My First Field Trip

Last Monday, the fifth graders took an all-day field trip to Gyeongju. For some reason, I got to tag along. Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla kingdom, which ruled the Korean peninsula between the 7th and 9th centuries. The entire area is like a giant open-air museum, full of ancient artifacts, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations (outside of Seoul).

As interesting as it was to learn a bit about Korean history, it was even more interesting to spend the day with 120+ fifth graders…which I haven’t done since I was in fifth grade myself. Lucky for me, I didn’t really have any direct responsibility to monitor students, and more or less just got to go along for the ride.

Our trip started by taking a bus for about 30+ minutes up a mountain, to what felt like (but was later confirmed not to be) the top of Tohamsan.
Atop Tohamsan

On top of Tohamsan we visited Seokguram Grotto, a distant part of Bulguksa Temple that has a giant stone sculpture of Buddha. It was all quite pretty, and I got to see some more of that Korean temple architecture.
Entrance to Seokguram Grotto
Please note that it is mid-October and it is still warm enough here to wear a t-shirt. 🙂

Entrance to Seokguram Grotto
Entering Seokgurum Grotto

Temples at Seokguram Grotto
The temples from below (and an every-energetic fifth grader mid-attack)

Water fountain

Another temple at Seokguram

Inside one of the smaller temples. No photos allowed of the main Buddha, unfortunately…but I grabbed one from the internet:

Famous Buddha sculpture at Seokguram

A bit of history: The Buddha was completed in the year 774. It faces the East Sea, to keep an eye on Japan (I suppose). It’s about 3.5 meters tall, and much more impressive in person. This photo doesn’t really do it justice.

From Seokguram, we took a 50 minute walk down-mountain to the main part of Bulguksa temple. I walked with a couple of fifth grade girls, who introduced themselves by their English names Eugene and Destiny. At least, I think she went by Eugene and not Eugenia. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Eugene is generally a guy’s name, although maybe I should have. Isn’t that kind of my job, as resident English teacher/Western culture expert? But then again, why should she have to subscribe to cultural norms when she isn’t even in the culture to begin with?

I asked Destiny if she knew Desinty’s Child, but she didn’t. I’m quite excited to turn her on to Destiny’s Child/Beyonce in class this week.

Eugene and Destiny were very curious about my arm hair and under-eye circles. I also amazed the fifth grade girls by putting up my hair (which they said looked much prettier than when it was down) and by wearing earrings. I’m sure this novelty will wear off soon, but for now it’s very fun.

Walking to Bulguksa
Walking to Bulguksa

Watch out for falling rocks!

2 of the 4 guardians of Bulguksa Temple
Two of the four ‘guardians’ of Bulguksa. Apparently every temple has them.

A bit of background on Bulguksa: It was built 751-774, under the Silla kingdom. As the center of Buddhism, it cultivated a lot of the era’s most famous Buddhist art. It was also a ‘center of prayer for the protection of the country from foreign invasion,’ but alas, the entire temple was burned down by Japanese invaders in 1593 (which seems to be an ongoing theme in this country). The temple wasn’t restored until 1973.

Bulguksa Temple

Bronze Buddha statue in a temple
Bronze Buddha statue

In the temple

Bulguksa Temple
All of the dragons take me back to my ninja-aspiring days

Seokgatap and Dabotap
“The contrast between the simplicity of the Seokgatap and the complexity of the Dabotap is designed to represent the dual nature of the Buddha’s contemplation and detachment from the world.” (<- stolen from wikipedia)

Bulguksa Temple

Bulguksa Temple

Bulguksa Temple

Apparently one part of the temple was for making wishes. If you can add a stone to the top of a stack without toppling it, your wish comes true.
Bulguksa Temple

Stones were stacked everywhere! It was nice to be surrounded by so many wishes…
Bulguksa Temple

We had a picnic lunch, where one of the students was munching on some of these:
Silk worm larvae!!! He offered me some….but I just couldn’t do it. The only thing I’ve turned down trying so far. Before I leave, for sure. But that’s something I’ll have to build up to (those and the shrink-wrapped non-refrigerated squid tentacles at HomePlus).

At the end of the day, my co-teacher translated for a group of students who wanted to know how my field trip had been. Getting to see Korean national treasures for free and hang out with a bunch of fun 10 year olds without having to monitor their behavior? “Absolutely perfect.”


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