Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Rainy Day Woman
Just when I thought I'd escaped the rainy weather that I had come to expect in Northern California, I arrive in Korea during its rainy season...
Three weeks of mostly rainy days have turned promising weekend excursions into less promising movie-download sessions. Luckily, the weekends have not been without their charms (not the least of which have been a Jane Austen-themed movie marathon companioned with the actual reading of Jane's books).
All Jane aside, I did manage to venture forth into the greater Korean unknown, armed with umbrella and not-so-trusty phrasebook. I made it, in mostly-dry condition, to the intercity bus stop. It's just a couple of blocks from my apartment. As I am becoming wise to the ways of Korean time-keeping, I was not surprised when I had to wait nearly 90 minutes for a bus scheduled to arrive every 30 minutes. I boarded the bus after my awkward how-much-does-it-cost? and is-this-enough? hand-signal communication system (my new language) and rode from central Chungju to the very outskirts of town.
The bus ride was lovely with views of forested hills and tiny Asian-roofed houses interspered with farmland. The smells were not so lovely. One man smelled very strongly of old cornflakes (probably his naked feet), and many people had the smell of kim-chi-induced flatulence. I guess bad bus smells are a universal grievance. The good news is that the bus ride did allot enough time for the rain stop (temporarily).
I took the bus to Jungwon Mireukrisaji, which promised a charming many-hundreds-of-years-old Buddha statue. Fair weather holding, I followed a path toward the temple site. The path led me along a thriving apple and peach orchard, and all my faith in beautiful scents returned on breezes sweetened with freshly bathed wild flowers and fruit trees. The path also basked in the gorgeous views of Woraksan National Park. Even the swiftly moving black-as-coal rain clouds were a sight to behold as they swept across the Suess-ian mountain tops.
The temple was small but ancient and, therefore, impressive. Greeting me at the bottom of a stone pathway was a large, ancient stone tortoise. Passing a few stone pagodas (yes, there is a lot of stone here), I stopped at the only vender braving the weather and purchased a bamboo contraption with which to blissfully beat myself on the back in true Buddhist-monk fashion. It also makes a really cool noise! A few more steps and I'd made it to the statue.
The standing Buddha was carved in stone around 900 AD and has remained in the same spot since its creation. A small and modern offering-shrine rests at the Buddha's feet. People have left money, food, and some strange swamp-water-looking bottled beverages there. To one side, a row of miniature plastic Buddhas have been lined up in offering to the bigger Buddha, and these, in turn, have also received coin offerings of their own. A loud speaker system boomed out chanting-monk music. The atmosphere was refreshing, and as the drizzle increased and scared off the other handful of visiters, I soon had the place to myself and enjoyed the blissful peace and quiet eminating from the stone Awakened One.
However, not having truly reached Nirvana, I was mostly annoyed when the black clouds released their torrent of typhoon-condition rain. I made it back to the bus stop and, curled up in a ball in the one tiny dry spot available, waited for the return bus which was to pass by in about 30 minutes. Two hours and ten minutes laters, I boarded the bus for home, looking forward to retreating into the splendid Victorian fantasy of Jane Austen's world (where rain has only seriously affected the plot twice in all six books--which is fewer than this heroine's altered plans in Chungju).