Sunday, March 28, 2010

Year 1 - Gongju


I ended up going to Gongju yesterday instead of today. It was a fantastic trip. Min Jeong and I left around 9:45 AM and I got back just in time to make my 5:00 PM class. I had 2 minutes to spare. :)

The first place we went to was the tomb of King Muryeong who reigned ove the Baekje Kingdom from 501-523 AD. He was one of the last kings to rule from Gongju.

During the Japanese occupation of Korea most of the tombs in the area were looted of all their artifacts. As I mentioned previously, the vast majority of artifacts stolen by the Japanese are still in Japan today, and they do not intend to ever return them. Luckily for Korea the Japanese didn't find this tomb. No one did until 1971.

Workers were repairing damage done to tombs looted by the Japanese when archaeologists discovered King Muryeong's tomb. In it were the King and Queen, as well as a vast array of artifacts from the Baekje era. It is considered one of Korea's gtreatest archaeological finds. Hundreds of artifacts were recovered and many are on display at the National Museum in Gongju. The collection is actually the main focus of the museum.

The Gongju Historical site office is the first place you see. There is a brief explanation of the area, and a film, in both English and Korean. When you come back there is a beautiful gift shop, with some things you can only buy there. Mainly modern examles of Baekje crafts. There is some very nice stuff there.

It is a short walk up to the tomb area, actually a mound which several tombs are under. Before you get there you can see a replica of the tomb with some artifacts. The tomb itself was closed when we got there. They are working on it still.

The head of the area greeted us on our way in, and let us in for free after finding out I am Canadian. :) She also gave me a book on the area for free. It is in Korean and English, and usually has to be paid for. On the way out we stopped and talked with her for a while, and picked up some nic-nacs from the gift shop. I want to go back when I have more cash on hand.

From there we went to the Gongju National Museum. The museum opened in 1972, around artifacts found in King Muryeong's tomb. Part of it was built to resemble the inside of the tomb. Some of the artifacts you can see are the gold crowns of the King and Queen, gold, jade, and silver ornaments, pottery, statues, and weapons. One of the most interesting and amusing things I saw was the shoes of the King and Queen. They were made from metal and gilded. There were spikes on the bottom and toe area. They looked very uncomfortable, but would probably hurt like hell if you kicked someone.

There was also an exhibit to commemorate the last 10 years of excavations at Geumgang river. There were a lot of different artifacts from various eras there. From the stone, bronze, and iron age, as well as other eras in history. Also, there was an exhibit of paintings and photographs showing the changing face of Gongju, and historical sites, over the past 100 years.

Outside the museum is a garden area with various statues. There are many buddha statues, some without heads. Also guardian animal statues, pagodas, and huge water basins. They are all set out with English and Korean signs. All in all a very interesting museum, well laid out and presented.

After the museum we decided to head to the Buddhist Temple of Donghaksa. We had lunch before going to the temple at a place that serves Jung Shik. It was fabulous. For 7000 won each you get about 21 different dishes plus tea. (I treated.) There were about 5-6 different types of kimchi. Lots of veggies. A couple of fish dishes, 1 beef, and deonjeon chigae (bean curd stew). We were well fortified before tackling the walk to the temple.

It was a 2.5 km uphill hike from the parking lot to the temple. It is at the eastern end of the Gyerongsan (Gyerong Mountain) National Park. Gyerongsan literally means Rooster Dragon Mountain. Locals thought the mountain resembled a dragon with a roosters head. There are a couple of Temples around the park. Gapsa is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Korea, and dates back to the unified Silla period, 8-10 AD. We will go there next time.

Donghaksa is a fairly large temple complex. There are quarters for monks as well as nuns. Plus the requisite worship areas. There is also a small shrine for followers of Shamanism. Buddhism didn't attack other religons when it came to Korea, it embraced them. Although not in the way Christian missionaries did, which was to co-opt and then destroy them. They set aside places for believers in Shamanism to worship in peace within the temple area.

The area around the temple is beautiful. The walk alone was worth the preice of admission to the park. You follow a winding lane which itself follows a stream that comes down from the mountains. All around are mountains. I want to go back in the fall, it will be even more beautiful when the leaves are changing colour. A very tranquil area.

You will find many cairns on the way up to the temple. As previously mentioned, people add to them and make a wish. Min Jeong and I both added to cairns.

We were both pretty tired after a long day, but we both had to get back to Cheongju to work. Traffic tried to mess us up, but luckily I made it back with enough time to run home, change and run to school. It was a great way to spend a day.

I should have pictures developed next week, along with those from Saturday's World Cup trip to Ulsan.

Take care,


I miss hanging out with Min Jeong. She was a lot of fun. We had similar interests. Unfortunately she got married 5 years ago so no more male friends were allowed.

On a funny/strange note. Last night Stig and I were having a post-dinner cigar and drink on the benches when who do I see. Min Jeong. It was ... interesting to see her again. Her husband "lets" her out twice a week to walk. Those were her words not mine, and her English is still very good. So she was on her walk.

Do I expect to hear from her again, even though she "now" has my phone number? No. We exchanged pleasantries. I gave her my phone number which hasn't changed in 5 years. She didn't give me hers. She resumed her walk. Life goes on.

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