Monday, December 30, 2002

It's been a while since the last full update, but the holidays have been busy and we've been out and about exploring as much as we can.

The weekend before Christmas, a group of foreign teachers and us headed north out of Ulsan to visit Gyeongju. Gyeongju was the ancient capitol of the Silla Dynasty founded in 57 B.C. It is a city teaming with temples, palaces and burial tumuli (big mounds with royal tombs inside). In fact, there are so many mounds all over that the city looks like it has a bad case of the chicken pox. The Korean government has passed a law that no tall buildings are allowed in Gyeongju so the cityscape is refreshingly clear of the ugly skyscrapers that the Koreans seem to be so fond of building.

While in Gyeongju, we visited two remarkable sites - the Seokguram Grotto and the Bulguksa Temple. To get to the Seokguram Grotto we had to wind our way several kilometres up a big mountain. Seated in a carved cave was a 3.5 metre tall statue of a seated Buddha surrounded by its guardians elaborately carved on the stone walls. It is estimated that construction work started in 751 and took 30 years to be completed. The granite Buddha is argued by some to be the most perfect Buddha image of its kind anywhere. It was a fantastic sight - at the centre of the Buddha's forehead is a large diamond, and supposedly when the sunrise from over the East Sea (Sea of Japan) strikes it, it radiates light throughout the cave.

The Bulguksa Temple is one of the most famous temples and is the oldest surviving Buddhist monastery in Korea. It was very picturesque and we all enjoyed wandering around its grounds. Much of the original temple has had to be rebuilt however, as it had been razed several times by successive Chinese and Japanese invasions over the centuries.

By mid-afternoon we were all feeling well and truly "templed"-out. I felt at peace with myself, my karma was aligned, and I was bloody starving and my legs were killing me... so we headed off for lunch at a nearby restaurant. After lunch, we climbed back into the bus and returned to Ulsan.

Last week was a short week with Christmas arriving mid-week. Amy and I and a couple of other foreign teachers headed back to Gyeongju for a Christmas buffet at the Hilton hotel. We awoke on Christmas morning to a unexpected surprise. We had a white Christmas in Ulsan! Snow was falling, so it really helped us get into the Christmas spirit. From what we've heard, that will probably be the only snow in Korea this winter, so what better day for it to arrive!

We motored on up the road to the Hilton and arrived at the hotel at about noon. Lunch was served and we stuffed ourselves with turkey, roast beef and seafood from the buffet. And yes, there was kimchi to be had as well. The only hiccup of the day was we somehow ended up in the children's party... we were the only foreigners in a sea of Korea families. It wasn't so bad though, and the bingo was fun...

Anyway, the week flew by and on Saturday my sister Joanna arrived from Jeonju for a short stay with us. We are planning some adventures for New Year's so we'll hopefully have some good stories next week!

As a side note, I've archived all of the emails on the web at http://jburslem.blogspot.com - if you've missed any of the updates you can find them here!

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