Thursday, October 30, 2008
Pop Goes the Weasel
I went back to Mt. Palgongsan and Donghwasa Temple on Wednesday. (Actually, that sentence belongs in the Departmental Bureau of Repetitious Redundancy Department, as those names mean Mt. Palgong Mountain and Donghwa Temple Temple, and you can see the photos.) (And yes, that's a picture of the spot where I tripped; I told you the sidewalk was bad.)
I was supposed to go with Micah, the newest guy at work. For me, teaching in Korea is a huge adventure; for him, it's the Ritz: he's spent several years tramping around Afghanistan, Pakistan, and a bunch of other places that end in stan, sleeping on the locals' floors. Be that as it may, Micah contacted me that he'd barely slept the night before, so I went alone.
I learned something about myself on the ride out. The bus was packed to the gills, and I ended up standing down in the stairwell at the exit door. Every time we came to a bus stop, I'd come up off the stairs to let people out; at one stop, everyone around me (but me, for a moment) noticed that I'd step up, someone would disembark and the door would start to close, I'd step down, and the door would open. I'd step up, it would start to close, I'd step down, it would open. This happened three or four times. Inside of five seconds, everybody in the back of the bus was laughing.
I thought it was funny too, and I was laughing as much as anybody. Not long ago, I would have been humiliated because I thought they were laughing at me; now I just felt how funny it was. So here's what I learned: I've shed a lot of my defensiveness and ego. Knowing my ego is shrinking makes me so proud of myself! (Wait; what?)
The trip up the mountain was challenging and uneventful, so I'll skip to the trip down. I just kind of struck out on a new trail, which ran out, and I blundered about a bit, sharply rightward and steeply downward (kind of like the Bush administration).
Within ten minutes, I made two unexpected acquaintances. A big ol' ferrety animal popped out from under a rock and froze when he saw me. I froze too. We stared at each other for quite a while, then he skittered under a log. When I came home, I searched the 'net and determined he's a Siberian weasel; I don't know if he tried to google me. (I've been trying to upload a picture from the Web, but apparently the tech department at Blogger is also run by weasels. You'll have to search for Siberian weasel images yourself, or take my word for it: he looked like Frank Burns.)
Then, way out in the woods, I was greeted by a Korean lady who knew some English. I thought at first that she was taking pity on my befuddled expression and was going to help me find my way, but then she said she was Jehovah. I was pretty impressed till I realized that none of the bushes was burning. She meant she was a Witness. She asked me if I could read Korean and wanted to give me a J's W tract. I played dumb (that is to say, acted naturally) and went on my way.
I finally found a real trail and the way to the Donghwasa complex. It's hard to encapsulate how I feel about it. There are many buildings of various degrees of religious importance, and a mixture of worship and rubbernecking going on. I saw a monk in an Adidas track suit, and people touching their heads to the floor in a pavilion facing the giant standing Buddha (which, the brochure says, encases two pieces of the historical Buddha's bones.) As I've said before, I find the icons and music offputting, and there was a deep tuneless chant, which I thought sounded vaguely menacing, playing over loudspeakers the whole time.
But I still feel very peaceful there; I don't know if it's the setting, with the mountains looming above and all around the courtyard, or the earnest belief of the pilgrims, or what. But, for whatever reason, it's one of the most serene places I've ever been. Afterward, on the walk down to the main road, I passed three women kneeling in front of a Buddha image carved into a boulder; the sign said the image was carved between 1200 and 1400 years ago. St. Augustine calls itself the "Ancient City" because it's 443 years old; I guess it's all a matter of perspective.
Then I walked down to the bus stop, checked for blood on the sidewalk and found none, and came home.