The rather unfortunate relics of Park Je Sang, and a German-Korean temple

I haven’t posted about teaching for a long time, and in that time an entire new school year started, way back in March! This ‘year’ I’m counted as a sixth grade teacher, which means I get to accompany the sixth graders on all their field trips.

The entrance to the "Relics of Park Je Sang"

Last week was our first field trip: the class picnic. It was out in the countryside, near the ‘Relics of Park Jesang.’ A 40 minute bus-ride from Samil Elementary took us well out of the city and into the boonies of Ulsan.

Overlooking a traditional Korean village

This is the story of Park JeSang:

Park was a loyal officer of the Silla dynasty, sometime around 417~458. The King’s two brothers had been taken hostage by the Japanese, and Park was sent to retrieve them. He managed to rescue the two princes, but was captured himself.

Life at a traditional Korean village

The Japanese tried to get him to switch sides, but Park’s loyalty could not be swayed, and eventually they burned him alive. Back in Korea, Park’s wife waited and waited for her husband to return, grieving so much she apparently “wailed herself to death” and turned into a stone. After her body became a stone, her and her daughters’ spirits turned into birds and flew away and hid behind a rock.

A stone monument of the wife that turned to stone
Looking through the memorial at a stone statue of the wife that turned to stone.

…I wasn’t a big fan of the story. A wife’s devotion to her husband, so strong that she can’t live her own life, do anything herself without him…blah! Perhaps you’re thinking it’s more ‘Romeo and Juliet’ than that, and she just couldn’t imagine a life without her soul mate. But considering the legend later inspired an on-site Confucian academy, and every year the town throws a Park JeSang festival to “develop the mind of loyal, justice, devotion and chastity to the local residents,” I really don’t see the romance. To me it’s rather insulting that this woman had two daughters, yet couldn’t stop weeping and would rather petrify away than raise them. Yeah yeah yeah, it’s just a story, but I really don’t like the way her inability to do anything after the death of her husband is celebrated like some great act of devotion. Boo!

I was very interested to get my co-teacher’s opinion on the matter, but didn’t want to come across as outright insulting this Ulsan legend. Such subtlety is difficult to communicate across language barriers, and eventually it got kind of confusing and I just kind of dropped it. Ah, well.

The entrance of the sixth graders

But anyways, my sixth graders are awesome this year. Which is great, because last year’s sixth graders were absolute hellions that I absolutely dreaded teaching every week. I guess it’s still the start of the school year, so there’s plenty of time for them to turn into little monsters. But look at how cute they are now!

I liked this girl's shirt
I wanted to get a picture of this girl’s shirt. “I guess it’s better to be who you are.”

The Vice Principal shows off his jaegi skills
This is the new vice principal, showing off his ‘jaegi’ skills. The students made these little hackey-sack type things, and spent half the day just running around playing with them. Someone planned that brilliantly. They’re just tissue paper and washers, but the materials balance each other out so they kind of float in the air a bit and they’re really fun to try to kick around.

I completely lack any jaegi skills
Unfortunately my jaegi skills are rather non-existent. I did manage to make off with one of my own though, and am planning to practice and redeem myself at the next sixth grade outing.

Taking out the tour guide
Some of my faves (not that I choose favorites…), ‘listening’ to the tour guide.

Sixth graders


The best thing about these field trips is that I have absolutely no responsibilities while I’m there: the homeroom teachers have to look after all their kids, so I’m just kind of along for the ride. Which meant my co-teacher and I got to go off and do some exploring on our own, and we found our way to a small Buddhist temple.

Soo owang Temple

We were the only people around, except for a woman tending to the grounds. Who seemed rather pleased to see me, because apparently the temple had a German monk. She invited us into the temple, which was more like a house inside. She sat us around a table on the floor and introduced us to monk Klaus Gerd Kamps. He had moved to Korea several years before, after studying Buddhism in Seoul and later marrying a Korean woman. He and his wife – also a monk – had built the temple themselves, after tons of grief from immigration (who didn’t take to a foreigner being a monk, or wanting to open his own business in Korea). I haven’t been able to actually really talk to any monks here due to language barriers, and I was really excited to get to ask questions about monk life and the temple and everything. Things I learned: monks can drink, and smoke, and go to pubs or whatever they please. They can also eat meat, or not (“how can I survive without my meat?”). And have to get a special certification to be considered a monk by the government. Which certainly isn’t special in Korea, because it seems everyone needs a certification to do anything here. But it’s kind of comforting to know they won’t let just anyone open a temple.

The temple itself was small but very beautiful, and unique for a Korean temple.

Soo owang Temple
This Buddha statue faces all four directions.

Soo owang Temple
Apparently these guys are in their winter ‘seasonal wear’ with the beanies. Ha.

Buddha under the Bodhi Tree
Buddha under the Bodhi Tree

A Chinese Dragon
Do you know how to tell a Chinese dragon from a Korean dragon? Chinese dragons have four talons; Korean dragons only have three. Now you know.

Apparently temples in Korea are painted with a special stone paint, which is a process very, very few people can do. So there’s a long wait to get any temple painting done, and then the painters can take as long as they want, because they’re the only ones who can do the job. The paint is supposed to last for hundreds of years!

It was so nice and peaceful to hear nothing but the small fountain and wind through the trees for a while – a nice break from 130 screaming 6th graders!

My co-teacher and I ended the day at a nearby ‘fermented foods’ eatery, sharing a bottle of makkoli (Korean rice wine) and seasoned dropwort, just out of view of the students. I know, some days I have it ridiculously good over here.

Chisan Seowon


A note to anyone who stumbles across this page from Ulsan, and/or to myself at a future date should I try to return:

The Relics of Park Jesang are located in Ulju-gun, accessible by the 318 bus from Eonyang, or 802 bus from Seongnam-dong. Ride the bus for approximately forever, and hop out at 박제상유적지. Soo Owang Temple is just down the road from the memorial.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Marcello
    Jan 23, 2013 @ 02:08:41

    korean dragons have 4 claws drangons from Japan have 3


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