Sunday, July 17, 2011

Going to Gyeongju

Tumuli. Tumuli. Tumuli. It's fun to say. They're also fun to look at, these giant round mounds popping up around the city of Gyeongju (경주시). The tumuli are actually tombs of the Shilla kings and rulers of ancient Korea. One, called Cheongmachong (천마총), or the Heavenly Horse Tomb, is opened for sightseers to go inside. It's dark and cool, and a little disconcerting when I see that I'm inside a pile of rocks about fifteen feet deep that is covered with dirt ten feet deep. Also, you're standing inside someone's grave.

In the tomb, we marvel at artifacts like an uncomfortable-looking wooden saddle and a fragile gold headdress. Shane, Mom, Britt, and myself wander through the rest of Tumuli Park, grateful for the cloud cover that are keeping us cool. It's so nice to be surrounded by fresh air and green. 

The path through Tumuli Park leads us through a stretch of gnarly knotty trees. Because of the rain that has just passed through, the park is nearly empty and very still. Smells fresh and mossy and I feel like I'm in a children's storybook. We walk on.

After a bit, we reach a place I recognize from my student's textbooks. I'm standing in front of Cheomseongdae (첨성대), the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia. Seeing this landmark now in person is so anti-climatic that I have a hard time believing it's actually a big tourist site. It looks like a pudgy chimney. I'm the only one in our group who takes a picture. 

Unimpressive landmarks aside, the open, wide expanses of Gyeonju's historical section are serene and calm and beautiful and impress me much more. 
We had come here with the intention of seeing a piece of Korea outside of Busan's confines. As much as my mother and sister enjoyed the city, we all  needed respite from the hot urban summer. So we jumped on the KTX, the high-speed train that connects Korea end to end, and an hour later we were at this UNESCO World Heritage Site

From Cheomseongdae, we sojourn across a field toward another wooded area, which a sign informs us is Gyerim Forest (계림). The post goes on to explain that this is the place where a gold box was found hanging from a tree, with a rooster crowing underneath it, and in that box was a boy who's heirs would later rule the Silla dynasty. Britt and I are eyed up by two ajumnas while Mom and Shane try to take pictures of a cool blackbird.

Later, after walking through the rapeseed field, past the red and white hollyhocks, under the gourd and zucchini vine-covered tunnel, and after taking turns sticking our faces through a painted board that made it look like we were the Shilla princess in a pink hanbok riding a white horse sidesaddle, we make it to Anapaji Pond (안압지)
I've never seen so many or such huge water lilies. The leaves are larger than my head. By the time we finish walking up and down the pathways, we're tired and ready to head toward the bus station.

To get there, we have to walk down Hangover Soup Street. Hangover soup (haejangguk or 해장국) is a traditional stew made from ox or beef bone broth, soybean paste, sprouts, radish, green onions, and sometimes ox blood. Today, each of the hangover soup restaurants is nearly identical, and each is empty, save the proprietors swatting flies away from giant silver pots. I guess that by 3:00 in the afternoon, the hangovers are done for the day. 


  1. Such a great post! So descriptive--love the language. You have inspired me to visit there, thanks Rose!

  2. Thanks for the sweet words Court! It's a beautiful place--