Sunday, October 26, 2008

Disneyland... In Korea

(Conan the Barbarian meets Pumpkin King meets Cute Racoon Hat. Priceless)

Hi all,

Disneyland in Korea, you ask? But isn't that in California? 

Well, not exactly. This weekend, we decided to have a little fun instead of just grade papers or do too much serious touring like our DMZ trip, and went up to Everland on Saturday. Everland, a theme park/zoo/fun place is located just about 20 minutes away from us here in Yeongtong, Suwon. We took a 30$ cab ride out to the front gates and waited for the rest of our group--there were 7 or so of us-- to catch up.

(The Front Entrance to Everland)

Then, we entered the front gates.

If this doesn't look like Disney to you, I don't know what does. We strolled through the equivalent to Main Street USA, Korean style, browsing through some gift shops as we headed towards, of course, the chief attraction in any amusement park: the roller coasters.

(Jennifer, at right, on the Columbus Boat Ride. This was taken in mid-swing)

Jennifer, I should add, has not been on a coaster since she was very young, and has avoided them like the plague for a good couple of years. We provided the necessary peer pressure, and yes, that is Jen screaming in the picture above, while on the Columbus swinging-boat ride.

Suffice it to say, much fun was had by all, throughout.

The only down side was some rain that hit us mid-afternoon. We had gotten in line for the T-Express, a monster of a wooden roller coaster with a ridiculous 75-degree vertical incline on the first drop. Apparently, seatbelts are mandatory due to said wall of straight-down screaming insanity and fun. Unfortunately, after waiting for 2 hours, the line was told to vacate due to rain, and we had to rejoin the line at the beginning.

While we don't mind this so much, when it happened the *second* time, we were pissed. Two of our group, Oliver, and Daniel, being cold and frustrated, decided to head back to town. We understood where they were coming from, but decided to go and have a beer or two while waiting for the rain to slow down enough for us to go on some more rides.

(The Hallowe'en Central Plaza)

We did finally get on two more big rides, the Rolling X-Press, which is basically the Bat or the Dragon's Fyre from Canada's Wonderland, and then the mighty T-Express itself. It was, suffice it to say, well worth the wait. The first drop is quite the plunge, while the rest of the ride has some serious G-Forces behind it. It was rather fun, since I could tell exactly when Jen would scream, and because I was joining right in with her. My mother, I suspect, would be hoarse by the end of such an adventure. 

(Interior of the Global Village Ride)

While there, we also ventured into a little ride called "Global Village." If anyone has ever been to Ye Olde Disneyland, one might recall the "It's a Small World, After All" ride. This modern torture device of the Inquisition projects stereotypes of the rest of the world for all to see, while a gratuitously cheerful song (the eponymous "Small World") is warbled by puppets for an agonizing five minutes.

The Koreans get you for 10. And the song is actually catchy. The ethnic stereotypes remain intact. 

It's funny. We wouldn't mind that, or the lack of service on the T-Express, but I definitely do notice the disorganization present in Korean culture as opposed to Canadian. Don't get me wrong, we're as guilty of doing things on the fly and out of control as any, but the general rule in Canada is to plan things out a couple of weeks in advance, or at least have some plan in place for emergencies. Take the T-Express, for example. In Canada, getting rained out when you were literally about to get on the ride results, usually, in getting a pass to jump the line at some later point. 

In Korea, you get to do it all over again and pray the rain won't come back.

In Canada, moving is set up quite some time in advance. In Korea, we had to wait until the last minute until the Korean staff at our Hagwon realized that it might be good to figure out how we were supposed to move from our small, temporary apartment to the one large enough for couples.

Oh, and they hadn't been able to figure out what to do with the couple living there already. Jen and I both felt awful for Stephanie and Dave (the latter one of our companions to Everland), and for Sumi, who was taking our place. All three must have felt like they were getting short shrift as a result of said disorganization.

Anyway, complaining over. We thoroughly enjoyed Everland, and we're very much enjoying the hotel we've been temporarily assigned to by our academy. It even has a jacuzzi tub, which, I think, after a hard night of teaching and Tae Kwon Do, I am going to go make use of.



Sunday, October 19, 2008

To the Front Lines at the DMZ

(Left: From left to right, Sumi, Oliver, Stephanie, Sarah, Ashley, Daniel, Jennifer and Chris, and David)
(Right: Sculpture symbolizing the splitting of the world, and Korea, between Democrat and Communist, and the effort to find unity again)

Hi all,

Jennifer and I, along with fellow teachers Oliver, Stephanie, Dave, Daniel, Sarah, Ashley, and Sumi, just got back from a trip out to the Demilitarized Zone (the DMZ) between the two Koreas. Located about an hour-and-a-half away from Seoul, due North, the DMZ is apparently the most heavily-mined section of the Earth's surface. Established in 1953 after the end of the Korean War, the DMZ exists to provide breathing room and space between the two former combatants.

Technically, and frighteningly, they're still technically current combatants, as the war has never officially ended, and the two countries continue to snipe at each other occasionally, both verbally and physically.
(The entrance to Paju city, the last place we were allowed to take pictures aboard the bus from)
(The wall at the South Korean end of Freedom Bridge, blocked up since it leads directly into North Korea)

We boarded a bus in Seoul at the Express Terminal, and travelled up to the edge of the DMZ at Paju City. There, we took a quick stretch with our tourmates while our guide processed our passports with the military authorities, and we puttered around the Freedom Bridge, and the Paju ginseng festival. The former was the site of the last POW transfer at the end of the Korean War, while the latter contained a whole bunch of Korean food, ginseng, and festivity.
(A photo of a photo of the 3rd Tunnel, since we're not actually allowed to take pictures inside the Tunnel itself)

Contrasting this, of course, is the DMZ itself. We arrived at the Third Tunnel tourist area, the site where the third of four known infiltration tunnels built by the North Koreans was discovered. These tunnels were designed to sneak a Northern army past the DMZ and thus past the South's observation forces, and to get the Northern army as close to Seoul as possible.
Thankfully, all four were discovered long before they could threaten Seoul itself, although the South suspects that as many as twenty more may have been built but abandoned. The North, of course, protested that these were in fact built by the South, but the direction of the tunnel, the blast marks, and everything else suggest otherwise. What's really weird, though, and indeed, almost surreal, about the DMZ, is the utter lack of people.

Jen and I have both gotten used to seeing hundreds of people everywhere we go. Such is a fact of life in a country of some 50-odd million people packed into, effectively, an area the size of Southern Ontario. Suwon is, in itself, 1 million people, while Seoul is positively cramped with 10 million people.

But the DMZ, due largely to the mines, the tension with the North, and the heavy military presence, is quiet save for the sounds of insects, birds, and animals. Ironically, the war and the human cost it created resulted in a pristine natural environment, where several endangered species are able to exist outside of human intervention. Given that they've got about 4 kilometres on average, it's not surprising that one of the questions any government seeking to re-unify the peninsula will have to face will not just be how to re-integrate the landscape and clear the mines, but how to ensure the native species don't get overrun by human development.
The area is almost dead quiet, a fact that is almost unsettling. Even in small towns like Timmins, where Jen is from, or smaller burgs such as those surrounding the Kitchener-Waterloo area where we lived before Korea, one is used to signs of human habitation: roads, cars, lights in the distance, all are present, even if in a modest form.

While there are roads in the DMZ, no one uses them. While there are buildings, the only people present are military and minesweepers, and a handful of tiny villages that provide food and farming space. I remember reading about life on an isolated kibbutz in Israel, or in the settlements in the West Bank--even these, I suspect, are not this *desolate*.

We sat down to watch an absolutely stunning piece of propaganda put together by the tourism department. A white-robed young Korean child sobbing while eating a tiny handful of rice, stock war footage from the conflict, and an oddball blurb about how the DMZ has become a symbol, not of war and devastation, but humanity's ability to live together with nature, all featured in this oddity of a film. I've seen some old 1930s and 1940s WWII and Cold War propaganda pieces, but this was bizarre. The English narrator even had trouble dealing with some of the weird word choices necessitated by the translation from Korean.

Speaking of which, a brief aside: the Korean government has, apparently, been worried about tourism lately, which is a fraction of what other Asian countries like Thailand, Japan, and Vietam receive. One of the reasons for this dearth is the DMZ and the ongoing conflict itself--while muted to Cold War levels, it's still a war, and the tension one feels at the DMZ is stunning compared to the rest of the country. The other reason, however, is some really awful signage in English. One might defend such poor translations on street signs: dialect, lack of funding, and the fact that most signs don't *need* to be in English mean that one might not expect a perfect translation on every road. But on a major tourist spot? This was true even in Gyeongju, and it's hard to get over the fact that Korea, which is capable of speaking English, hiring English writers or editors, or at the very least gettng a fluent English speaker to do the same, might avoid such problems. Simply put, it is hard to relax and be a tourist when you're mentally cringing at the grammar or the lack of articles like "the," "a," or "an." Or the overabundance of "the them."
I digress.

We then ventured down into the tunnel itself, about 300 metres down--the walk back up reminded me distinctly of Bulguksa, I might add--and took a look at the last of three consecutive blockades built by the Southern army to prevent the tunnel from being used. One hopes they might have collapsed the rest of the tunnel leading up to the Southern end of the DMZ, but it was definitely spooky to stare off into the darkness of the tunnel beyond the steel barricade and barbed wire.
(The Dora Observation Post, UN and South Korean Command)

From there, we set out to Dora Observatory, on top of one of the mountains overlooking the DMZ proper. Unfortunately, the view was marred by the fog on this particular day--we joke the fog was somehow deliberately set up by the North Koreans to keep the capitalists from seeing their "utopia"--but we managed to score a neat view of the fence guarding the Southern end of the Zone, and I caught a glimpse of a soldier on the Northern equivalent post on the other side.
We weren't allowed to take many photos, unfortunately, but we bundled back into the bus for a trip to Dorasan Train Station, the "First Stop to the North" on a recently-constructed railway line between the two countries. Again, what was surreal was that, aside from we meagre tourists, there wasn't anyone else there. A train pulled up while we were wandering about the station (getting our passport stamped, too, I might add), *but there was absolutely nobody on the bloody thing.*
(Dorasan Train Station, with about as many people there as it ever gets)

For those of us now used to the vast number of people in this country, this was downright unsettling. The only other living beings around were some soldiers, hundreds of bugs, and a few flights of geese.

This brings me to the political commentary: it's really weird to see the way the DMZ and the divorce between North and South Korea have affected both countries in turn. South Korea was for a couple of decades under the grip of a right-wing dictatorship, bordering on what some might call fascist or at the very least a highly-nationalist regime.
Since the overthrow of the old regime, however, South Korea has been unabashedly capitalist, developing a culture that reminds me at times of what I've read about Western capitalism before the labour movement forced managers and owners to actually put in labour regulations to protect their employees. 40 hours a week, which we "supposedly" are doing, turns into far more on occasion, while our Korean coworkers and Korean labourers in general work far more hours than what would be considered legal or even, sometimes, sane, by a Canadian standard.

The DMZ itself is a tourist zone, meanwhile, for the South. Granted, a heavily-patrolled, military-operated tourist zone, but still, the world's largest minefield is regularly visited by polaroid-armed visitors from around the world. It even has cute big-headed cartoonish images on t-shirts of North and South Korean guards smiling out at the viewer, and pins to the same effect. Witness the picture of me below (pardon the goofy gesture from yours truly).
(Chris and a stylized South Korean guard. Much more friendly-looking than the real ones)

The North, meanwhile, has gone the completely opposite direction towards Stalinism and isolation. In most of the rest of the world, the form of personality cult that Kim Jong-il and his father, Kim Il-Sung, have created around themselves no longer exists. Stalin's Russia is, thankfully, gone, while China is cautiously embracing capitalism--even if the Party cadre of the Chinese Communists continues to hold on to power politically-- and Cuba was, frankly, a different entity altogether even from the beginning compared to other "really-existing Communist" countries. Communism has often been associated with the kind of political oppression seen now primarily in China and in North Korea, but the sheer isolationism and repression of the North is arguably different from anywhere else in the world.

Why did this kind of Stalinism survive here? Was it the support of Stalin himself for the Korean communists during the War? The presence of China, the similar persuasive and political imagery of Mao Zedong? Or the isolation North Korea found itself in when the South closed the border at the DMZ? I don't know, and unfortunately, I don't know if anyone else does either.

The divergence between the two Koreas presents a serious problem, however, for reunification. Nevermind the differing ideologies, which are impediment enough, or the conservatism of both sides militarily and politically: there's a significant gap that's formed in terms of culture and a negative view from both sides of the other. Fifty-plus years of propaganda political repression in the North, and strangely similar if democratic disdain from the South, make it hard to see how the two cultures could reunite. The economic issues of how to reintegrate either side into the other's framework present similar challenges. And the ability of the South to reintegrate the North after the aforementioned fifty-someodd years of isolation and propaganda, make one worry if a situation similar to if worse than the reunification of Germany might result.

How can any culture or country, no matter how advanced or determined, overcome such a gap? And further, do either really want it anymore? Both sides claim a desire to reintegrate, but the question of which side being integrating into which, and how to overcome the challenges above, make the prospect daunting at the very least. Unfortunately, such problems will likely only get worse the longer the two sides stay divided, but in the absence of a clear plan for integration, or political will to do so, the chances of it happening any time soon seem slim at best.

A fascinating trip, and one I'd repeat, if only to see other parts of the DMZ, but certainly an unsettling one.

Best regards,

PS: For fun, below:
(And off we go!)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

No Turkey for Turkey Day

Hi all,

Well, Jen and I decided to stay in this weekend to work on some graduate school applications, and besides, we're both a little under the weather. 

So we got through a bunch of paperwork, and realized, belatedly, that it's Thanksgiving back home. Unfortunately, Korean "Thanksgiving" or Chu-seok, is about a month behind us already. 

Not to mention, we don't have an oven in which to bake a bird, anyway, so we're not exactly celebrating Thanksgiving, here. As it stands, we are at least acknowledging the holiday back home, with such expressions as "happy turkey day" and such in our office, but that's about it.

It's been interesting watching the train wreck that is the Canadian and American election from Korea. 

I predicted, in a previous post, how I thought it unlikely for Obama to be able to lose, and yet, for a while, he was essentially even with McCain for about a month. All it took for Obama to win again, was, I suppose, the collapse of the economy. Funny how that works out.

I watched bits and pieces of both the Canadian and the American election. I have found, anecdotally, amongst my colleagues at work, that those who watched the former preferred it's unique style. Part of the problem with the traditional debates, and even that farce of a town hall debate between McCain and Obama, is that it turns into little more than trying to out-shout your opponent. The round-table, at least, seemed to force discussion to happen more than bellowing.

I say the town-hall thing is a farce largely because it seemed to be trying to catch some elusive, old-school sentiment of American government under the Pilgrims. In New England, when the Pilgrim population in the original colonies was rather more limited than the modern American state, one could imagine people getting together in a town hall or over a pint to discuss issues. Well, we still do the latter, but the tone, I think, has changed. 

This brings me to my modest point: I am getting deeply concerned by the choice of words of the McCain camp. McCain does try to defend Obama, ironically, during one campaign stop, from his own party, when the members of the community he was visiting started calling Obama a traitor, an "Arab" and other names. My problem with this activity is that even as McCain is back-pedalling, Palin is still turning up the heat.

Having recently denounced Obama as "chumming around with terrorists," now Palin is essentially accusing Obama of being a baby-killer (see the link above). Part of the problem with this sort of mud-slinging--and yes, I know it's not unusual to see this in a US presidential debate, the problem is that it could result in some serious consequences post-election. I'm not the only one worried about whether some idiot with too big of a gun, and too small of a brain, will try to shoot Obama should he win. And part of his or her motivation might be, sadly, some of the nonsense being spouted right now by the McCain camp.

Again, I really hope I'm wrong. I really hope the McCain camp will tell Palin to back off, and that we might have a modestly-policy-focused debate this time around. Well, okay, I'll settle for the former if nothing else. 

The Canadian election looks set to be another minority government. Given that Stephen Harper went into this election because he wanted to break out of the "log-jam" in Parliament... but, hey, if he's "always known" that it would be a minority government, then why call the election? 

Oh. Right. Because he thinks he can win another short-term mandate and spin it into a big win. Joy.

Pardon the cynicism this week. This is what happens when I go turkey-free for Thanksgiving. 

More next week.

Best regards,


Thursday, October 9, 2008

While I have tried to avoid getting too much into politics--I suspect most people would rather read about some of the stuff Jen and I have been seeing in Korea--this I simply had to post.

Canada has an election coming up in about another five days (and you Canadians reading this, you *have* registered, right?). Stephen Harper is the present incumbent for Prime Minister, and has been running on a campaign which claims that A) he is a good leader; B) his team is fiscally responsible, unlike the old, corrupt Liberals; and C) that they will *not* run up a deficit.

Well, sorry, folks, but that's a bunch of wash. The PCs have been running up a deficit, and it's rather massive, especially when one considers that the liberals, for all their flaws, at least managed to keep our country in the black each year. We were even starting to pay off our debts.

The article I've linked above has some good weblinks to various other information about the fiscal operations of the Conservatives, and a good video link from the CBC. I would suggest you check it out. 

As ever, the facts that politicians "state" to be true, and the actual truth, is often hard to sort out. Politicians are especially skilled at equivocating, and Mr Harper is indeed one of the best at the game. I'm sure that the other parties have their own skeletons, however, one thing that drags politics down further, both in its reputation and in its sad inability to get many things done, is this kind of double-speak.

As the old X-Files show used to say, the truth is out there, if you know where to look.

Best regards, 


PS: The election's on the 14th. Make sure you register, or have your passport/photo ID ready when you go. But for heaven's sake, VOTE!

And no, I don't want to tell you whom to vote for--that's not my job, nor is that a particularly decent thing to do. The purpose of my little post here is to remind you, the educated voter, to continue to watch out for the truths about our leaders behind the facade of the words they use in public.

Monday, October 6, 2008


(The bus sign for Gyeongju, and one of the central temple chambers of Bulguksa Temple)

Hi all,

Well, we finally visited someplace outside of the Seoul--Suwon corridor this past weekend. It was Foundation Day (Gaecheonjeol) in Korea, the holiday celebrating the foundation of the Korean country Gosojeon by the mythological King Dangun.

As it was a three-day weekend, Jen and I decided we'd rather not just sit around, but go outside the city and explore a bit of the rest of the Korean countryside. In this case, we decided to go and visit Gyeongju, a city in the South-Eastern end of the country, near Busan, on the Eastern Sea (Sea of Japan) coast.

Gyeongju is a rather old city, the former capital of the Ssila (pronounced Shila) Kingdom, which conquered Baekje and Goryeo in the 660 AD and 667 AD, respectively. Ssila then dominated all of the Korean peninsula from 667 until about the 9th century, when the Kingdom collapsed into separate Kingdoms again.

As such, Gyeongju (alternative Romanization: Kyongju), is an ancient city with many ruins and relics of its past. Also, the city was relatively untouched in the Korean War, although some areas have had to be reconstructed. As a result of this, the city *feels* older, and unlike Suwon and Seoul, both of which characterized by tall, concrete-box-style apartment buildings and high-rises, Gyeongju is largely a city of short, older-style Korean buildings. There are not all that many buildings taller than five or six stories, and those that are tend towards being motels or hotels. The rest are what one thinks of when one thinks of Korean architecture, such as in the picture below.

(Buddhist temple in downtown Gyeongju, typical of most of the buildings in the city)

Our trip got off to a bit of a rough start, admittedly. We had a little trouble at the bus stop, which could have been avoided if I had done a bit more asking around when our first bus pulled into the station. The bus to Gyeongju does not, much like most buses in Canada, just go to Gyeongju: indeed, Gyeongju is not even the final stop! The last port of call for the bus is actually Pohang, a major industrial city just north and east of the old capital. Of course, we didn't know this, and no-one at the ticket counter, the bus waiting area, or the bus driver themselves, decided to assist we stupid foreign tourist types by *telling* us that we needed the Pohang bus.

So we waited for four hours for the next bus to Gyeongju, getting there rather later than we would have preferred. Oh well.

We stayed at the Hanjin Hostel. The owner was polite, spoke English well, and knew how to get to all the interesting sites in the city. Of course, he did gouge us a little: we were promised 30$ a night over the phone, but ended up paying 40$. At the time we arrived, around 8PM, we were both too exhausted to bother arguing.

We went to bed early, and got up at 7AM to explore the city. First, we went to Cheongmangchae, a series of tombs built for the Ssila monarchs. One of which, the namesake Cheongmangchae, is open to the public, and is so named for the horse saddle found inside of it along with the coffin of the ancient king. The tomb is literally an earthen mound several stories tall. In the heart of the tomb lies a wooden enclosure, presumably to keep out rot and grave-robbers. Inside this was a simple stone grave and a series of grave goods for the king, including weapons, rings, jewels, several crowns, paintings, and a bronze saddle.

(The entrance to Cheongmangchae tomb, and a view of the central park in which it resides)

(Pardon my closed eyes!)

To get a sense for how big these things are, remember that the city itself has few tall buildings: these tombs tower over most of Gyeong Ju, and there are literally *dozens* of them throughout the city. We wandered around several of them, snapping off pictures right and left, and enjoyed the fantastic park in the heart of the city that contained an even dozen clustered together in one spot.

(Tombs in downtown Gyeongju)

After we explored there, we wandered down to Anapji park, walking past Cheomsongdae, one of the oldest, if not the oldest astronomy observation buildings in Asia. Anapji park is what remains of the old palace and park built by King Munmu, the conqueror of Goryeo and Baekje. Much of the old palace has been destroyed, but the Korean government has been slowly and painstakingly rebuilding it to its original dimensions and design over the past thirty years. The grounds are massive, containing a pond and park for exotic animals and for the pleasure of the King and his court. The palace itself must have been something to see: even the buildings currently restored are wonderful.

(Cheomsongdae and Anapji, respectively)

At this point, Jen and I grabbed lunch, and split up for the afternoon. Jen had been experiencing a cold and the onset of her asthma, and was not interested in taking on Bulguksa temple and Seokguram Grotto with me. Instead, she went to the Gyeongju History Museum, and wandered about the grounds there for the remainder of the afternoon until I returned from Bulgoksa.

Bulguksa is about 18 Kilometres out from Gyeongju, in the mountains surrounding what are the city's suburbs--of course, the city is only about 225,000 people, so the 'burgs aren't on the scale of Suwon, Toronto, or Seoul. After getting off the bus, I walked about five minutes up the hill to the Temple, which is a Buddhist temple built sometime around 528 AD. It has been damaged, rebuilt, burned down, and restored many times since then, due to the Japanese invasions, the Korean and Second World War, and a host of other conflicts. But the Temple remains a UNESCO World Heritage Site, houses a few gold-bronze Buddha statues, and is utterly gorgeous.

(The front gates to Bulguksa, and a view of the temple grounds from above)

It is also still a functional temple: many monks were wandering the grounds along with the tourists, and praying, chanting, and meditating along with the visitors. I cannot express in words alone how wonderfully peaceful this temple was. I snapped dozens of pictures, but spent most of my time quietly listening to the chanting of the monks, and simply standing around, looking at the marvelous statues and finding for myself a bit of internal peace. Like Stonehenge, Bulguksa is a place of contemplation and tranquility, and I felt the same sense of positive energy there as I have at the Henge, as well as in other places of worship around the world.

It doesn't hurt that the view is nice, too, from the mountain.

The Grotto, or more accurately, the hike to the Grotto, was the chief reason for Jen's decision to split up the tour: it is three kilometres uphill, nestled about another kilometre from the peak of Tohamsan Mountain. The climb was, to be blunt, painful. My right leg is still stiff from the descent!

(Part of the 3 KM hike up from Bulguksa to Seokguram Grotto)

(The helpful reminder on the right is not just that you're not there yet, but that no enlightenment comes without toil)

But the view upon arrival was worth it, as seen in some of the pictures below.

(Mount Tohamsan, from the path leading up to Seokguram Grotto)

Furthermore, the Grotto itself is amazing: it contains a statue of the Buddha, made of stone, about 15-20 feet tall. Surrounding the Buddha are dozens of guardian spirits, gods, and warriors. All of this is packed into a small grotto that feels full to the bursting point with all the statuary. Again, even with the tourist density, the place felt peaceful and calm, and I can imaging why monks dedicate their lives to studying and meditating there and at Bulguksa.

(The exterior of Seokguram--while I was not allowed to take pictures of the interior, a link to an official image of the statue is included here:

Returning the way I came, I snapped off a few more pictures of the mountain, before returning to the city for dinner and bed.

We woke up late the next day, and dropped in to the tomb of General Kim Yu-Sin, pictured below. A warrior-general who helped King Munmu unite the Korean peninsula, General Kim was rewarded with this mountainside tomb, in the style of the Kings below. Twelve zodiac figures surround and guard his tomb, and a huge cenotaph marks his final resting place.

(Me standing in front of General Kim Yu-Sin's grave mound)

A fascinating trip, overall. We returned home on Sunday, tired but happy.

It's amazing to me to see this part of Korean culture and history: while the West was still recovering from the fall of Rome, Korea was booming, experiencing a Golden Age of sorts under a united Ssila.

I won't romanticize the warfare that preceded that Golden Age, of course, anymore than I would the Roman method of creating their own era of prosperity. But still, one cannot help but admire this and any sort of architecture that has so stood the tests of time.

Like Stonehenge, or other similar places, I find that I am most drawn to that sense of peace and tranquility I found in Bulguksa. I am not an overtly religious man: I have faith, yes, and beliefs, but I try to avoid forcing them on other people. While I enjoy learning about theology and philosophy, science and faith and all other fields in between, I have been reminded by this trip how much I enjoy simply finding a place of rest and calm and positive energy in such places. Some may call this chi or the Spirit of God, or feng shui, or dao or good vibes, or any host of other interpretations from any number of different perspectives. Regardless of its name, I find it interesting to find and explore places that contain that kind of positive energy, and to see others doing the same.

In this, I think, we are more similar than we might otherwise admit.

My apologies for the slight tangent into the realms spiritual. Returning to the main subject at hand: I can thoroughly recommend Gyeongju. The city is, at times, a bit dirty around the edges, but despite this, it is an amazing piece of Korea's history, one which is just as long and as rewarding, when explored, as any place in the rest of the world.

More next week. Until then, best regards,