Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weekend in Hwagae, Part II

... Cool mountain air awakes us the next morning. That, and the hanok owner's agitated voice asking us through the papered doors to turn off a forgotten light.                                                 It's Sunday morning in Hadong County (하동군)An hour later, Shane, myself, my sister, and my bro-in-law, begin our hike toward Ssanggyesa, the "Twin Streams" temple located on the fringes of Jirisan National Park.             

Someday I'll learn that proportions on any illustrated tourist map produced in Korea are skewed, and landmarks are farther than they appear. Meaning the walk was much, much longer than expected.           
But it yields some great scenery. A valley to our left, a slow, mostly dried up river running through it. A rolling mountain ridge on our right. Both sides strewn with tea fields, not yet green this early in the year. In one, three goats lay back watching the occasional car pass by. In another, over sized ceramic teapots sit sprinkled amongst the tea, an awkward homage to the plant that keeps this area economically alive. And all along the route, tea houses. One after another, looking mostly quiet at this time in the morning during the tourist off season, tea houses run from spare rooms of homes.       
We reach the modern Hadong Tea Culture Museum, but decide to skip it. We're much more interested in what's across the road-- a giant hotel that never quite made it to being an actual hotel. It looks like something out of a horror movie. Even wiring is installed. I wonder what's the story behind this failed investment. 

Shortly after passing this landmark, we finally make it to the temple, Ssanggyesa (쌍계사), six kilometers after our starting point. The temple was built in 723 A.D., and, as is so often the case, was destroyed during the Japanese invasion of 1592, then rebuilt again. Most striking here, what sets this temple apart from the others I've seen so far, are the wooden statues. They are imposing and vibrant. My knowledge of Buddhism and its symbols is lacking, but I appreciate their beauty nonetheless. 

I try not to interrupt the spiritual practice of others as we wander through the grounds, snapping pictures. Being at these temples always makes me feel unbalanced; I'm here as a tourist and traveler, looking for a thrilling view, while to others, this is a sacred space. This always leaves me feeling like an intruder, even though the Korean tourism board has provided us maps and signs and ticket takers who speak English. 
We take one of the trails leading away from the temple up into the beginning of Jirisan. We hike for awhile, hoping to reach Buri Waterfalls, but finally turn around, concerned about catching a bus back to Busan. 

We leave the temple grounds, and look for a taxi, a bus stop, or any sort of transportation back to Hwagae. We find none, and no one who can tell us when the next bus is coming around. We start walking. The initial exhilaration of a walk in the countryside has worn off. We gradually grow desperate about saving our legs and not missing the last bus home. In a moment of brilliance, some might say audacity, Shane knocks on the window of the only non-moving manned vehicle we've seen for awhile. He asks the driver, a sole Korean man, through gestures and repeated utterings of the word "Hwagae", if the man will drive us back. Finally, he acquiesces, and we're saved from the consequences of our ill planning. We try to thank the man with a cash gift, but he won't hear of it.

We do catch a bus back to Busan, no problem. I leave Hwagae feeling refreshed and relaxed, ready for another few months of city life. 

1 comment:

  1. that darned waterfall just had to be sooo far away!! i had a great time, miss it!