Saturday, February 28, 2009

RAS Tour: Geumsansa ("Gold Mountain Temple")

The second half of last Saturday's tour with the Royal Asiatic Society (previous post on the Jeonju Paper Museum here) took us to Geumsansa, or "Gold Mountain Temple," which was a major spiritual center in the Unified Silla era (7th-10th centuries BC) and is currently a head temple (think cathrdral, you Catholics out there) of Korean Buddhism's traditional Jogye order.

In many ways, Geumsansa is an entirely typical restored Korean temple. The colors, as always, are brilliant and the designs intricate, which always struck me as odd--considering how the Korean Buddhism is so closely related to Zen, I would expect simplicity. Not that I mind too much, since the Korean-style decorations are often pleasantly mesmerizing.
The real gem of Geumsansa, aside from the various "National Treasures," which all pretty much look like interchangeable pieces of eroded stone (I don't really know enough about Silla history and sculpture to understand why they're unique), is the three-story prayer hall, the only one of its kind in Korea.
Inside, the three towering, gold-plated Buddhas achieve an effect similar to that seen in many Tibetan Buddhist prayer halls, such as that found at Yonghe "Lama" Temple in Beijing. (Previous post) All in all, an impressive effect. Too bad you can't take photos inside!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

RAS Tour: Hansol Paper Museum

Yesterday, Nana and I finally got around to taking our second tour with the Royal Asiatic Society, a local group that books academic lectures and cultural tours for expats here in Seoul. (Details of our previous tour here and here.) This trip took us to Jeonju, which marks the furthest south we've been in Korea yet, to see the Jeonju Paper Museum and the famous Geumsansa ("Gold Mountain Temple").

Now, I imagine nothing sounds more boring to our loyal readers than a museum dedicated entirely to the history and production of paper. And to tell the truth, the museum itself was a little blah, except for a brilliant children's educational hologram which featured a bunch of cute little anthropomorphic trees and a paper nymph looking forward to the violent and painful process by which the trees would be made into "a paper."

However, the museum included a workshop where visitors can make their own hanji, or traditional Korean paper. The museum handles all the first steps: all you have to do is take the mulberry pulp mix and shake it around in a bamboo screen for a few seconds. It's still cool, though, to see that bamboo peeled back to reveal the paper underneath.

Here's a video of me sieving the pulp (and being chastised by an ajeoshi--an alarmingly common occurence here in Korea).

(Thanks for taking the video, Nana!)

Here, a friendly ajumma dries the wet paper--this step has clearly been sped up by modern technology!--then another lays the paper out on a hot metal table that functions kind of like an ironing board.

We got to keep our little samples. Cool!

The workshop also included a station for making prints, which Nana and I did. The video below shows Nana making a sign that reads: "Make a harmonious family by being dutiful to your parents and live as a man of high integrity by giving up your greed."

Yes, it says all that in eight characters. Nana sez: Part of what makes classical Chinese so hard to read!

Here's the finished product:
All in all, the museum is worth a visit if you're living in or traveling through the south--but at almost three hours each way, it's a bit of a hike for a day trip from Seoul. It was fun, though, to take part, in however small a way, in the great tradition of Korean paper art.