Saturday, October 7, 2017

Seokbulsa Temple, a Hidden Jewel (Busan)

Seokbulsa is a hidden gem of a temple. It's a bit remote and the climb can be taxing, but the view is positively spectacular and worth every drop of sweat. From the temple a view of Gwanggali Bridge and an expanse of the city of Busan can be seen beyond richly rolling green hills. The East Sea lays in a contrasting flat reflecting expanse beyond the forested rolling Geumjeongsan mountain. Quite breathtaking to see. As for the temple itself, surprisingly in this "modern" era with cultural tourism to most temples, there is no English sign anywhere around. Neither is there a templestay program! Hurray! I really appreciated this distance from commercialism, and this remoteness was reflected in the devote behavior of the people who were there to bow, meditate and pay respects to the mountain spirits.

According to Dale's Korean Temple Adventures, this temple was formerly known as Byeongpungam Hermitage, or "Folding Screen Hermitage", based on the way the rock faces formed a screen between the folds of the mountain. The name was changed to Seokbuksa Temple, "Rock Buddha Temple", probably after the faces of the rock screens were carved with 10-meter tall Bhuddhas, Boddhisattvas, and guardians. 

Central in the folds of the screen and the figure that everyone is praying to is Gwanseeum-bosal, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. On each rock face to the left and right are two Heavenly King Guardians, with the left wall also having an image of Birojana-bul, the Buddha of Cosmic Energy, and the right wall also having another Buddha image. Numerous recessed shrines are below the Gwanseeum-bosal, and on the climb up the stone staircase are 16 smaller stone bas reliefs of the 16 Nahan. Ascending onwards is the highest and remotest building containing the Sanshin, "the Mountain Spirit", and Dokseong, "Recluse", of course in their typical most remote position ... vestigial figures of shamanism incorporated in Korean Buddhism.

Several intwined dragons holding pearls in their mouths are fashioned in the walled perimeter around the Dharma Bell.
Passing the buildings to the recessed folds of the mountain to see the great carved guardians and the multiple recessed shrines. The tranquility of this temple provokes reflection and lends an atmosphere of respectful sacredness.
Not a place for tourism, but a quiet spot for meditation and prayfulness.
The woman prays to Gwanseeum-bosal, Bodhisattva of Compassion. 
And yet in the middle of 108 bows, the cell phone rang and (lady on the left) answered and proceeded to have an intense conversation. Then the 108 bowing continued.
Two of the Heavenly Guardians watch.
To my right are a line of 16 Nahan carved into the face of the rock wall, above, hidden, but still there lending their celestial support.

This little boy was learning to do his bows as well.
Again, two Heavenly Guardians to the right and a Buddha figure to the left.

Friday, October 6, 2017

UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan

The United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Korea (Busan) was established by the United Nations Command in 1951, and is a sacred site and home to 2,300 heroic dead who fell during the Korean War. In 1959 via an agreement between the UN and the Republic of Korea, the UNMCK was officially designated as a holy ground to pay tribute to those who died fighting for peace and freedom.

Interred in the UNMCK are members from 11 nations. Although soldiers of the United States represented the highest number of casualties, the US government takes action to return their fallen to the US and so only a tiny few American soldiers (36) who explicitly requested to be buried in Korea are interred in this UN cemetery.

Turkey has a special connection with the Koreas. Back before Turkey, the Koreas and China existed as countries, the tribes of the Hun (present-day Turks) and the Han (present-day Koreans) cooperated (and probably fought too) together on the steppes above what is now the broad expanse of China. When the empire of China started to form, they drove a wedge between the Huns and the Han and these cousin-tribes, though now separated from each other, both kept record of and remembered their shared histories.

When the Korean War started, the Turks remembering their "cousins", volunteered! The Koreans remembered too and they felt a deep connection and affinity to the people they could not communicate with verbally but felt tied to spiritually. 

This connection is still apparent particularly when the Turks are playing televised soccer or any other national sport. Koreans watch and yell and scream at their TVs to cheer them on! The Turks did likewise when South Korea played, and then won, the 2002 World Cup! For the upcoming Winter 2018 Olympics, the Turks and the Koreans will again make time to watch and cheer each other on!

So Koreans felt and still feel a keen sense of respect and brotherly-ness toward the Turks who volunteered and for the Turkish nation itself. 

One of the large areas to remember the Turks who fought and died during the Korean War.
A Turkish statue - one of the most respected pieces of commemorative art in the cemetery.
The memorial stone for the Philippinos killed in action (114).
The commemorative stone representing New Zealand, one of the first countries of the UN to respond to the call for help. More than 6,000 New Zealanders fought in the Korean War, 45 of them giving up their lives. 
The design of the memorial is based on a Maori woman’s chin tattoo, known as “moko”, the traditional sign of adulthood, and which indicated the wearer was able to bear pain and take on responsibilities. Here the design represents New Zealand as a mother of all who served their country in wartime. The strands running down side by side, army and navy, are shown merging with a third party, the United Nations. Along the sides of the memorial are 45 cuts, each marking the loss to New Zealand of a serviceman who died during the Korean War. The memorial is carved in granite sourced from Coromandel, NZ.

Central in the cemetery lie the Canadians, still under a wide blue sky, and commemorated by a soldier in uniform but with a daughter in arms and a young son standing beside, symbolizing a stance for family safety and for the peaceful future of the younger generations who are pure and innocent.

The Wall of Remembrance

The Wall of Remembrance is quite central to the cemetery and is the location where all who fought and died are commemorated. The countries are listed alphabetically on the large engraved memorial stones and each person who fought under a country's flag and gave up life is listed in alphabetical order. Ironically, the US soldiers are not listed under the country heading "United  States" but rather, because of the huge number of US soldiers who participated and died (more than 36,000), these soldiers are listed under the state they represented and the states are alphabetized among the other 15 countries with soldiers fighting in the war.

The pond in front of the Wall of Remembrance. In the middle of the pond raised on a pedestal burns an eternal flame, the symbol that states the memory of those who died will never be forgotten.
The name of every soldier who died during the Korean War is inscribed on the Wall of Remembrance. If the name is followed by an inscribed diamond, then that person not only died in the Korean War but is also interred in this UN cemetery.

 The Unknown Soldier's Pathway

The Unknown Soldier's Pathway
The Unknown Soldier's Pathway leads to the UN Forces Monument, which has copper plates prominently positioned on the sides. A copper plate with the number who fell is dedicated to each country with representative troops who fought in the war. The front of the monument has doves representing peace and the Korean name "유엔군위령탑" written by former president Park Chung-hee. This UN cemetery also has a large commemorative tablet dedicated to Park Chung-hee for expanding this park. Ah, the irony as the May 18th National Cemetery (a good historical overview on the circumstances of the cemetery here) has some kind of memorial stone for Park Chung-hee which gets some pretty ugly treatment, as explained to me when I went there a couple years back. The memorial stones for Park Chung-hee seem very respected here.

The Unknown Soldier's Pathway consists of 11 cascades of water, with 11 fountains, and having 11 pine trees paralleling each side of the cascades. The repetition of 11 signifies the 11 countries with representative heroes buried in the UNMCK.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Gamcheon "Painted" Culture Village, Busan

Gamcheon Culture Village is a town originally formed by the Taegukdo followers. Cho Cholje (1895-1958) and founder of the new religion had moved in the vicinity in 1948 just before the war. In 1950 when the Korean War pushed people from all over the Korean peninsula behind the tiny 230-kilometer line known as the Korean Perimeter, the only area not taken by the North Korean People's Army in the war, refugees crowded into Busan, many into the Jagalchi Market area which quickly became over-crowded. So many pushed to the steep hills of Gamcheon, a few kilometers away and in a safe but steep space. Overnight the area was transformed into a shantytown of 800 wooden shacks, clinging to the hillside. The shacks were made of corrugated iron roofs piled with stones to keep them from flying away in the wind; walls were of makeshift material. The village smacked of war, poverty, and hardship.

Cho Chojie, founder of the new Taegukdo religion which had been suppressed during Japanese occupation, by this time had 3,000 members in the area, and he promised the refugees toothbrushes, candy and rice if they would believe in Taegukdo. Soon almost 90% of Gamcheon residents practiced Taegukdo, and in 1955 Cho moved his headquarters to Gamcheon, which became known as Taegukdo village.

With Cho's move to Gamcheon, the village started to develop its economy and people started to earn money. They bought bricks and built up the wooden village of the '70s to two-storey brick constructions of the '80s and '90s. With the increase in people but not of land, it only made sense to build taller. Still, the hardships of war and poverty were imprinted on the village, and in actuality, it was much like a slum.

In 2009 the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism launched a program to renovate Gamcheon, naming the program "Dreaming of Busan Machu Picchu". The plan was to remodel the village into a creative community run by residents, artists and the local administrative office. The government therefore hired artists to paint murals and add 10 pieces of street art to the neighborhood. 

Phase 2 of the project known as Miro Miro soon followed with six houses and six alleys transformed into mini galleries and/or colorful paths. Experiential artists targeting tourism were set up -- pottery making, clothes dyeing, hanji craft, jewelry making, wood carving, puzzle painting, caricatures, metal crafts, and more. Arrows were painted for tourists to find their ways through the maze of alley ways. 

Many shops were opened by artisans, and cutesy jewelry, paper craft and handbags are frequently themes in booths attracting tourists. Several hanji shops were opened as well, as one particular one with a little craft room in the back of the shop snagged my attention. The elderly lady really had a talent for making exquisite hanji lamps and displaying theme elegrantly, not in a mishmash of bedlam like many of the other shops focusing more on quantity of item rather than quality of product. 

Local residents initially resisted the invasion of their privacy and balked at others seeing their less than modest homes, but gradually they have embraced the chance to earn a bit of money otherwise elusive to their neighborhood. 

Domestic media picked up on the change and have further stimulated tourism to the unique village charm via Korean movies and TV dramas filmed with Taeguk Village as a backdrop: "Hero", "Geu-nyo-ay-gae", "Superstar Kam Sa-young", and "Camelia". 

The village has also been dubbed as a Lego Village due to its perceived symmetric rows of colorful blockhouses perched on the hillside, and even tourist maps sentimentally label it as Santorini of Busan or Busan's Machu Picchu. In any regard, the former refugee shantytown has been transformed into quite the tourist spot, and is thought to be a model village for developing tourism in other Korean villages.

According to recent tourism figures, about 1.4 million tourists visit Gamcheon Village every year. Not quite sure how this number is generated, but I will say, during the Chuseok holiday when my friend and I were here, it was quite the hangout for young people -- groups of friends, dates, and families with young children. The town doesn't seem to attract the middle-aged or older people, but then most of tourism in Korea is aimed at the youth these days.

I don't quite get the importance of the photo zones .... but that seriously is the rage around Korea these days. There were several photo zone areas, the swimming whale below was pretty popular but the longest line was for young kids to take selfies with the Little Prince who was sitting on a wall over-looking a rather colorful area of Gamcheon Village.

Popular photo zone ... Wouldn't be any fun in this village without a selfie stick! LOL!
This couple found a space with a view but without a long line to take one of their couple-shots.
Quite cute actually.

One of the several painted stairways in the village.
With the theme of books, I actually found this one quite clever!
Appreciation goes to Yonhap News for writing a history of Gamcheon Village: "Street Art Rejuvenates Busan Ghetto" (Feb 1, 2012). 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Mushroom-radish "Dumplings"

Korean Temple Food Center located near Anguk Station regularly holds cooking classes for Buddhist "slow food" cuisine. Seems odd to use the French word 'cuisine' for the earthy simplicity of Korean Buddhist food, but that's how the temple markets their food cooking experience. 

Some friends and I signed up for a "white radish and mushroom dumpling" cooking experience. Afterwards I posted pictures on Facebook of my tasty experience and some of my Korean friends hit the picts and asked for recipes. And like them, I had never seen this food before either. Very tasty. Very simple. Will be made again.

Maybe about 30 expats were in the guest kitchen space, and everyone was grouped in 4-person work stations. Each station was equipped with sink, counter space, burners, pots and pans, cooking utensils, and along the wall were shelf insets filled with Korean ceramic ware in earthy tones and not made to match like in Western society. The earthy experience of "down-to-earth" food was even reflected in the serving dishes!

So each group was given a plate of ingredients and a recipe in English which we were told to follow. We cracked up, but since we were given such explicit directions, we just went along and did indeed "Feel the radish and cut thinly". 

White Radish and Mushroom Dumplings


1/3 white radish, 10 shitake mushrooms, dumpling wrappers, perilla and sesame oils, salt and pepper with roasted sesame sprinkled on top and vinegar and other sauce ingredients if desired

  1. Feel the radish and cut thinly (hahahaha!)
  2. Toss the radish with sprinklings of salt and let sit for 5 minutes, then stir-fry lightly with perilla oil
  3. Chop the shitake mushrooms and stir-fry lightly with salt and pepper
  4. In a bowl, toss the stir-fried radish and mushrooms and season more if necessary, then fill dumpling wrappers with this filling and press the edges closed.
  5. Steam the dumplings until the edges begin to look somewhat transparent (10-15 minutes)
  6. Serve immediately with dipping sauce

The monk who specializes in teaching Korean temple cuisine prepared our dipping sauce. She gave us the directions but I'll never make it again because, frankly, I'm lazy and would have to cook it. She also used a special home-preserved fruit syrup which almost no one has access to. Absolutely delicious though! I'm quite satisfied with mixing a quick combination of soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil with a pinch of sugar, and whoo-hoo, it takes less than 2 minutes without cooking. 

Taste testing our yummy dumplings before taking them to the table to eat properly!

Served with lightly marinated tomatoes, which I'd never seen before but which were absolutely scrumptious and the perfect compliment!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

UNESCO tentative list for S. Korea

UNESCO World Heritage Center has a transparent posting of the tentative world heritage sites for each country. As I understand it, much paperwork is needed to even apply to put one's own country's site on the tentative list, and many tentative sites remain just that ... tentative for many years. Here is the tentative list with the most recent updates being January 24, 2017. Note that South Korea added one more (Stone Buddhas and Pagodas at Hwasun Unjusa Temple) since the last updating of the UNESCO website. 

Tentative list for Republic of Korea:

Tentative list for Democratic People's Republic of Korea:

Friday, September 1, 2017

UNESCO Heritage Sites in Korea

Thank you, Duyong, for sharing your PowerPoint presentation. This was a very exemplary lesson plan that your designed for foreigners to have raised awareness regarding the many UNESCO sites within Korea and what their value means to the nation. Really well put together!