With the cheap train, kindly sponsored by the South Korean nuclear company, we get to Gyeongju. The depressing atmosphere on the border with North Korea is still heavy on our stomachs.
However, the futuristic train station is far out of town, so we need a taxi. We ask the driver to take us to a cheap hotel or motel not far from downtown and off we go. Michael struggles with his Korean and really no one speaks English.
Normally Koreans are reserved, but our driver seems to be very amused with us. We later find out that “motels” in this country are for being alone with your affair for a few hours, not for real housing.
However, we don’t suspect anything of this and let a giggling taxi driver take us into town. We check into a motel or hotel; at least a building with an entrance, reasonably priced rooms, and staff who can pretend well enough to take their job and their guests seriously.
Of course we are curious again and full of energy and go out into the night to see something of the city. The royal hills are famous. These tombs of past monarchs now adorn the city park and climbing these hills is of course extremely disrespectful and therefore forbidden.
We have a great view from up there and are undisturbed. In the “you’re a snail” race, Michael still has potential for improvement.
The nightlife leaves a lot to be desired. We bum over the fish market, but this has already closed. The party starts at our motel, where we find our own karaoke lounge and do our worst.
The hostess generously brings us new nibbles all the time and only later do we find out that these add quite a bit to the bill.
Not far from the city is a massive monastery complex called Bulguksa: “Temple of the Land of Buddha”. However, we fail when trying to get to this temple. At the supposed bus stop, no bus simply wants to go to Bulguksa. At least all the bus drivers shake their heads when we mention this place. According to the timetable, buses should go there regularly. It’s beyond weird.
Suddenly a car stops and a man and his little daughter look at us with wide eyes through the open window and speaks to us in the finest English.
“Hello. Can I help you?”
“Thank you! We’re looking for the bus to Bulguksa.”
“Jump in, I’ll drive you.”
And the man actually lets us sit next to his little daughter and takes us to the monastery. He lived in the USA and understands what it’s like in a foreign country. He has received a lot of help and is happy to be able to help strangers in his home country.
Not far from the monastery we can climb the nearby mountain. A pilgrimage route with dragons that donate water.
The view at the summit is fantastic. In a shrine, a large Glock waits to be struck. A garden awaits on the other side of the mountain.
Selling a few knick-knacks and also a few things to eat. A lady is selling what looks like cooked beans in plastic cups. I’m curious and buy a mug. The saleswoman is very irritated that I am interested in her goods. I notice that the beans have little legs and seem to have lived at one time. It doesn’t look that tasty. I try the little animals and realize that it tastes even worse. Like sweeping up the dust under a cupboard and boiling it with water. One more experience.
The way home is not so easy. We wait a long time at the bus stop to get back to Gyeongju and our seedy motel. But the bus driver doesn’t want to accept our money for tickets and we don’t understand his reason. With his little knowledge, Michael quickly reaches his limits.
Ultimately, the situation only resolves itself when a passenger in the first row talks to the driver and hands him a banknote that allows us to ride with him. We are full of gratitude and would like to give the altruistic man his money back, but he just waves it off. We are very happy about two experiences on this day, how foreign people made it possible for us to travel to and from this temple. Perhaps the mind of Buddha had a hand in it.
All the peace and the ideal world make us aggressive again. Michael found out that a martial art related to taekwondo called “Sonmoudo” can be learned in a monastery not far from here. Michael is already studying taekwondo and I’m a student of ninjutsu so it’s a good fit, we’re interested and can’t wait to get involved.