After about an hour bus ride, we ended up in Jinan, a small town across some mountains from Jeonju. We had driven through clouds to get there, but when we did, the rain had let up. Since it was an hour until the bus to the mountain, we wandered around the town. It was basically one street, full of mostly stores and hawkers selling ginseng, old women crouching over bags of dirt-crusted roots. Some roots were huge, some were small, some were strangely misshapen. But all were fresh ginseng, dug up from fields on the surrounding mountains.
Other than ginseng, there were a few shabby restaurants, a small stream that wound through the town, and a dumpling shop. As Jon loves dumplings, we stopped in the latter for a snack. It was more or less someone's kitchen, with a big dining table in the middle and an old, dusty cooler with drinks inside. The couple working were kind, and the woman served us freshly-steamed kimchi dumplings (well, served Jon. I don't like kimchi dumplings). It was a nice, cozy snack stop, but after 15 minutes we were on our way.
Once I was warmed up by an instant cocoa from a convenience store, we went back to the bus terminal to wait. We sat on old, orange vinyl chairs surrounded by senior citizens, watching a baseball game between Korea and Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. A long, long way from home, I was back in familiar surroundings, sitting inside on a rainy day watching a baseball game.
Well, the game ended and about 10 minutes later, our bus came. It was a rickety old local bus, empty but for one man who sat talking with the driver, but it got us to the mountain in about 15 minutes. From there, we started walking. There were surprisingly many people there, not too crowded but it wasn't empty. The rain was still holding off, and the mist that surrounded the mountains gave a mystical feeling to the day.
The road up to the park was surrounded by quaint restaurants selling ribs. Grilled ribs, smoked ribs, cooked covered in pine needles. Chefs cooked on grills lining the walkway, trying to entice customers. Wooden smokehouse, smoke billowing out. Somehow, we made it past all of that without giving in to temptation.
It was a simple walk, paved the whole way and only up rolling hills. This is how Korean trails usually start out, until it gets to the main temple, when more wooded trails branch off. This time, our only goal was the main temple, since the weather was bad and we Jon's ankle was bothering him from soccer the day before.
The main temple, in this case, was special. It was tucked in between rock cliffs, tiny and cozy. Around it were 80 stone pagodas. In the early 1900s, a Buddhist hermit lived at the temple, and built about 120 pagodas of varying sizes as a meditation and prayer for peace. The pagodas are the stuff of legend in Korea, since there is nothing holding the pagodas together but balance and gravity, and they have made it through 100 years of windstorms, rain and ice. There is also the legend that if you place a bowl of pure, clean spring water by the temple in the winter, and pray with a pure heart, an icicle will form in the center of the bowl, going up like the pagodas.
Whatever the legend, whatever the reason that the pagodas remain (the ones that have fallen are mostly the result of human interference), they are breath-taking. There is a pair behind the temple, called the Heaven and Earth Pagodas, that are about 2 stories tall. All the pillars look precarious, but one can see the work that went into them through the careful balance and the smaller stones surround the joints of larger stones. It reminds me that peace is a painstaking process, a never-ending process, and the working for peace requires balance, care and support, just like these pagodas. But also that sometimes, when all these elements are present, things can stabilize and withstand seemingly unsurrmountible pressures.
Surrounded by mountains and mist, these spires seemed more mystical. It really was beautiful, especially with the echoing chanting and the eerie clinking of the wooden bells used in Buddhist meditation. Interrupted only at intervals by loud Korean hikers.
The day got chillier, and it was started to get dark, so we headed back to wait for the bus. This time, the old, delapitated local bus took us all the way to Jeonju, through curvy mountain roads we could see this time around, and I'm not sure this increased vision was to my benefit.
Arriving back in Jeonju, we met some friends for a dinner of dak galbi, wonderfully cheesy chicken, ramen noodles, rice cake and veggie skillet cooked right in front of you, of course smothered in hot sauce, and eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves. A nice, cozy end to a chilly, damp but inspiring day.