Friday, June 23, 2006

the good news is. . .

my leg/ankle is not broken, and in this wonderful country (aka South Korea), i saw an orthopedic surgeon and got x-rays for 10USD. if the meds don't help, i'll have to have a $10 MRI on Tuesday. no insurance necessary.

America's healthcare system blows.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

bless the rain

The rainy season (Jangma) seems to have commenced early this year, but it is welcome because summer came fast and hard, too. The sky was light at 5am, and as I sat trying to coax myself to sleep, shadows blotted out the apathetic sun. To my bleary eyes the change was sudden, and I moved to the window to witness the last of the light disappear.

In the early morning hours Gwangju begins its hustle, so if sleep has not come by five, i'm usually left without. In the light, the drunks are returning home with loud choruses of "Tae Han Min Guk" (damn the world cup), couples on every side begin their morning quarrels, babies sputter, old men hack and talk loudly on the streets and in stairwells, and I sit enveloped in their waking life.

But today, with the clouds, everything changes.

Gwangju's hustle becomes a hush. For reasons unbeknownst to me the rain is welcome, but not enjoyed. No longer can the brash symphony of dawn be heard, it is quiet as though the city cannot breath. The first stray drops became a constant trickle, I lay down with a grin. Bless the rain and the sleep in affords me.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Nagan Eupseong and Seonam Temple

Nagan Eupseong’s (낙안읍성) location leaves little wonder as to why Korea was so difficult to unify. Situated in a low valley, Nagan Eupseong’s initial fortifications are the mountains that surround it. Steep, rock-faced and densely forested cones rise on all sides, and even in these modern times, the well-paved roads feel treacherous. Sharp turns and blind corners twist up and down the mountains’ sides, cleared only as far as the road needs to be wide, so upon entering the valley the expanse is awe-inspiring.

The valley’s floor is a patchwork of rice paddies, barley fields and hay that stretch from mountain to mountain. Farmers dot the landscape irrigating or walking on the narrow, earthen ridges between fields. The long road is straight, dividing the valley almost in half, until it turns into a small smash of restaurants, markets and specialty shops. You know, the place where tourists go.

Nagan Folk Village (as the tourism board calls it) is one of only a few remaining walled villages on the peninsula, and is designated a Historical Site by the Korean government. Originally an earthen-wall fortress built in 1393 (they actually used the term “adobe” which I’m certain isn’t a direct translation), it was reconstructed with stones in 1634 under the command of General Eem Gyeong-eup (임경읍). To this day, villagers hold festivals and ceremonies in his honor as he is Nagan’s protective spirit.

The wall rounds the village at a length of 1.5 kilometers, and is a great walk encompassing views of both the surrounding farmlands and the thatched roofs of the town. The crenations that authoritatively sit atop the gates still protect the enclave from the intrusion of modernization. Inside the wall are small alleys, traditional restaurants, historic buildings, ponds, gardens, and even games from centuries past. Alex and I both tried our feet at Neolddwigi, a seesaw game played mostly at the Lunar New Year. Women of the noble class would use Neoldwigi to peek over the walls of their homes since they were rarely allowed to leave.

After walking a portion of the village we made our out of the valley to Jogye-san (조계산), a picturesque mountain that is home to one of the oldest temples in our region. Seonam Temple (선암사) was founded in 529, and like much else in the country, has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times over its 1500-year life. It is regarded as the birthplace of the meditative and doctrinal sects of Korean Buddhism, and now is headquarters for the Daego sect. Fun fact: This sect of Buddhism allows monks to marry.

The walk to the temple is a gorgeous one lined with large trees, bridges, totems, carvings in the mountain face, and the sound of a rushing stream. The entire grounds lack a lot of the ornate and colorful architecture found in most temples around the country, but is no less beautiful. There are many gated doors, ponds, fountains, and flower gardens. The mountain itself is quiet, too, so it makes for a peaceful respite from the rush of city life.

click here to view more from Nagan & Seonam-sa