This is Pennsylvania
This is Korea.
I could easily switch those two pictures, placing the Korea one under a Pennsylvania tag, and vice versa. No one would notice the difference. Except for maybe the owner of the original Pennsylvania picture used above.
The bottom picture was taken on a recent day-trip with the school teachers and staff to a local temple and hermitage in Yeongcheon. Having just finished lunch, a few of us signed up for a walk that turned into a legitimate hike way too fast, but I was more amazed by the landscape than the unanticipated, unwanted perspiration in my work khakis.
There are places we travel to, or certain moments in those places, that install in us a sense of familiarity, even in the most foreign of situations. This was one of those moments.
I knew going into Korea that the climate was similar to south central-Pennsylvania, where I’m from, but I had no clue the extent to which the scenery here parallels that back home. It’s uncanny, and for the first time since I arrived, I truly felt like I was in Pennsylvania, for better or worse. For the first time, experiences were familiar.
The recurrent cool breeze that suddenly turns into a wicked gust, dismembering leaves from their trees as a sign of the turning of the seasons. The aura of dried leaves covering the ground, something I can’t really describe accurately, except that it carries a scent one might call “Autumn” back in PA. The brilliant, natural backdrop of yellows, reds, browns, and faded greens; a blanket of vibrant forest. Even the indecisiveness that comes with every physical activity in fall weather. Too cold to take off a layer, too warm underneath those layers to leave them on. In other words: Do I take layers off and suffer the icy shiver that shocks when my sweat hits the windchill; or do I leave them on and continue to add heat to an already scorching body?
These are characteristics of a Pennsylvanian fall season; but also, apparently, characteristics of a Korean fall as well. I thought that was pretty stinkin’ cool.
Familiarity in the most unlikely of places.
The hike, as I can and should call it now, was to the Unbuam Hermitage at the top of a hill, past the temple at the bottom. Don’t know what a hermitage is? Neither did I, but basically it’s an old secluded residence typically for religious purposes. So in other words, similar to a monastery. And we did visit the temple, but I took more pictures of the hermitage, taking advantage of the semi-long walk. On the way up, there were some really awesome cairns as well, large man-made stacked rocks
We were greeted by a large statue hovering over a pond. After doing some research I learned this statue is of the Bodhidharma, or just Dharma, the founder of meditative Buddhism (Credit to Dale’s Korean Temple Adventures). [Side note: Cheers to all those tragically monotonous research papers in college where I cited (what seemed like) every single word just in case Turnitin.com found some plagiarism. However, instead of worrying about failing the class or getting kicked out of school because of some computer program, I now just make sure I give credit where credit is due. That’s about all I can take away from MLA, APA, and all those other ridiculous associations.]
It truly was a tranquil place, and the slight breeze rolling through the mountains only made such a cool environment more sensational. As I walked up the stone stairs, I felt like I was approaching some forbidden relic, stored away from the public for protection. I wasn’t entirely off with that suspicion, because the stairs led straight in to my first authentic “Oh snap” moment in Korea upon seeing this…
Beautiful, right? Maybe I’m just a sucker for archaic pagoda-style structures, but there’s a reason I used this picture in the header image above. I stopped in my tracks and just sort of stared for a while upon first glance, understanding where in the world I was and how unique this experience was. On top of that, to me, this was the coolest architecture I had ever seen…and it’s all over the place here.
We ducked under the pavilion you see above and entered the courtyard, an open space surrounded by other pagoda-style structures. In the courtyard ahead lay a praying stone to sit on and meditate with whatever deity you desired; Buddha was preferred obviously. I checked it out before we left.
The inside of the pavilion reminded me of an old log cabin, but way older than even the oldest log cabin. And significantly more harmonious. The group of us gathered for a cup of tea in the pavilion with the cups already there for public use. (There was a towel for cleaning).
We chilled in the hermitage for awhile, just relaxing in a place that was built just for that. There was also some fresh mountain water at a small fountain that I tried, again using the cup that was there for everyone else to use (You rinse it 3 times before you drink from it!)
It was a short trip, but in all honestly, an incredibly amazing one. Corny and cliche as it is, but I was stoked to be able to get outside of the apartment and be able to see something other than the streets of Yeongcheon for once. Additionally, I enjoyed using my camera for the first time in awhile. I learned that the flowers here are as photogenic as they come this time of year, and the groovy roofs are super neat for a unique snapshot. Also, praying mantises are as rare and legendary here as they are back home.
Many more posts are to come in the approaching months. Thanks to all of these guys for helping me settle in, along with all of my other fellow foreign teachers and friends who aren’t pictured.
In this post, for once, I really don’t have some underlying message I’ve learned, or a certain proverb around which to base this experience. Perhaps “You can find familiar comfort in the most unexpected of times” applies, given that Korea reminded me of Pennsylvania. Or “Even though the day is 14 hours ahead here, the trees don’t change color any faster”. Or “Use caution when drinking from a cup just lying around in Korea.” I guess they all apply.
I didn’t actually go to Pennsylvania, but it certainly felt like it…until I saw the temples…and the hermitages…and heard Korean everywhere.
And all of that is still pretty stinkin’ cool.