Wednesday, November 28, 2007

East Coast, Day 2: Seoraksan

Finally--the much-awaited, much-belated second post on our Thanksgiving trip to the East Coast. We've been caught up in the last big push towards Christmas lately, plus our internet was down for a few days while we switched to a new provider. (Yes, our old, awful ISP has gotten the boot. Woohoo!)

Anyway. Our second day at Yangyang, we woke up to overcast skies that looked like they could blow off by noon. Our plan was to take a cable-car ride up one of the nearby peaks of the famously-beautiful Seoraksan National Park, and while many of our group (Dr. Kim especially) were a bit bummed that the weather actually worsened as we drove to the park, I had high hopes for some dramatic photos, and Seoraksan did not disappoint.First, the cable-car up the mountain, which probably would have brought back some Austria flashbacks, if it weren't for the excruciating K-pop ballads they pumped into the car. Though the rainbow across the valley, which sadly didn't photograph, was a very nice touch.

At the top, then, after donning a few hastily-purchased ponchos to ward off the sleet and the rain, we climbed up to an exposed cliff-top with some spectacular views of the adjoining valleys.

Below, we have our fearless leader, one of the valley views, and then us (aw!), with my hair thankfully covered this time.

After a very cold thirty minutes at the top of the world, we rode back down into the valley and paid a visit to the park's landmark ginormous seated buddha (at right). This turns out to have been an excellent idea, because it was right around then that the rain really hit in earnest. I can only imagine what it must have been like at the top, what with the sleet/snow and freezing wind.

In any case, the weather, while inclement, did provide some extremely photogenic vistas, which I humbly hope I have captured adequately (below).

And a final treat on the day (no, I'm not talking about the sundubu, or "uncurdled bean curd," which is both much tastier than it looks and much less oxymoronic than it sounds): When we got back to the resort, what else did we find to welcome us, but our second rainbow of the day! It was a good one, too. Take a look:

Monday, November 26, 2007

East Coast, Day 1: Naksansa

As promised, here's the first of three photo-posts on our Thanksgiving trip to the East Sea / Sea of Japan (don't get me started). This one covers our visit to Naksansa (Naksan Temple). Details about Seoraksan, Sol Beach, and our impromptu seaside cavorting, along with some sweet, delicious photos, will go up sometime later this week.

Now, without further ado . . .

Our intrepid band (see below) left Seoul around midmorning on Thanksgiving Day and, after a few hours spent winding our way through some startlingly underpopulated mountains (plus a generous lunch break for some back-country Korean barbecue), the East Sea suddenly materialized before us, doing its darnedest to look like California. The weather was cool and clear, too--gone was the snow and haze we'd had the previous week in Seoul.

After settling us in at the hotel (more on that later), our fearless leader marshalled us off to Naksansa, a nearby Buddhist temple complex that, while devastated by a wildfire a couple years ago, still offers some interesting sights and spectacular views.

You can see our group below: from left, it's Dr. Kim, Ms. Linklater (music teacher), Ms. Ko (aka Mrs. Dr. Kim), Lia Kim, "Ms. Massie," "Mr. Goff," Gia Kim, and Ms. Anno (Japanese teacher).

(Note: Yes, I ran out and got my hair cut within sixty minutes of seeing how awful it looked in this shot.)

Word on the street is that Naksansa is one of only a few temples in Korea that overlooks the sea, and the effect overall is quite stunning. The view from the peak of the main hill, where a 16m statue of Gwaneum, the goddess of mercy, resides, offers 360 degrees of eye candy, from the nearby mountains (see the photo at the very top of the post), to the deep blue water, to the picturesque and relatively desolate coast.

But the views aren't the only thing worth seeing at Naksansa--the temple is also home to an antique set of larger-than-life temple guardians. The figures pictured below can be a bit hard to find--they're tucked away in a dimly-lit gateway next to the big bell outside the main shrine, and I saw several people walk right past them without a second look--but once noticed, they're mesmerizing. The details are just incredible: so many colors, and so many precise cuts in the wood. I especially love the expression on the face on the left, and how that fellow on the right there feels surprisingly animate.

Near the gateway with the guardians was another unexpected treat: piles of roof tiles signed by visitors, apparently as a fundraising program for the temple complex's ongoing reconstruction. Surprising number of Germans among the expected Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese.

Finally--and I promise you we're nearing the end, because this was also the point that my camera was running out of batteries--we strolled down to the bottom of the hill for a peek at the tiny prayer pavilion perched at the side of a cliff over the water. The pavilion was an unforgettable location, secluded among the roaring surf, but alas my Energizers did not, in fact, keep going and going long enough for me to get a shot of the place. I did, however, manage to get a very topical shot of the barbed wire and the guard post beyond the pavilion (they're there to keep out purely hypothetical North Korean spies) shortly after snapping Nana, possessed by whimsy, playing with a fish mobile like a cat.

Well, that's about it it for Day 1 of the trip. Stay tuned for more East Sea / Seoraksan goodness in the days to come. Though probably not tomorrow: Nana and I have a date with the Royal Asiatic Society. Free lecture on Korean folk music? Hells yeah!

PS: Using blogger to format photo posts still sucks. Ugh!