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Blog Reboot Summer 2013

Gyo-dong Folk Village, Gyeongju

Gyo-dong Folk Village, Gyeongju

To start off my first post in almost a year, I’d like to apologize to all those folks who’ve posted comments and questions to this blog over the last several months.  I’ve basically been busy as hell this last year, so I hope to breath a second wind into the blog here over the next few months (time willing).  Over this last year, I’ve written the first draft of my thesis for my Masters in Buddhist Studies which, incidentally, involves research into the Silla  Kings Beopheung and Jinheung.  Also, I’ve coauthored a three part series on Gyeognju’s Mt. Namsan (click here to read part 2 and part 3) for the Jogye Order’s English language quarterly, Buddhism and Culture, plus an academic article surveying the life and work of the famed Silla monk, Ven. Wonhyo.  As of last February I changed both my job and  MA program.  Most importantly, however, this last March our second son was born, so everything non-essential has gotten pushed to the side since then.  I hope all the commentors that I’m just now getting back to would be so kind as to forgive this weary grad student, teacher and father for the late reply. read more »

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Buddha’s Birthday at Sinseonsa (신선사) Temple on Mt. Danseoksan (단석산)

Miruk Grotto at Sinseonsa Temple, Mt. Danseoksan, Gyeongju

Miruk Grotto at Sinseonsa Temple, Mt. Danseoksan, Gyeongju

Like many things in Gyeongju, I’ve been meaning to write about Mt. Danseoksan for a while, but I’ve been too busy to get around to it.  However, celebrating Buddha’s Birthday, or Seokga Tansinil (석가탄신일), yesterday at the ancient stone grotto of Mirukgul (미룩굴) on Mt. Danseokan has given me the best reason I’m probably going to get.  Located about 10 km south-west of Gyeongju City, Mt. Danseoksan is officially part of Gyeongju National Park and is famous for its history, legends and natural beauty.  Literally meaning “Split Rock Mountain,” Mt. Danseoksan is, in fact, named after one such ancient story involving the famed Silla general Kim Yu-sin. read more »

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Slideshow: Autumn in Namsan-dong (남산동) Village

Muryangsa Temple, Namsan-dong, Gyeognju

Muryangsa Temple, Namsan-dong, Gyeognju

To be honest the Korean urban lifestyle doesn’t really do much for me.  Sure, I sometimes miss the art and culture, the night clubs and the convenience.  But after living in London, Berlin and Barcelona, there’s really not anything new that I get out of big cities in Korea.  All it takes is a walk through one of the many quaint and quiet farm villages near Gyeongju to remind me why I like living with the Korean countryside so close at hand.   One of my favorite places to visit is Namsan-dong (남산동);  a string of farming villages just 15 minutes outside of town tucked in the shadow of Gyeongju’s historic Mt. Namsan (남산). read more »

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Choi Jae-u (최제우), Yongdamjeong Pavilion (용담정) and the Donghak Peasants Revolution (동학농민운동)

Yeongdamjeong Pavilion, Gyeongju

Yeongdamjeong Pavilion, Gyeongju

The 19th century was a dark time for Korea (and sadly just a prelude to the horrors to come in the 20th century to come).  Korea was still a feudal agrarian society and the nobility of the Joseon Dynasty had become bloated and corrupt, exacting heavy taxes and conscripting forced labor from the peasantry.  Foreign governments with imperialist ambitions were constantly vying for power on the Korean peninsula.  And to make matters worse, the country was plagued by droughts, natural disasters and famines which lead to widespread suffering and civil unrest among the peasantry.  Considering the average farmer was lucky to live to 30, it’s not surprising this malcontent boiled over into full scale uprisings against the landlords and the rich on more than one occasion. read more »

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hiking history Sites to see Stories, legends & people Temples & shrines Ulsan

Museum and Memorial Shrine of Patriotic Martyr Park Jae-sang (박제상 기념관)

Park Jae-sang Memorial Museum, Ulsan

Park Jae-sang Memorial Museum, Ulsan

Taking advantage of a break in the cold weather, the other weekend I piled into the car with some friends and took off to explore the mountains south of Gyeongju (not to mention my wife was putting the finishing touches on her Master’s thesis and needed me out of the house).  I’d managed to score an English tourist map of Ulsan, on which there’s marked the “Historical Remains of Park Je-sang”  about 15 minutes south of Gyeongju  just of off N.R. 35.  Nothing else was said about who this Park Je-sang was or why he was worth remembering, so I figured he must’ve been a small-time Confucian scholar with a few stone tablets propped up in his honor.  Still, I was itching to explore some new territory and decided to check it out. read more »

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Gyeongju hiking history Korean culture Stories, legends & people tips for tourists Wierd Gyeongju

Wierd Gyeongju: Queen Seondeok and the Legend of Vagina Valley (여근곡)

Map of Yeogeungok Valley, Mt. Obongsan

Map of Yeogeungok Valley, Mt. Obongsan

Yup, you read that right.  About 17 km west of Gyeongju on the north face of Mt. Obongsan (오봉산) is a little valley that goes by the name of Yeogeungok (여근곡).  This literally means “Jade Gate” Valley which, you might not have known, is actually a euphemism for female genitalia.  Just why the ancient Koreans dubbed this valley just that is clear to anyone with a basic knowledge of human anatomy and a bit of imagination. read more »

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Hiking Namsan (남산): The Secrets of Samneung Valley (삼릉골)

Maitreya Buddha, Mt. Namsan, Gyeongju

20 ft. Maitreya Buddha, Mt. Namsan, Gyeongju

Gyeongju’s Mt. Namsan (남산), or literally “South Mountain”, may not be among the tallest or most beautiful mountains in Korea, but to me it’s one of the most magical.  It might look gentle from the side, but up close Namsan’s got enough steep valleys, twisting peaks and craggy boulders to give any hiker a run for their money.  Not to mention, it’s a treasure trove of ancient Shilla (신라) Dynasty ruins and carvings.  Its peaks and valleys are scattered with over a hundred pagodas, hermitages, and stone Buddhas dating back 1,300 years. read more »

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San-shin (산신): The Korean Mountain Spirit

Sanshin Painting,  Sambulam Hermitage, Gyeongju

San-shin Painting, Sambulam Hermitage, Gyeongju

If you’ve been to a Buddhist temple in Korea before, you might‘ve noticed a little shrine to the back of the temple that’s home to the image of a bearded old man with an odd-looking tiger laying at his feet.  This wise and aged being is not some kind of Buddha or Bodhisattva, but rather the San-shin (산신), or Korean Mountain Spirit.  He is a key deity in indigenous Korean Shamanism (무교) and he happens to be one of my favorite figures in Korean mythology. read more »

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Dang-namu (당나무): Sacred Trees of the Village

Dang Namu of Sanggu-ri, Gyeongju

Dang Namu of Sanggu-ri, Gyeongju

If you’ve spent any time touring the Korean countryside, you might have noticed a single gnarly old tree standing nearby a farm village here or there. These trees are actually called Dang-namu (당나무) and according to Korean folk religion (a form of Korean Shamanism) they are actually one of the village’s Dong-shin (동신), or guardian spirits. Often these ancient trees have stone alters at their base or a plaque, and occasionally you’ll see them in pairs, representing male and female deities. read more »

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Links: San-shin.org

Korean Mountain God with 8 Daoist Immortals (from san-shin.org)

Korean Mountain God with 8 Daoist Immortals (from san-shin.org)

Like a lot of posts on this blog, I’d meant to get something up on San-shin.org ages ago.  If you’re at all interested in traditional Korean culture, this site’s an awesome resource.  It’s a treasure trove of info on everything from Korean Shamanism and Buddhist culture to folk art, feng shui, hiking and green tea. read more »

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