Tag Archives: Buddhist

Busan to Fukuoka

Three weekends ago, during the Lunar New Year holiday, I took a trip across the East Sea to Japan. It’s been on my list of places to visit for a long time, so I was excited to finally go.

Instead of flying, I took the Beetle speed ferry from Busan to Fukuoka. A round trip ticket cost about 200,000 won ($185) and took just under three hours. The port worked much like an airport. Passengers go through security, show their passport, and present their ticket at the gate before boarding.

Port of Busan Security

Busan to Fukuoka Speed Ferry

The boat also felt like an airplane on the inside. It was a jet-ferry, so it even sounded like an airplane.

I naively expected Japan to be similar to Korea, but the two countries are quite different. The most obvious differences are cultural and not aesthetic. Japanese people seem to be more aware of the people around them, which makes public places in Japan much more pleasant than in Korea. There was a noticeable absence of pushing, spitting, and loud cell phone conversations. When I made an effort to be polite, like holding the door for people, they didn’t look at me like they caught me fingering a cat.

Escalator in Japan

People even follow the rules on escalators, keeping right so others can pass on the left.

I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see any of the weird sexual stuff for which the Japanese are so famous. With the exception of a few women in costumes and a baby-themed liquor bottle at the hotel bar, I didn’t see any weird stuff.

Weird baby bottle liquor in Japanese bar

The liquor bottle shaped like a baby’s milk bottle openly was the only hint that there might be some weird fetishes that don’t carry the same social stigma as in the west.

I stayed at the Crowne Plaza ANA hotel in downtown Fukuoka. Ordinarily out of my price range, I was able to stay at an upscale hotel by using credit card points. After checking in, I went out and explored the city. I tend to travel with a loose itinerary, so most of my time was spent wandering. I managed to incorporate a few of the heavily advertised local tourist attractions into the trip.

My favorite place was Maizuru Castle. This 400 year-old defensive structure was built on a hill in the center of town. It offers stunning views of the surrounding city. The original wooden buildings are gone, but the stone walls remain intact and some replicas wooden buildings have been constructed.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan Entrance

This is the castle’s main gate. The Naka river acts as a natural moat.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan Stairs

The castle is built in levels. To get from one level to the next, you must pass through a narrow stairway. This allowed for easier defense.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan house on wall

All along the walls are guard towers from which defenders could shoot arrows and drop stones.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan Panorama from top

The top level of the castle offers beautiful panoramic views of the city.

Not far from the castle was an indoor street market. I never learned the name of the market, but I spent over an hour walking around and checking out the shops. It stretched the length of six city blocks and included several hundred businesses. The shops ranged from fresh produce to traditional clothing to touristy trinkets.

Fukuoka Japan indoor street market

At the far end of the market was a Buddhist temple complex. I walked inside to look around and realized that I had seen the golden steeple of the temple’s shrine several times before. It is visible from several other places around town, including my hotel room.

Fukuoka Japan Buddhist Temple Entrance

The entrance appeared to be decorated for some celebration, but I have no idea what it might have been.

Woman worshiping Fukuoka Japan Buddhist Temple Entrance

The golden column atop the shrine is visible from miles away.

The most surprising thing I found while walking around Fukuoka was a familiar face.

James Brown statue in Fukuoka Japan

That face is pure nightmare fuel.

My only regret was that I didn’t have more time to spend exploring the city – especially the nightlife. I was so tired from walking that I wound up in bed early both nights. Next time, I”ll budget more time for relaxing during the day and hitting the town at night.

Until next time.


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Gyeongju – Day 2

Earlier this week, I told you about my first day in Gyeongju last weekend. My friend and I hopped a train from Daegu to Gyeongju and spent the weekend exploring the historical sites in and around downtown. This post will cover the second day.

Our initial plan was to rent a scooter and ride around town, checking out the historical sites that we didn’t have time to see on Saturday afternoon. Then, at the last-minute, my friend called an audible: “I know of a temple just outside the city that is pretty cool.” I couldn’t resist an opportunity to plan on the fly, so we hopped on the #10 bus from the bus stop downtown across the street from the train station (you can also take #11 bus).

The bus ride took about 30 minutes. We were dropped off at a parking lot near the main gate of Bulguksa Temple (불국사), an ancient Buddhist complex built on the side of a mountain that is surrounded by higher mountains. Bulguksa is beautiful and easy to access, which is probably why it was crammed with tourists. The crowding was compounded by the fact that there were several contests (including a painting contest and a poetry contest) being held inside the temple grounds when we arrived.

Temple Gate Busy

In fact, there were enough tourists there to support a long line carts selling food, art and cheap trinkets. The carts lined at least 100 yards of the walkway from the parking lot to the main gate.

Temple Sales Carts

The first thing that we saw was the temple’s main gate. Like the main gates at most Buddhist temples in Korea, it housed four huge wooden statues. My friend explained that each statue represents one of the four “sky gods” whose job it is to protect the temple and all people therein from the various evils out in the world.

Temple Gate Statues

Another interesting place in the temple was an ancient stone pagoda statue. Though the three-story tall statue at Bulguksa is similar in size and shape to those at other temples in Korea, this one was unique because it is one of the oldest intact statues in the country. It is such an important monument that it was memorialized on Korea’s 10-won coin.

Coins and Pagoda

After the crowds got to be too much for me to handle, we decided to dip off the beaten path and look at some of the buildings that weren’t on the main tourist circuit. It didn’t take long to find something cool and unexpected.

Stone Piles

Surrounding this small building (once a temple residence) are hundreds of piles of small stones. We took a seat and watched as dozens of people wandered by. About half of them stopped to add a new pile. Unfortunately, the picture doesn’t do the site justice as you can only see a small portion of the stone piles.

As we wandered around, the crowds grew steadily. It wasn’t long before we (I) had to head for the exit. Instead of heading home, we decided to take a bus up to the top of the mountain on which Bulguksa is built to see a place called Seokguram Grotto (석굴암). Thought to be 1,500 years old, it is a perfectly preserved stone Buddha. Its amazing condition is believed to be due to the fact that it was built inside a large natural cave that tends to regulate both temperature and moisture year-round.

There are signs inside the cave asking that people not take pictures. I didn’t get a picture. Lucky for you – some asshole ignored them…

After Seokguram, we were beat. We headed straight back to the train station and headed to Daegu. I will definitely go back to Gyeongju. It is small, quiet compared to Daegu and other big cities and it is rich in history. If you have the opportunity, I suggest you take a trip, too.

Until next time.


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Gimcheon Tour

Occasionally, the Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education (DMOE) organizes free events for EPIK teachers.  These events include activities like day-trips and group dinners.  Last weekend, the DMOE invited us to a tour of a peach orchard and a Buddhist temple in Gimcheon (김천).  Space was limited for the trip, so my friends and I were lucky to get spots on the tour.

The weather was prefect all day.  We didn’t spend the entire trip sweating because the temperature has finally started to drop.  I’ve heard that Daegu has a very short window of good weather in the fall, so it was great to spend a day outside.  Our first stop was a peach orchard.  The orchard wasn’t particularly exciting, mainly because it wasn’t a giant expanse of trees that the word “orchard” brings to mind.  Instead, it was a typical Korean farm – a small area packed with crops and covered with a plastic greenhouse.

Though the orchard wasn’t visually impressive, the peaches were.  They were absolutely huge.  Each piece of fruit was wrapped in a piece of paper; I assume it was a defense against some sort of peach-eating bug.  We were instructed to choose four peaches each, so we hurried in and began searching for the best ones.  After choosing a few, and realizing that they were all too big for the containers we were given, we began to search for the smallest peaches.

Scott (New Zealand) looking for a ripe peach.

None of the peaches felt ripe, so I had trouble choosing my four.  Eventually, I decided to grab the biggest ones and hope for the best.  After a few minutes of searching and picking, we were all asked to walk outside.  The farmers had set up a table and were cutting fresh peaches for us to eat.  I was amazed by how sweet they were.  Though they didn’t look or feel ripe, they tasted as good as any peach I’ve had in the US.

After eating peaches, we hopped on the bus and drove to a nearby temple called JicJi (직지).  The first hour was spent wandering around and looking at the various buildings and gazebos in the temple compound.  Though most of the buildings were rebuilt in the last 60 years, there were some beautiful old statues.

My favorite thing at every Buddhist temple is the colors and the paintings on the outside of the buildings.  JicJi had some of the best wall paintings I’ve seen yet.  One of the oldest buildings, near the entrance, was decorated with some art that really caught my attention.


After exploring the compound for an hour or so, we went to the main temple building for a traditional Buddhist meal.  The senior monk and the priest taught us how the complicated routine that monks go through when eating a meal.  We learned quickly that everything had its place, and nothing was wasted.  Each bowl was placed in a specific spot, and everything was served in a specific order.  Most importantly, no food was wasted – not a single grain of rice.  At the end of the meal, we used warm water and a slice of yellow radish to clean the bowls, chopsticks and spoons.  It wasn’t until after the meal that I realized this was how they always cleaned the bowls and silverware.  So if I get some mysterious disease – it probably came from the temple.

After dinner was finished, we did some arts and crafts.  We made lanterns using Dixie cups and colored paper.  They turned out surprisingly nice – I did not expect mine to look so good.  Unfortunately, because I’m a moron, I managed to make my upside down, so the Dixie cup portion didn’t fit on the lantern.  When we carried our lanterns outside to a gazebo for a traditional Buddhist tea service, I had to concentrate hard on making sure my lantern didn’t tip over and catch fire.

Although a few parts of the temple tour were a little bit boring, the trip was a lot of fun overall.  It was a great way to spend a Saturday, and we got to see some really cool things without spending any money.  I will definitely sign up for the next DMOE event.

Until next time.


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Weekend Exploration

What a weekend!  Fortunately for you, I got a bit snap-happy.  I remembered to pull my phone out from time to time, so you get a front row seat for all the fun.  My friends Scott (New Zealand) and Conor (Ireland) were kind enough to let me tag along as they visited a temple and an ancient grave site on Saturday.  Let’s start with the temple…

After lunch on Saturday, I met Conor and Scott in Bullo-Dong (Scott’s neighborhood).  We hopped on a city bus to Palgong Mountain, a popular park on the outskirts of Daegu.  There are lots of hiking trails and two temples at Palgong – one is near the top of the mountain and the other is at the bottom.  We chose the one on the bottom – 동화사 (Dong Hwa Sa).  This temple’s claim to fame is that it has the “biggest Buddha in the world,” which is either blatantly false or lacking specificity.  There is at least one Buddha that is much taller in Korea.  It was very impressive, nevertheless.

Although it is called a “temple”, 동화사 was more like a Buddhist community.  The entrance to the compound was guarded by four giant wooden soldiers and an old guy in a security uniform who charged us 2,500 won (about $2.50).  Everywhere we went, workers were busy removing lanterns and cleaning in the wake of Buddha’s recent birthday.  Most of the lanterns were still hanging, which made for some great photos.

After we visited the first few temples and the gift shop, a short hike took us to the foot of “the biggest Buddha in the world.”  The statue towered over a large cement courtyard and a huge wooden temple.  Dozens of smaller statues were scattered around Buddha’s feet.  The rear of the courtyard was a curved walkway lined with intricate carvings of Hindu gods.

As we were leaving, we walked through a parking lot that connects the compound to the main road.  Near the bottom, a few hundred yards from the rest of the compound, we passed a large boulder extruding from the side of the mountain.  In the center was a faint carving of Buddha that appeared to have been nearly erased by time.  I would have thought it was completely forgotten were it not for two small flower pots at the foot of the stone.  This was my favorite part of the tour – it felt like the most direct connection to the history of a place that has become a tourist trap.

Enjoy the show.

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Until next time.


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First Temple Stop

At the end of the last post, my colleagues and I had just watched our bosses catch a nice buzz drinking makgeolli, boarded the bus, and ended up in a parking lot somewhere in the woods.  Two empty buses followed our tour buses into the parking lot, and we climbed aboard the new buses.

For the next ten minutes, we rode up the most dangerous muddy road I’ve ever seen.  How the bus didn’t slide off the side of the mountain, I will never know.  At one point, we turned a sharp corner and met another bus head-on.  Both bus drivers (my bus and the one behind us) threw it in reverse and backed down to a wide spot in the road.  Ms. Shin, who was sitting next to me, almost started crying as we sped backward toward the sharp curve.

At the top of the road was….another parking lot.  The bus driver dropped us off a few feet from a trail-head and we made our way to the top of the mountain.  We traipsed through the woods for about half a mile before coming to a long stone bridge that crossed a shallow river.  The bridge was lined on both sides with colorful lanterns.  Mr. Kim explained to me that all Buddhist temples hang these lanterns to celebrate Buddha’s birthday (May 28).

The water was so low in some places that people could walk out into the middle of the river.  As I took a closer look, I realized that the river bed was littered with thousands of stacks of river rocks.  Each rock in a pile represents a prayer.  People who visit the temple often walk into the river bed and stack rocks, praying between each one that they place on the pile.

At the other end of the bridge was a Buddhist village with several temples and other buildings.  I have no idea how old the temple is, but I wasn’t worried about finding out at the time.  I was in awe of the beauty of the place.  The buildings were beautifully decorated with lanterns and bright colors of paint.  Mountains bathed in a heavy mist hung over the roofs of the buildings.

I snapped as many pictures as I could in the few minutes we were allotted to walk around the village.  When my phone’s battery began to run low.  Here is a slideshow featuring the village and my fellow tourists.

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Stay tuned for the next stop.

Until next time.



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