The Bottom Line South Korea is very different from what I expected, no matter what I expected. There are a number of things about Korea that are surprising, distressing, or possibly alarming to a westerner. Spitting, Koreans spit in the street but they don’t blow their noses because they think it’s gross, but it’s perfectly ok to spit in the street! Public Toilets are relatively plentiful and clean in Korea. Many of them actually have a little office in them for the person who cleans them, sometimes there’s a desk and a telephone! However, as clean and available as the toilets are, not all of them have toilet paper. Just to be on the safe side, if you come to SK make sure you have a pack of wet wipes or tissues at all times. Korea also boasts an unusual style of toilet fondly referred to as “the squatter”, holes in the floor. I have never encountered a loo where I had no choice but to use the squatter, so I never have, but knowledge is power. This brings up a pertinent question, if the toilets are so plentiful, why don’t Korean men use them instead of the alley walls? Breakfast, Koreans don’t understand the concept of breakfast, they have lunch for breakfast, chicken, fish, bulgogi, whatever! Talking of food I just made a wonderful prawn spicy soup with loads of spring onion and ginger, my bloody nose won’t stop running! Kimche, it’s not just a food, it’s a national obsession. The first question you are asked is: where are you from? The second: do you like Kimche? Kimche is cabbage fermented in vinegar and hot pepper. It ranges (for me) from inedible to delicious with most of it being inedible. Every time you eat in a Korean restaurant or at school you are given Kimche. I just tell everyone that I like it and force one piece down. I suspect that I might be deported if I say I don’t. The Food Obsession, Koreans are obsessed with their food. They think it’s the greatest stuff in the world and they also think that the rice on this side of town tastes different from rice on that side of town. The pork in Chungju is different tasting than the pork in Cheongju, Deagu has really good kimchi. Korea is about the size of Yorkshire. A lot of puddings are eaten in Yorkshire, but one pudding in Bradford tastes pretty much the same as the other made in Bridlington and another from Halifax. Sometimes this national delusion about the food strikes me as hilarious, other times I want to strangle someone because in my opinion, Korean food is good but does not hold a torch to Vietnam or Thailand. I have a theory that attachment to their food was the only way of keeping their national identity through centuries of invasion. The Japanese, the Chinese and the Russians have been fighting over this patch of land for a thousand years and that only ended 60 years ago.
Korea is an odd little country shaped by a history of violence. There are lots of traces of that embedded in the culture. So before I relate what the cycle ride brought today remember whilst in Korea never say something inexcusable like announcing that you hate Kimchi! You may die.
TURN RIGHT after Konkuk University has stuck with me all week, so I did which had positive results in the form of not just Chungnyeolsa Shrine but also another venerable temple that of Danhosal (Iron Seated Buddha Statue). I think I may have templeitis next weekend and may try to find another vocation for myself. Just outside the temple I met a pie man or at least he looked like a pieman! He was definitely from Wigan, Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down!
The first temple was the Danhosa (The Iron Buddha). There is a usnisa (protrusion on the top of Buddha’s head) and a hempen hood shape on the curled hair, the half-moon-shaped gyeju is in the middle of the head. The temple was originally called Yaksa Temple built in the rule of King Sukjong during the Joseon period, it was renamed Danhosa Temple in 1954. After the expectation Chungnyeolsa was OK but disappointing, not ornate at all but culturally significant because it is where the spirit of General Im Kyeong-eop is eulogised. It was built in 1697, the Josun period. In 1640 the General had defeated the Manchurian Ming army but he seems to have courted controversy and I think he seems to have lost more battles and jobs than he has won and gained. He was born in Chungju but had from all accounts a quite chequered military career and was in and out of favour at various times, I suppose the SK’s need a few hero’s so they invent them! Anyway at least the bogs were clean!!!! From here I decided to cycle along the river passing a frisky goat, an even friskier dog and an even friskier young couple before hitting upon a hillock that it transpires was the tomb of General Im and is also now used as a cemetery.
Further along I came across two men butchering a pig in the middle of the road, I was tempted to get out my camera but remembered that to Buddhism, death is not the end of life, it is merely the end of the body we inhabit in this life, but our spirit will still remain and seek out through the need of attachment, attachment to a new body and new life. Where we will be born is a result of the past and the accumulation of positive and negative action, and the resultant Karma (cause and effect) is a result of our past actions.
A person is reborn in one of 6 realms which are; heaven, human beings, Asura, hungry ghost, animal and hell. Realms, according to the severity of ones karmic actions, Buddhists believe however, none of these places are permanent and one does not remain in any place indefinitely. So we can say that in Buddhism, life does not end, merely goes on in other forms that are the result of accumulated Karma. Buddhism is a belief that emphasises the impermanence of lives, including all those beyond the present life. With this in mind we should not fear death as it will lead to rebirth, much like my re-birth away from the dysfunctional font of academia…….Westking. Sooooo anyway they don’t like people taking photographs of dead animals. This beast was huge, twice the size of that demolished at Mr H’s 60th birthday party! It would have needed its own hog roaster to be manufactured, a greater endeavour and infinitely more attractive than our Olympic Stadium and the Tories political agenda! I spend so little money here I may “pay” them for favours on my return. 🙂
I continued along the river (about 8km) heading for Suju Palbong, a beauty spot famed for its spectacular cliffs and waterfall. There is a viewing platform at the top that gives fabulous views of the surrounding countryside. I was getting knackered and the knees were throbbing so I decided to head back on the other side of the river. I stopped off to view another temple 1.2 km up the bloody hill, I rejected the climb, the mind was willing but the anterior and posterior cruciate’s were NOT. I eventually landed in Hoamji Park were I downed a Gatorade to refuel. The dam that holds the lake back has a huge crack running along the top, for the whole length…..if I don’t write next week I may be the victim of the Hoamji Dam Tsunami. It has been very mild today so let’s hope Spring is around the corner. PS I am celebrating my promotion to soccer coach and finally a thought for the day and a picture for the day (another pie eater?).