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The Adventurer’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 10 Jun 2006

Location: Korea (South)

MapToday my friend Tracey and I decided to take in a real cultural experience--a temple stay. A couple of weeks ago we made reservations at a Buddhist Temple for . It is called Magoksa and is in the countryside. A little background about the temple:

The temple is believed to have been built by a monk in 642 A.D. during the Silla kingdom, though this has not exactly been proven. Some of it has been reconstructed through the years. For example, during the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592, some of the buildings were destroyed.

We left Ansan at 8:00 am and arrived in the town of Gonju, where we had to transfer to another bus to take us to the temple. This was my first real experience being out in the rural countryside. Just think of being a rural redneck in Canada, it's about the same here, but much more Korean of course. The bus ride was about an hour long and it was standing room only for the first half hour (Asia's like that, it's not just Korea) and the roads were quite narrow and windy. When we arrived we had to walk up a little hill where we were met by our gracious host, a woman (I can't remember her name) who spoke pretty good English.

We got ready for our stay by changing into monk attire, which consisted of cotton pants and and buttoned shirt (see pictures). For me, it was like wearing pajamas. And the shoes we wore were made of rubber (think rubber boots, but as shoes). The temple was quite beautiful as it was set in the mountains with lush trees everywhere and a stream nearby, very picturesque. You really get a sense of solitude here. Also, before I go any further, inside the buildings are numerous golden statues of various buddhas, incense everywhere, and fruit set out as an offering to the buddhas. You are to bow everytime you enter these sacred areas as a sign of respect and honor for the buddha.

We spent most of the afternoon drinking tea with our host and learning a little about the temple and what we would be doing in the program. There was a large group of Korean employees who were doing this temple stay as a company event also, so we shared some of the time with them. We went for a walk around with everyone and we had to do some activities that monks do, things like chanting about how you should love and respect people, and then choosing someone to walk and talk with and telling them very personal things about yourself, like the most difficult time in your life--kinda puts you on the spot. When we returned to the main building we went for dinner, which consisted of kimchi and bibimbap. Bibimbap is a vegetable dish that you mix with rice and a spicy red sauce. It is a dish that is very common here, and most expats enjoy it. By the way, before I continue, I should mention that you are not allowed any footwear inside any of the buildings, so you have to take your shoes off before you enter any of them.

To make this experience more interesting, the weather made it such that it seemed like a mystical place to be. It was now starting to get dark and the clouds were full, we knew that we were in for some heavy rain, set amidst the darkness of the sky, the mountains and the trees. After dinner, we went into an actual temple where we chanted and bowed for about an hour, although the chant was in Korean, so it was hard to follow. We did this to honor the buddha and the monks do this every day at the same time. Then we went to ring the bells. There was this huge bell that weighs a few tons at least that you ring by pulling back a log hoisted by chains and using all your strength to push it into the bell. This bell rang through the mountains and you could hear it's echo miles away. It took 4 people to ring the bell.

It began to pour rain just as we finished ringing the bell. This was amazing. The setting of the temple, and the sound of the rain and the thunder. You could take it right out of a book or a movie--so cool, and it rained for most of the night.

We went into our room at about 9:00 pm to get ready for bed. Monks are asleep by 9:00. I thought it was so amazing to be walking the grounds of a place that had been walked by people centuries ago. I also thought it cool to be sleeping in a building where these people also slept, and it's still in tact. I was asleep by 10:00, which was quite late considering we had to be up at 3:00 am.