Hit the North! #2: Buseoksa, a Floating Boulder & an Assassination
The convoy had been winding like a bright red caterpillar up narrow country roads through verdant farmland on the outskirts of Yeongju, and just before bus-sickness set in we squeezed into the parking area and the kids, teachers and I commenced climbing.
We were at Buseoksa…
..one of the most famous temples in Korea, and as well as containing the second-oldest wooden building in the land, it’s also known for its imposing fortress-like position high on a steep hillside.
The 108 steep stone steps leading to the complex apparently symbolise “redemption from agony and evil passions through 108 cycles”; I’m not sure if it worked on the kids (I suspect some of them would need a few thousand steps) but it did help knock some of the boisterousness out of them.
“Teacher…I’m…very…tired” was some of the best English I heard that day, as I overtook stragglers and bounded gleefully ahead of the writhing mass.
(Not for the first time in Korea I wondered about handicapped or infirm visitors and the access provided for them — there usually isn’t any. I mean, I’ve seen people in wheelchairs in town using the road in preference to the god-awful footpaths. But I digress.)
The immediate reward for that strenuous climb was the temple spring water, which was just about gulped dry.
With the hordes engulfing this beautiful locale, I realised again that any sanctity or atmosphere would have to be hunted down and seized wherever it could be spotted.
Fortunately the kids were in no condition to climb any higher…
..and I enjoyed the beautiful woods behind the temple.
Buseok means “floating rock” — -the suffix -sa is temple. I’ve been in several dozens of temples in Japan and Korea, and I don’t think I’ve ever found one that didn’t have some reference to miracles connected to its establishment.
You seldom read on temple information boards the equivalent of “Bob thought he’d build a temple so the people could pray and generally keep themselves busy.” There’s always a dragon, a flying turtle or two, water gushing from the ground, eggs dropping from the heavens, etc. The floating rock story involves a Chinese princess drowning herself, turning into a dragon and a bloody great rock floating down from the sky.
Here’s the rock…
..and the standard excellent woodwork in a temple gate:
The temple was built in the 7th century in the reign of King Munmu, which is a name way overdue for a revival. Muryangsu-jeon, the main hall, is the final stage reached on the arduous ascent.
This is the ancient wooden structure for which Buseoksa is famed. It dates from 1376:
At last I realised, detaching my eye from the viewfinder, temporarily blinded (I think my left eye is developing a permanent squint), that miracles do happen: I was alone. Perhaps another holy boulder had dropped onto them from on high, rendering me deliciously unemployed?
Nah. Back to the buses they’d gone.
And down those killer steps I went…
..beneath the temple bell…
..and bus-ward, just a tad alarmed that I might be left behind.
There was a moderately embarrassing incident involving a call of nature, a tree on the temple grounds and a rather peeved looking tourist, but let’s not sully all the holiness with such base and earthly concerns.
Nope, let’s get on the bus before this rain starts falling, lie back and absorb all the history and culture and rice wrapped in seaweed while we head to
the hotel! yet another dose of history and culture!
Man, they certainly love to cram stuff into these kids. It was pouring when we again “de-bussed” (as I’m embarrassed to admit is sometimes said in public transport circles in my home city) at our next stop, and I had no idea where we were BECAUSE NOBODY OVER HERE EVER TELLS ME ANYTHING IN ADVANCE.
It was very attractive, anyway, in that grey, sombre, soaking-wet way I enjoy so much…
..and in time I worked out that we were at the renovated birthplace of a famous Korean called Empress Myeongseong, way up in Gyeonggi Province, which completely encircles the separate province of Seoul.
Yes, in a day we’d almost covered the length of the nation.
The Empress lived here until the age of eight. Later becoming the wife of King Gojong, she was seen by the Japanese occupiers as thwarting their influence, and in 1895 a team of assassins broke into the palace and butchered her and two other women — just to ensure they had the right victim — before burning her body in the woods.
In the face of international outrage, a show trial was held in Hiroshima, at which all involved were found not guilty due to a lack of evidence!
Most of the kids fled to the shelter of the nearby museum (there’s a first), and I had most of the grounds to myself.
I visited perhaps my 50th tomb mound behind the residence, this one belonging to one Min Yujung, 1630-1687, the empress’s great-great-great-great grandfather:
At yet another theme village, games were underway…
..while within the house complex, huddled conversations recalled palace intrigues:
But this was a perfunctory dose of Knowledge at best; the rain and chill had everyone thinking of the hotel and dinner. Less than half an hour after arriving, the caterpillar convoy was twisting up the road again, into the rainy, misty dusk of a mountain range, somewhere on the outer outskirts of Seoul — I think.
Nobody tells me anything.
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote