We rode the Vomit Comet from Seodaemun to Bongeunsa Temple…
“BON-GEE-OON-SA” apparently does not mean anything in Korean, as our good-natured taxi driver’s confused look and head-scratching suggested. We tried showing him maps, sounding it out, pulled up what we thought was its web page on our phone and performed interpretive dance until something clicked.
“De, de!” we cheered as we finally pulled away from the curb.
He took us on a brief ride, whereby we went up some twisty mountain roads in quaint residential area (in the middle of a major city! Go figure) before coming to a stop at the start of a nature trail, flanked by what appeared to be a hostel.
We paid him, got out, and as he drove off it was us who were scratching our heads.
“Where the hell are we?” we asked each other. Our GPS had been unreliable the whole time we were in Korea and was no help. The map at the trail entrance gave no indication of where we were (well, anybody who could read Hangul would have known easily). To top things off, we were in the middle of nowhere, and there weren’t any other taxis around. Bongeunsa Temple this was not.
A few “dammits” were exchanged and with that, we started walking back down the road, past an empty taxi. Our luck changed when an older man came running at us, asking “Taxi? Taxi?” We must have looked as lost as we were.
His enthusiasm in leading us back to his cab was impeccable. His knowledge of where Bongeunsa Temple was located even moreso; he knew where it was without a second thought. We sped off.
Then we slowed down. Then we sped up. Then we slowed down. We sped up. We slowed down. The roads were clear. 1000 RPM. 5000 RPM.
Thus began the longest and most nauseating taxi ride we have ever taken. 30,000 won later, we arrived at Bongeunsa.
What we knew about it.
What we know about it.
Nothing around the facility was in English, and making it a tourist-friendly venue seemed to be more an afterthought than anything. The vending machines here stocked green tea and nothing but.
There was a tourist information office but I think at this point in the day we were emotionally drained, seasick and hungry and didn’t explore the significance of Bongeunsa Temple as much as we should have.
We did take a lot of pictures though.
One thing I’m starting to notice about Korea– every time I’ve seen a really neat picture of a landscape, with any sort of curved roof structure surrounded by colorful blossoms and foliage, I’d always assumed I was looking at pictures of Japan. More and more I’m starting to think such pictures are actually of Korea (barring obvious landmarks like Mt. Fuji).
I think we read somewhere that Bongeunsa is a functional monastery. There were all sorts of structures for prayer and other rituals.
This building housed a giant bell. It is probably functional, if the part about Bongeunsa Temple being an operational monastery is to be believed.
The architecture and foliage all come together to create a very peaceful and surreal experience. There is power in art, which is why every religion has employed so many artists over the centuries.
Coming down the nature path, there is another building behind a low brick wall that is closed to the public.
For centuries, man found his gods reflected in his priests, and so we built massive, awe-inspiring places of worship to house these powerful figures. Thus, we had cathedrals and temples.
Later, man saw his gods reflected in royalty, and so we built massive, awe-inspiring castles to house these powerful figures. Thus, we had palaces that dwarfed the cathedrals.
These days, skyscrapers dwarf every other structure man has created. Where do we find our gods now?
It is always touching to see that even after a long day at work, plenty of salarymen are still devoted enough to their beliefs to make the time to visit the temples and shrines to pay homage to their deities.