New Year’s Weekend Entry 2: Songnisan National Park

On Sunday, Stephanie and I headed out to Songnisan National Park.

Songnisan is a little ways north of Daejeon, and it is quite famous in the summer months. However, in the winter months, it is snowy and quaint. The little town outside the park entrance was sleepy, but full of orange tents that looked as though they would be trinket shops. Inside everyone was doing New Year’s rituals. In fact, we wandered into a convenience store for chocolate, and the whole family was seated in front of a table in the back–set up exactly as our party table had been the night before. But the store owner graciously interrupted her discussion and came out into the store to sell us our Ghana bars. And I very poorly said “Happy New Year” in Korean. Haha.

Inside the park there is a famous temple called Beopjusa, 법주사, which, in the winter months, is the real reason why you would visit the park. Hiking is not exactly a possibility, since things are snowy and not exactly ideal. (Unless you’re a serious hiker, which Stephanie and I are not.)

Beopjusa is famous for it’s 33m bronze Buddha, which stands to the side of the complex, in front of a rising hill. It is quite impressive, and he has a serene–though quite massive–head. In theory, the temple was first established one thousand five hundred years ago, in 553, but since then the temple has changed a lot. However, the paint had aged on many of the buildings, and though it was less of a “pop”, it also felt a little bit more realistic than some of the other temples that I’ve visited.

Around the Buddha there were a number of people praying. Stephanie and I walked in a circle around it, and then we entered the hall at the back of the complex. More people were praying inside, and a nun was preparing the New Year’s offering. Since being in Korea, I don’t feel as though I’ve had many authentic tourist experiences… (You know, where you feel like you’re ‘touring’ something that isn’t quite so constructed.) But being inside the hall at Beopjusa was definitely an authentic experience. I could feel the silence, and I could feel the solemnness and ‘realness’ of the people inside. The artwork was amazing, and I stood forever just staring at it. I don’t have any photos of the inside, since I thought it would be kind of rude. There were three equally enormous seated Buddhas, all with different hand symbols. They represented the ‘Threefold Body of the Buddha’. The center was the Dharma Buddha, that represented the Buddha’s truth and teachings, then the one to his left was the ‘Reward Buddha’, or the representation of attaining enlightenment, and then the third one represented the historical Buddha, the one who actually lived so many years ago.  The English explanation said that the three Buddha’s represent mind, virtue, and body. I am a great fan of triads, so… it intrigued me.

Anyway after that the nun offered us some New Year’s sugar cookies, which we happily ate. She then broke the silence by dropping a very large candle, and we decided that maybe our gawking wasn’t helping her concentrate, so we headed out of the hall. Wandering back through the snowy forest, I watched the black river and the beautifully decorated roofs on the other side. It was a very Asian seen–the kind you see in movies.

Then we ran into this family with an adorable child, an Austrailian brother, and a father who wanted us to come drinking excessive amounts of Makkoli with them, or Korean rice wine. Sadly our bus was leaving soon, so we couldn’t do that, but the gesture was one of great hospitality. That seems to happen so much more frequently in the country, or outside the hustle and bustle of working life. When we step out of the position ‘English teacher’ and become an interesting person on the same road. It feels good to step out of that.

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