycle friendly city, and cheap (7000W) for the afternoon, and an excellent way to see the city. There's ancient Kings and Queens from the Silla Kingdom, and in one bizarre instance they 'believe' (i.e. guess) someone importants family is buried there. However, these sites are everywhere and they are beautiful.

And yes, this was the only colour available.

Up early Sunday to catch a bus to Bulguksa and Seokguram Grotto, which were both extremely busy with tourists. In Bulguksa, as elsewhere in Korea, you see people pushing and shoving to get onto public transportation. Koreans are united in an absolute steadfast refusal to queue. In a good mood I like to join in, half crush an adjumma, face slap a child, or elbow an adjaussi in order to get on a bus we all easily fit on. Rightly or wrongly, I do it to feel part of their culture, to 'fit in', as it were.

But in Gyeongju, it felt a bit weird. A bit wrong. There was me and some Japanese tourists waiting for the scrum to finish, and then we got on.
The atmosphere of the place, away from the bus-stops, was quite tranquil. The landscape was open. The air was good.

Bulguksa was fantastic. If, like me, you have an unhealthy interest in old buildings and stories about those buildings, you will find it incredible. If not, you might just appreciate looking at something not built entirely out of concrete.
A short, rattling, unnecessary fast bus journey away was Seokguram Grotto. A wonderful little place. It was also unique in that is was the only historical place I visited in Gyeongju, perhaps even Korea (so far) that the Japanese hadn't burnt to the ground. My guess is that they couldn't find it as it's way up in the mountains. Or they ran out of matches. They probably would have burned it and danced on the ashes if they had found it. Nothing racist in that, I've never met any Japs before, but judging by their track record they would have either
a) burned it, or,
b) 'relocated' it, to, say, Tokyo.

I want to say 1692 as the year the Japs set fire to everything they could, but I can't be sure. I do remember reading the same year again and again. 'This was burnt down in 1693 but was reconstructed in the 1960s.'
Anyway, as it is, its an 8th Century Buddhist Grotto, originally erected, ironically enough, to protect Korea from Japanese invaders. (No pictures allowed though I'm afraid)

Oh, and the bread in Gyeongju is delicious. I has the red bean paste stuff, but it's not that sweet. For comparison, it's about as sweet as a Korean -purchased French baguette.

And that was it really, a 'cultural experience', as they say. And just to top off the weekend when I was at the bus station, a little boy ran over to me. I bent down, waved, and said hi.
He pointed, shouted 왜국사람 ('foreigner' in Korean) and ran away.
What a great weekend.

Edit: the 'Japs' reference was in tended as a joke. There's a fair amount of hostility towards Japan in Korea, and I was trying to reflect that. Indeed there's a lot of anti-Japanese feeling amongst many older people in many different countries, (Korea, Taiwan, China, Singapore, Malayisa, USA, Australia, UK, mainly) Indeed, even my Uncle (not real, a friend of the family, but incredibly kind) fought them during the war. He got taken prisoner and was in such a state once he was released he had to have half his stomach removed. Fair to say he used terms like 'those sneaky Japs' quite often.
However that was along time ago, I suppose.

I really have never met anyone from Japan though. I assure they are all peace loving people, with warm hearts, filled with kindness, open-minds, are generous, understanding, and polite.

And tall. Very tall.
Peace and Love
p.s. I've promised myself to update this more in the new year. However, I'm off to warmer climates for a while, so don't expect anything new anytime soon!


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    Thank you very much in advance for your time!



    P.S. Sorry for the comment that doesn't match the post... I couldn't find another more general place to contact you on your site.

  2. Wow, what a lovely, but underused blog!