Jumping in Jecheon

weeeee!
Weeee!

What else is there to do on Thanksgiving weekend when you’re 6000 miles away from home and you can’t find any turkey or pumpkin pie?

It all began several months ago, when I was on an
Adventure Korea trip last spring. Taking a ferry across the beautiful, yellow-dusted waters of Chungju Lake, our peaceful journey was interrupted by terrified screams as we came across ChungPung Land’s bungee jump. I later discovered that this was the biggest jump in Korea at 62 meters (203 feet), which also makes it the third highest jump in Asia. And I immediately vowed not to leave the country until I had made the jump.

Unfortunately, ChungPung Land isn’t very close to Ulsan, and so it was another 6 months or so before I was able to make it back – just in time for the last jump of the season, and my last chance before leaving Korea.

Cheong Pung Land

ChungPung Land is in or just outside of Jecheon, a 4.5-hour, aggravatingly slow train ride from Ulsan. The website had suggested taking a local city bus out to the bungee jump, but other blogs reported the bus could take an hour, a highly unappealing prospect after just getting off the train. Instead we opted for the easy option and got a couple taxis, who probably ripped us off a bit charging 25,000 won, but at least it was quick.

The taxi ride out to the jump was adventurous in itself, down a narrow road with a daring taxi driver, passing in no-pass zones and rounding sharp curves recklessly. It was a good warm-up for the events to come!

When we got there it wasn’t very crowded, with only one other group of foreigners around. We bought tickets for the “big 3” which included an Ejection Seat, Giant Swing, and the bungee jump. The bungee itself was 40,000 won, and adding the other two for only 20,000 more seemed like a pretty good deal.


The ejection seat was up first. It didn’t look like much at first, but looks can be deceiving. The two-person seat is in a little metal frame suspended between two bungee cords, which is sling-shotted by a giant metal arm, launching you incredibly high into the air and spinning in circles before gradually making your way back to earth.

I felt very secure, with no details being spared in fastening us to the seat. We wore a safety belt and harness, something over our legs and they even had me cross my arms over my chest, harhar. According to my friends, there was a very likely danger of my boobs getting stretched, which I hadn’t found any backing evidence of on the internet but better safe than sorry!


Next we were suited up for the Big Swing, which seemingly required the help of 1-3 staff members per person. The staff was entirely university-aged Korean guys, of whom there seemed to be way more than necessary working for the slow customer-flow of that afternoon. Lucky for us, they spoke some English, which went something like this: “You, here. Step. Catch. Go. Now.” Where they learned this blunt manner of speaking, I have no idea.

As we headed over to the swing, a group of people had gathered to watch. To start, you were hooked in at the shoulder and ankle and suspended at a rather awkward angle as they finished securing everything. Then it was a slow, slow ascent, which suddenly (and terrifyingly) jerked to a halt at the top. But the scariest part was having to pull the release cable yourself to start your fall. Which required a bit more force than expected, and so there were several false starts of tugging and not falling. Quite terrifying. But also ridiculously fun! Although my description may not do the experience justice.

Finally, it was time for the bungee! We changed into bungee gear and were weighed, each of us getting a little card of a different color. We took a very tiny elevator up to the top of the crane, where there were already people waiting. It was a bit cold and windy at the top, and the view looking through the crane beneath our feet did nothing to comfort our nerves. Unfortunately, we had quite a while to wait for everyone in front of us to jump.

The color of our cards determined the order we could jump, which apparently meant I would go last. After watching so many people go, I was incredibly impatient for my turn to come. When it finally came time to strap the giant cables around my ankles, I wasn’t really nervous. It was exciting to finally be doing something I’d been looking forward to for so long. They led me to the edge of the platform, between some hand rails. Even then, I still felt quite secure and ready to go. Then they instructed me to put my feet halfway over the edge of the platform. Ok, no problem. And then I was told to look up. And take my hands off the handrails to hold them above my head while they counted to 5 for me to jump. Which is where the nerves kicked in.

As soon as I’d look away from my feet and took my hands off the handrails, I’d lose my sense of balance and it was as if my feet were on something as thin as a tightrope. Haphazardly flailing over the edge was not the way I wanted to go. After a lot of false starts of putting my hands up and back down, we eventually worked something out where I did a one-arm up kinda dive.

And. it. was. AWESOME!

Safe landing
Actually, as soon as I landed I felt like I forgot everything about what it felt like to bungee jump. And I wanted to go again. The fall was somehow less scary than the fall on the swing. The bouncing around part after the initial bit was strange, as you’re like a ragdoll at the end of the cable being snapped back and forth. But it was also ridiculously fun!

After a while, it got pretty annoying to be upside down. Especially because after you finish bouncing you get lowered very slowly down to the guy in the raft, whose been waiting for you in the ‘safety pool’ under the crane. It felt like I’d been upside down for far too long by the time I made it to the raft, but that was the only negative feeling of the whole experience.

The view from the jump
The calm view from the jump.

Besides Chungpung Land, the area around Chungju Lake is beautiful and must be amazing during the summer. Although it is very resort-y, with prices to match. We went to a cool-looking restaurant for some post-jump dinner where we found dalk kalbi for 20,000 won per serving! Which was a bit much, to me. The owner of the restaurant was a Korean man with impressive English speaking abilities and equally impressive long, wild gray hair – a rather unusual site in the country. He was curious about what we were doing in town and how we had found his restaurant, and then was incredibly considerate in having someone drive us back into town for free. I’d recommend his restaurant but I’ve forgotten the name. It’s the really cool looking place on the way to Jecheon though, and if you ever get the chance you should go.

We found a ridiculously cheap love motel (50,000 for two rooms!) near the train station and headed out in search of the local nightlife. And then we spent about an hour or so wandering around without any luck. There seemed to be a highly disproportionate number of shady-looking girly bars for such a small town, but I guess for the resort season. Eventually we found some young people in a trendy cafe who sent us to the part of town where all the bars were. From there we met some other foreigners who took us to a big party at “Foreigner Bar”, and our night was set.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any good close-ups of my bungee jump, which just means I’ll have to do it again! Perhaps in Macau

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I <3 Chungcheongbuk-do

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Chungcheongbuk-do is a province a ways north of Ulsan and a bit south of Seoul, the only land-locked province in the country. And it is absolutely wonderful for anyone who loves to be outside: full of rolling green hills (for hiking or paragliding), a giant river for rafting, caves for exploring, beautiful temples, and a beautiful lake.

Here’s the details…

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After months of thinking about going along to one of their events, I finally signed up for Adventure Korea‘s “Caveing and Ferry riding” trip. The thought of crawling through a small space deep underground that at any moment might collapse on me sounds absolutely terrifying to me, which was exactly why I thought I should do it. As it turned out, the ‘caveing’ was a bit less spelunking, a bit more “cave touring.” But more on that later.

Meeting up with the tour group in Chungju, I was surprised to find we would be traveling with two full buses – about 80 waygookens in total. I kind of feel that traveling with 80 people isn’t really the best way to see anything, especially when you’re all foreigners attracting tons of stares from the locals everywhere. But it was still fun. It was strange to meet people new to Korea from the west, as it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was the one telling everyone “I’ve only been here three weeks.” I also met someone who grew up just a few miles away from where I grew up. Crazy!

The tour group was really well organized, the guides seemed friendly, the schedule was well-planned and it was convenient to have a bus there to take us everywhere we were going, sure – but ultimately I don’t think I’m one for big tour groups.

Anyways, here are all the wonderful things I saw over the weekend:


Chungjuho Lake, from a ferry–

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I want to move to this house. Also, the farm land looks really funny from far away.

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The weekend was really yellow dust-y. This stuff blows over from China all the time in the spring apparently, and while I can never tell it’s happening when it’s happening, it sure shows up in the pictures. All of my pictures looked like they were taken in a yellow fog (I tried to clean them up a bit in Photoshop). But that’s why the water looks so yellow – it’s quite prettier in real life.


Gosu Cave

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The cave is a huge tourist destination, and was packed when we arrived. We were standing in line through the entire cave. Laaame.

The lameness was a bit made up for by the really cool rock formations, though. Which were conveniently lit up for prime picture taking. In same ways, having the cave set up for tourism was rather nice.

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Dodamsambong Rocks

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Here’s the story, from the tourism website: “According to the legend there lived a couple who loved each other, but had no child. They found a mistress because they wanted to have a baby, but once she had the baby, she began to mistreat and taunt the wife. The heavens saw them, and turned all of them into stones. The way the rocks stand next to one another is very interesting. ”

I read elsewhere about how the middle rock is the man, who is looking towards the ‘pregnant rock’ (the mistress) and turning his back to his wife. Hm.

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Near the rocks, a beautiful “stone gate”. Reminds me a bit of Mackinac Island.


Danyang

After the tour ended, I headed to Danyang with a couple of friends to do some more exploring.

The characters from the rock story are the symbols of Danyang. Is that the mistress or the wife?
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These guys are everywhere.
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Really, everywhere.
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Ah, Danyang. What a beautiful little city. I’m ready to move there, right now.

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Arriving at the bus terminal, we quickly found a cheap pension overlooking the river and headed out for a walk. The entire town is set on this river, facing some giant green hills. The river was really flooded, which we realized when we noticed that only the tops of these trees were sticking out:

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There was a boardwalk built into the side of the hill facing the river, and it seemed to stretch for miles and miles. We walked for a while, through a rose tunnel (that didn’t have any roses yet) and eventually stopped to watch the sun set behind some hills.

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Did I mention it’s pretty in Danyang?

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This was a rather intriguing find on our walk…
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…that came out of a giant tree. Strange…

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For dinner we ate at a little handmade mandu restaurant, where the owner seemed rather surprised to see foreigners – he was hesitant to give us our kimchi, gave us a free dropwort pancake, and wanted to know what we thought of everything. It was excellent. And it was nice to be somewhere that felt so small town-y.

This was supposed to be a better view of the flood, but didn’t come out quite right. Look to the right, and you can kind of see how the bicycle path and parking lot are completely under water.
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There’s a road to the left in this picture that disappears into the river. This is why we couldn’t go to the waterfall.
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Even the bugs there are beautiful!
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And a bit random, but – a strange sign seen in the city. Maybe the bird levitating above the rocks is supposed to look more …appetizing?
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Guinsa Temple

A 30 minute bus ride from Danyang is the beautiful Guinsa Temple, set in a valley between two mountains. We were there just after Buddha’s Birthday, so they still had some giant lanterns set-up.

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Another beautiful ceiling

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A nice dragon detail that caught my attention.

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These four guys guard the entrance of every Buddhist temple.

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This is a sculpture of all the zodiac signs. I thought the elephant butts were funny.

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The main temple building.

In the main temple:
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This guy apparently founded a special sect of Buddhism in this temple. It seemed weird to see him there and not Buddha though.

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Cleaning up the party from Buddha’s birthday.

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Ondalsanseong Fortress

Our final stop for the weekend was a fortress just down the street from the temple. It was of course pretty as well…

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Apparently it’s also been used in some K-drama.

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The fortress walls were surrounded by a moat, teeming with tadpoles.

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Inside we found some torture equipment.

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In a park around the fortress we found another cave. We had to put on hard hats to enter, so I had some higher expectations for adventure, and I wasn’t disppointed!

The cave was still set up for tourism, with a built-up path that you had to follow. But the cave was far less crowded, and the path went through some rather tight squeezes.

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This rock looks exactly like an elephant!!


Just when Danyang couldn’t get any better, we came across a GIANT DRAGON.

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Unfortunately, it attacked Caitlyn…

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…and killed her.

We also found a giant thumb!
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And a giant swing!
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Apparently this is normal in Korea, and is traditional, or something. It is way less fun than a normal-sized swing, so I’m glad they eventually came around.


Danyang is awesome. I don’t know who gets to live there to teach English, but I wish it were me.

The Changhaejin Back in Time Tour

In Korea, I try to be open-minded. Really, I do. But on this one point, I can not be swayed: having public holidays on a Thursday and the following Tuesday, without giving the Friday and Monday off, is just wrong. Yet this is what happened in early May with Childrens’ Day (May 5) and Buddha’s Birthday (May 10). Some people managed to get the Friday and/or Monday off, but I unfortunately was not one of them. And I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, because two holiday days are nice, but come onnnnnnn!

I, however, was not going to let this whole not-having-vacation-days-when-all-of-my-friends-do business deter me from making a rather long cross-country trek to Wando, an island in the southwest of Korea.

Wando
This picture was actually taken on Sinji, which is a smaller island connected to Wando by a bridge, but we didn’t figure that out until after this picture was taken.

Wando was a bit of a hike from Ulsan – a three hour bus ride to Gwangju, and then another 2 hour bus ride south, after which we found ourselves in a tiny dumpy bus station, full of old people eating ice creams.. We stared at the tourist map for a while, which unfortunately didn’t seem to mark the bus stop and so was entirely useless. Luckily, we were able to attract the attention of a nearby policeman and communicate through miming that we were looking for a place to sleep by the water. He then got us a taxi driver, who seemed insistent on letting us know that it would be a 12,000 won cab ride. Fine. All five of us piled into the taxi and went way out of town, over a bridge, and down to a beachy area full of pensions. It was the off season, so he had to go around a bit to find us a place that was open. We ended up at quiet pension just across the street from the beach, where an older ajumma showed us to our room and told us many things in Korean that we didn’t understand (something about eating? eating rice? and bringing us more pillows? right?).


Not quite beach season

After unwinding for a moment in our pension room (which consisted of an open floor, TV stand, and basic kitchen) we headed to the beach. The weather was nice, but as it was still early May most everything was deserted. There’s something about empty beaches I kind of like though – they’re much more interesting when they’re all deserted and run down than when they’re just all full of people.

Wando has some strange fog:

The strange mists of Wando, part 1

The strange mists of Wando, part 2
It’s a fog bubble!

The strange mists of Wando, part 3

Walking down the beach, we came across a sign for a different area of another island that we clearly weren’t on. Of interest though was a distinction in the campgrounds: one plain old “tent ground” and one “love tent ground.” Oooooooooh.

We also came across another waygooken, carrying some wood to down to a campfire at a rather well established camp on the beach. We asked her what was up in Wando, to which she replied with a northern European accent that she didn’t spend much time in town but there was some sort of festival for a sailor or something that weekend. It’s always interesting to find non-English teaching foreigners around. Especially ones that seem to be living on beaches.

After a bit of wandering, we needed to get back to Wando to pick up a friend at the bus terminal. Having to communicate this to our pension owner so we could get a taxi proved a bit tricky. While some of my friends can actually speak a good deal of Korean, the Jeolla province has a completely different dialect than we’re used to in the Gyeongsan province, which meant we understood even less than usual. The woman wanted to know what we were going to be doing, and then seemed to make us a schedule, pointing to a big clock hanging on the wall. Thus satisfied, she called us a taxi and told the driver to take us somewhere ‘fun.’ We ended up here:

The fair looked a bit run down

Right next to a mini fair happening on a tiny street. It was a bit rundown, but seemed to have attracted the whole town anyways.

This was the Chango Pog festival, honoring a sailor of some sort, who maybe became a sea God? And the guardian of Wando. Anyways, according to the festival brochure:

“After 1200 years in the Ocean, ChangoPoGo’s Time Capsule emerged in Cheonghaejin!”

So I guess that’s what we were celebrating. The town had a few rows of tents full of cultural activities like Korean cartoon making, pony riding, kiddie archery, and my personal favorite: triangle kimbap making. They also had all the usual Korean festival food tents serving pork BBQ (from an entire half of a pig on the spit), whale meat, double-fried hot dogs, dried squid, bondegi (silk worm larvae) – the usual. This was all mixed in with a market selling anything else you could need – kitchen appliances, a magic veggie chopping device, tons and tons of seaweed, funny hats…pretty much everything. It was all a bit chaotic.

Upon our arrival, a few friends wanted to grab some fried hot dogs. While they were waiting, we were swarmed by a group of middle school girls, who warmly welcomed us to Wando.

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Paddle boats row into some more weird fog.

Making triangle kimbap
Caitlyn makes some triangle kimbap.

As the sun set, a musician took to the stage to play some acoustic folksy stuff. It was fine and rather unexciting, until she decided to do a cover of “My Heart Will Go On.” I’m not sure which was more surprising – that she had actually chosen to perform the song, or that the crowd seemed to be totally into it.

Wando

The festivities ended with a big fireworks show over the water, after which we had some super over-priced festival food before heading back to our island to turn in for the night.


Wando's Waterfalls
These weird waterfalls were full of mini animal statues, and also timed to start and stop at the most inopportune for picture-taking moments. Wando is a bit strange.

A tiny island of evergreens

The next day the plan was to take a ferry to another island, Cheongsan-do, famous for being pretty and for being in some popular K-dramas. The group was a bit slow moving in the morning however, and missed the ferries that would be early enough for me to get back in time to catch the bus home. So I spent the afternoon doing some solo wandering around the island.

overlooking Wando

It was a bit foggy, but I decided it’d still be nice to do a bit of hiking. Unfortunately it was too foggy to go all the way to the top of Wando in their tower, as it was completely consumed by fog:

The Wando Tower

With no plan and a few hours to fill, I figured I’d see if I could follow the signs point to the intriguing-sounding “drama set”. Taking a taxi was out of the question, as it’d be expensive, and I didn’t see much in the way of buses. So I started walking. I walked clear through town, past rows and rows of little old houses and a newer looking high school. Eventually the buildings thinned out and I was on a two-lane road, surrounded by hills and farmland.

Things were still a bit misty…

More mistiness in Wando

…and after about an hour and a half of walking, things were so misty I could barely make out anything beyond the road. Except that it was mostly deserted and farmland. Unable to stop thinking about Deliverance due to a conversation earlier that morning, I decided it was about time to give up and head back.

Lost amidst the mists in the Wando countryside

On my way back, I came across two adorable, fluffy puppies. Which made the trip very much worth it!
Puppy!

Puppy #2!

After a little bit of walking back, I figured I’d try to hail down a taxi. Stopping any random car didn’t seem like the safest bet, as I couldn’t see who was inside and was kind of in the middle of nowhere. But before I could stop a cab, a young couple pulled over in a mini-van and offered me a ride to the bus terminal. Tthe people in the Jeolla province seem to be incredibly nice and friendly. While we couldn’t communicate a whole lot, I was able to tell them what I was doing, and they seemed incredulous that I was walking to the “drama set.” Which I think they told me was another 2 hours away!

The moral of the story is: Don’t try to walk across Wando. Or at least if you do, bring a map!


And just a leftover picture:

The dolphins in Wando enjoy listening to the radio on headsets
As seen in Wando: apparently the dolphins there listen to radio headsets?

24 Hours in a Buddhist Temple

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There comes a time in many foreigners’ stay in Korea that they decide to do a ‘temple stay’. A popular program widely touted by the government tourist organizations, a temple stay basically allows you to stay overnight at one of the many Buddhist temples sprinkled throughout the country, observing and participating in many aspects of temple life.

Here’s the short version: we chanted (well, listened to chanting), bowed 108 times, meditated, woke up at 4am to do these things, did archery, practiced sunmudo martial arts, drank tea, climbed a mountain, and ate vegan food mindfully, and everyone should try it!

Here’s the long version:

My good friend Paul who lives down the street from me in Ulsan decided to celebrate his birthday with a temple stay. We chose Golgulsa, a temple outside of Gyeongju and not too far from Ulsan, because its famous for a martial art called sunmudo. It’s sort of similar to tai chi, combining martial arts and yoga for meditative purposes.

Coming into the Gyeongju train station, we were greeted by these guys:

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We grabbed some $1 hamburgers in a giant, awesome indoor food market across the street. And then took a rather roundabout way to the temple, which included a 40-minute trek along a two-way highway through the middle of nowhere because we missed our bus stop. We knew we had finally made it when we saw this sign:

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And so with hopes of being able to levitate like that by the end of the weekend, we entered the temple. Just through the main gate we found a big temple stay office, clearly marked in English – this temple definitely gets a lot of tourists. A foreigner came out to greet us and get us checked in. She was from Newfoundland, Canada and had been at the temple for six months, after having taught in Korea for a couple years. She gave us a rundown of the itinerary and our uniform for the next 24-hours, which consisted of some super baggy pants and a kind of awful-colored yellowish vest. We also had to fill out a survey, where my friend Mark wrote his ‘motivation’ for the visit was ‘deification.’ No one seemed to mind…

Our rooms were across the road in a new dormitory building:

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The rooms were very simple, just a big empty floor with plenty of blankets to sleep on (and an internet hook-up and a mini-fridge).

Walking around the temple, I was surprised to find statues of these guys with their ’24-pack’ abs all over the place:

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They seem a bit aggressive and menacing for a Buddhist temple, but I guess Golgulsa is the martial arts temple.

The first activity on our itinerary was archery. I was pretty excited, since I hadn’t fired a bow and arrow since summers at Camp Michigania when I was in middle school. Our archery instruction placed a lot of emphasis on how to breathe. I had never thought of archery as a meditative process, but found concentrating on my breathing really focused my mind and was rather relaxing. While I haven’t retained much of my childhood archery skill, I at least did better than Mark, who managed to hit me with an arrow even though I was standing behind him. At archery I also met my roommate for the evening, a Portuguese exchange student studying business at Korea National University in Seoul.

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I kind of wish I had packed for my visit with the temple uniform in mind. My bright green hooded sweatshirt was not the best match for the outfit, and considering how many pictures I took, I kind of wish I had thought ahead. Not that that goes with the Buddhist mindset of selfessness, but should I ever return I will plan accordingly.

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Next to archery: stone carvings of sunmudo poses. I was hoping we’d get to practice jumping over someone/trees in our training session, but unfortunately they skipped that part.

From archery we thought we were going to have a couple hours of community service, but were given the time off instead. I hear other visitors aren’t so lucky. We went up to the main part of the temple, which was pretty crowded with tourists. It was fun to be wearing our temple clothes amongst all of the Koreans in their trendy, matching hiking outfits.

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We caught the end of one of the temple’s daily Sunmudo performances, which had plenty of dazzling jumps and flying through the air to make us excited for our Sunmudo training later on that evening.

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More muscly statue-dudes and martial arts poses on the side of the main temple building. As far as Buddhist temples go, this one seemed kind of macho.

Other than martial arts, Golgulsa is also famous for a 1500 year-old stone Buddha carving set in the side of a mountain. The trek up to the stone Buddha was a bit perilous, the route so steep at one point you needed the help of a rope ladder. Which made it pretty fun. The path went past several small shrines with small stone Buddhas and other carvings. The Buddha itself was carved about 4 meters above the group, with a small platform in front of it for bowing, and a small sloping ledge to stand on behind that for picture taking, with a rather short fence at the bottom that seemed it would be little help should you happen to stumble backwards.

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Creepy bald children.

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One of the shrines nestled into the rock.

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Why is this guy cleaning his ear?

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Playing it cool in front of the Buddha.

At many temples, meals are eaten in silence to encourage more mindful eating. But at Golgulsa, because we weren’t eating with the monks talking was allowed, although we were still separated by gender for some reason. Meals at the temple are generally all vegan (with the occasional egg), consisting mainly of rice and vegetables. All of the vegetables are grown in the temple, and were probably the best veggies I’ve eaten in Korea. They tell you to take only what you need, and to eat everything you take. You got to serve yourself, so this didn’t seem to be a problem to me. But my roommate didn’t like Korean food, and found it too difficult to finish all of her veggies – yet nothing happened to her when she returned her tray with food on it. This temple seemed to be pretty lenient on their policies, as they get so many tourists visiting for the temple stay program.

After the meal, we had a brief orientation that covered how to bow, our expected behavior during the chanting ceremonies (just follow what everyone else is doing), and what the chants we’d be hearing meant. We very briefly learned a bit about Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. We also got some quick tips on how to do zen meditation (the type of meditation they practice at the temple), which was mainly just to focus on our breathing and count our breaths because you’re not supposed to use visualization or mantras in zen meditation apparently.

We joined up with the Korean part of the temple stay group to watch a Sunmudo video, the most impressive part showing monks hoping up the temple’s steep steps three at a time! The visitors for the weekend were six foreigners (five English teachers and one student) and five Koreans.

We were then joined by a group of monks, and the chanting began. I’ve seen chanting in movies I suppose, but never really in person. I was surprised by how nice and musical it sounded. The second chant sped up quite a bit. One monk kept the rhythm on a giant drum and the bowing was in quick succession, one after another. Even without entirely understanding what was going on, I felt rather absorbed into the rhythm and movement of the chant.

From there we swapped out our bowing cushions for yoga mats to practice sunmudo. The warm-up started with five minutes of meditation but then quickly got rather strenuous, with 10-15 or so reps of a reverse plank-type move and full body crunches, among others. The training was led by a Norwegian sunmudo master who had been practicing for over 14 years. He gave instructions in both Korean and English, which was pretty impressive considering neither were his native language. The training itself was rather difficult, with lots of high kicks and spin kicks that involved trying to balance on one foot in a kicking pose while slowly spinning 360 degrees. Unfortunately we weren’t good enough to make it to jump kicks, and so I’m still unable to levitate like the monk in the picture.

After training I learned that apparently some foreigners’ sunmudo experience has been doing 600 sit-ups, which to me would have been incredibly disappointing (and impossible). I suppose it depends on which of the sunmudo masters teaches your class.

Lights out was at 10pm, which gave us six hours of sleep before waking up at 4am for morning chanting. On the itinerary, it clearly stated that missing morning chanting would be a 3,000 bow punishment. The Norwegian sunmudo master mentioned he had missed morning chanting twice, and doing 3,000 bows takes 9 hours! So we were very careful not to oversleep, and ended up rushing up the mountain to the temple to make it on time.

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Running up this hill at 4:15am in the rain was not very fun.

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Morning chanting.

The temple we were in was rather simple but had several paintings on the side walls depicting weird-looking people with eyes all over their bodies. It was raining slightly, and so joining us in the ceremony were a dog and a puppy. I found the morning chanting especially amusing as the puppy kept wanting to play with my roommate and getting in her way as she tried to follow along and bow.

At 5am, we had a half hour of meditation. I’ve tried meditating before, but not very much as I’ve always gotten frustrated and given up pretty quickly. I was no more successful that morning, as I tried to count my breaths but kept getting distracted by some snoring. I kept wondering who had fallen asleep, before realizing it was the puppy passed out behind me. It also smelled quite strongly of wet dog, which wasn’t helping anything.

At 6am we had a Barugongyang, or a ceremonial Buddhist meal. First a junior monk named Lucius, who sounded like he was from New York or New Jersey somewhere, explained the rather complicated directions for our meal. We were given four plastic bowls stacked neatly inside each other, and followed along as he showed us the very specific way to arrange them. First we would be given some water, which we would pour from bowl to bowl to clean them. Then they’d give us our rice and soup, and we should take only as many vegetables as we’d need to get through the morning. All of this would be done in silence, to practice mindful eating.

I was a bit nervous about ‘messing up’ during the meal but tried just to relax and enjoy the experience. One thing that struck me was how we were supposed to be eating mindfully, which I thought meant slowly, yet everyone seemed to finish before me. Did I take too many vegetables? The only sound throughout the meal was the single strike of a bamboo stick to mark each part of the process. After everyone had finished eating, they brought around some warm barley water, which was used to clean your bowls with a piece of kimchi cabbage. Then you ate the kimchi, and drank the tea/water. I can see how this would sound kind of gross, but it actually tasted all right. The final step was to make one more pass with the clean water, which was then emptied into a bucket, except for any food residue left in the bottom, which you had to drink. Then everything was wiped down and put away.


I didn’t take any pictures of the meal, but it looked something like this, with a few less monks.

I thought this effort to waste as little as possible was pretty inspiring, although I was also happy to see our visitor bowls would actually be washed ‘for real’ before being used again. While the process was really long and complicated, I liked that it made me think about everything I was doing so much more than I normally would. I felt very conscious of every aspect of eating, and thoughtful about what kind of an impact it had on the environment and world around me. While mindfully eating, my mind kept thinking about how the food didn’t seem to make a particularly balanced diet – mostly white rice, some vegetables, but not nearly enough dark leafy greens to be getting enough protein, from what I could tell. How can these sunmudo masters survive on that?

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7am fog around the temple entrance.

After our meal we had time for a brief nap before ‘tea and conversation’ with two of the sunmudo masters. We all sat in a circle and discussed Buddhism, temple life and dharma. The tea was good, and the conversation interesting, but I found sitting on the floor to get a bit uncomfortable. Which was not the best lead-in for our next activity…

The 108 bows. I had been dreading them ever since learning of their existence, and didn’t think there was any way I would make it through 108.

Why 108?

“We have 6 doors of perception: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and thought.
There are 3 aspects of time: past, present and future.
There are 2 conditions of the heart/mind: pure or impure.
There are 3 possible attitudes: like, dislike and indifference.

Korean Buddhists use this formula 6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 108 bows to cut through our Karma.”

For each bow, you are supposed to meditate on one point. The 108 starts and ends with:
1. Homage to the Buddha
2. Homage to the Dharma
3. Homage to the Sangha

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(The setting of our 108 bows.)

That morning my legs had already been a bit sore from bowing and sunmudo the day before. After sitting uncomfortably for tea and then climbing up to one of the small temples in the side of the mountain, I wasn’t really feeling up to it. But I figured I’d give it a try. It was just us visitors and one of the sunmudo masters. We all bowed together in silence, each one marked by the single hit of the bamboo stick. I tried to concentrate on my breathing and see if I could meditate, but found myself a bit too wrapped up with the mechanics of bowing and standing up to really be able to let go and relax. But I did manage to stay on count! At bow number 101, an ajumma came in and pushed one of the girls behind me out of her way to grab a mat. She then pushed Paul’s mat over and tried to tell him something rather stern-sounding in Korean, despite how obvious it was that we were all busy bowing and being silent. It was quite amusing.

I made it to the end! But then my legs hurt everywhere from hip to knee, and even my fingers hurt from helping push me up. And so I spent the next half hour or so on a bench, dreading the climb down the many steps back down the mountain. But the sun was out, and the view was good, and this guy was pretty amusing to watch:

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This guy walked headfirst down the stairs and back up the mountain three times – on his knuckles – to warm up for his sunmudo performance. Hardcore.

It was cool to watch the sunmudo performance as it was done by the masters we had seen in the temple. They had some pretty amazing flying kicks, but the most impressive part was a series of ridiculously high jumps from a seated position. I’m still trying to figure out how this was possible.

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From a seated position. Seriously.

It was definitely an interesting experience, and something I’d recommend to anyone coming through Korea. I’m hoping to try out a few more temples in my time here, and would even consider doing a longer-term stay to work on meditating…and my spin kick.

Go to Golgulsa! —-> http://golgulsa.com/