Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ganghwa-do Tour Miscellany

There are just some places that are hard to travel around and occasionally I break down and do the foreigner-take-a-cultural-tour-thing. I've been pretty much all over Korea but a couple of the hardest places to travel around are south of Kwangju in jeollanamdo and around Ganghwa Island. These two areas in particular are more rural than other places, have fewer buses and those buses are really spaced out. About 5 years ago I wanted to see the Ganghwa-do dolmen and whatever else I could in the course of a day; I was only able to see three things because of bus schedules. I ended up hitch-hiking twice; well, once the curator at the dolmen museum told me when she was leaving and if I was in front of the museum, she'd take me along and drop me off at the bus station. Wow! And it was so much fun talking to her too while she was driving ... I just love, love, love the more rural places because of a more traditional atmosphere but also because of much friendlier people!

Well, RAS (the Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch) offered their fall tour of Ganghwa-do so I gladly signed up, knowing I would be able to see a lot more than if I were to give myself the tour.

Blast! I've lost my notes again, so can't remember the name of the modern-stylized hanok or the highly informed gentleman who gave up the tour. But suffice it to say, he was dressed in a modern-stylized hanbok to match his brother's home and he gave us insights on Ganghwa-do history, plants related to traditional medicinal healing, other flora in his gardens, and explanations of cultural symbols ... blast, I lost my notes! Here in the picture though, he's welcoming us at the front door of his house, giving us a very hospitable welcome.

Wandering along the paths and among the many gardens where he and his landscaping teams are carefully gathering native flora from around Korea and trying to eliminate the invasive and introduced plants in the attempts to recreate a cultural past around the hanok, we came across several dogs, the Chindo, one of the three native Korean dogs. Most of the dogs were given their own rice straw shelter to fit into the nostalgic ambience.

Also along the paths were some trees with rice straw mattings wrapped around them. With the warming of the country, the Korean red pines are threatened not only by climbing temperatures but also by boring insects. It is believes that the insects instead hide in these straw mats and before spring breezes warm the earth, these straw mats are torn off the trees and burned to incinerate (hopefully) another generation of boring bugs.

As the rain threatened, we retreated to one of the many wide porches for a refreshing tea/coffee break. It'd been a long time since I'd had an outdoor tea break, since with the growing wealth of Koreans, people nowadays seem to retreat to elegant coffee houses with plush chairs and internet connections. Here we had fresh air, a water-hazed picture of the harbor with island creeping out of the fog behind, and a warm ondol floor if we were too chilled on the wooden balcony. Perfect!

성공회강화겅당, Anglican Church of Ganghwa-do

Built in 1900 by Bishop John Corfe, this Anglican church is a studied mixture of Korean, Western, Christian, Buddhist and Confucian architecture. The overall basic shape (interior construction and rooftop) bespeak Western Christian influences while Confucian-inspired is the traditional Korean exterior design with Buddhist courtyard stylization reflected in the covered front gate and the courtyard bo tree.

Another Buddhist icon is the alter or shrine which is usually supported by the longevity animal, the turtle, but here a ship, probably an iconic creation of Noah's ark holds the alter label [there's probably a better name for this].

Walking around in the courtyard I absolutely cracked up when I saw the alterations of the yin-yang red-blue symbol to include the Anglican cross. And then instead of the three dot marker or the circle marker under the peaked eaves on temples telling which order of Buddhism is practiced within, this church has a cross. Ah, the thought that went into this to incorporate familiar symbols in the newly introduced Anglican religion!

전등사, Jeondeung-sa, Temple of the Three Spirits

Jeondeung-sa, founded in 381, is one of the oldest temples in Korea. The Buddhist monk Ado founded this temple, perhaps on his route south where he introduced Buddhism to the Baekje and Silla kingdoms. Originally the temple was known as Jinjong-sa but after Queen Jeonghwa, the wife of King Chungnyeol, gave temple a jade lamp in 1299, the temple's name was changed to Jeondeung-sa, "The Temple of the Bequeathed Lamp". The lamp is unfortunately gone, but the temple is the repository of the three treasures (three energies based on Taoistic beliefs). The temple is also famed for where the Korean Tripitaka, meaning "three baskets" (canons), was carved in the 1230s and 1240s and later moved for safe keeping to Haeinsa, another temple having the three treasures.

This temple is additionally known for its unique, human-like figures carved under the heavy ridgebeams which they appear to bear the weight on their heads while making faces. The meaning of these odd creatures has been lost, but "one story has it that they were carved by a jilted lover, a carpenter of one of the temple's reconstructions, to represent his unfaithful wife in the hope that she too would find pain and remorse in her actions and suffer as these figures suffr under the weight of the heavy roof." (excerpt from tour handout)

A festival was in the works as we wandered among the many temple buildings, which are part of the 덕진진 (Deokjin Fortress). Unfortunately the festival wasn't very well attended because of the intermittent rain. Anyway, a magnificent display tile paintings was one cultural event that immediately caught my eye. I'm unclear whether this was simply a display of art by perhaps high schoolers or was a fund-raiser for building another temple building. Paying a sum of money like ₩10,000 to write one's name on a temple tile that will later be used in the temple's construction is a common fund raiser. I've never seen people painting elaborate pictures on tiles, however, for the fund-raising effort. Maybe though.

Under an awning, some elderly men were busy weaving traditionally useful household objects. The man on the left was working on woven rope for making straw sandals. The middle man, who spoke some broken English and was quite entertaining to the visitors, was making a rice measure, and the man to the right was probably weaving a rice measurer too. There weren't any takers on learning how to do this dying art, but straw sandals and other objects could be purchased as fund-raising for the temple construction under progress.

Under another awning women were weaving colored rice strands into round baskets, and then further on, a young couple was being taught how to make shamanic ducks. I wish I knew the name for them, but as I understand it, the name varies depending upon location. Ducks are used as marriage symbols (fertility symbols but slightly different than these), as "lookouts" in trees or along waterways, and probably in other ways. If we we hadn't been on a tight tour schedule, I would have loved to make a duck-art to put in a bookcase. I love wood carvings and something that has a sense of culture. Ah, too bad ... but I have some models in this picture and can make a model on my own time now.

강화지석묘 (Ganghwa Island Dolmen)

The 지석묘 is another name for 고인돌 (dolmen), a granite rock used possibly as a burial stone during the Neolithic period or even possibly for ritual ceremonies. This particular dolmen is Korea's largest standing 2 meters high, 5x7 meters in width and a meter thick. and Korea is quite proud that thier country holds about 40% of the world's dolmen, and are therefore collectively recognized as a UNESCO treasure.

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