While we were in China we met an American women called Kim, who is currently living in South Korea, and she kindly offered to put us up for a couple of days. After we had dropped the car back to the airport (this time with no arguing!) we got a couple of trains and headed to Kim's town, Pyonteok. Kim picked us up from the station and drove us back to her place to get settled in. We were blown away with how gorgeous her flat was. It was massive, with an authentic Korean feel. We were introduced to get new rescue dog Dexter, who once he'd stooped trying to hump Grants leg, took to us quite well, and were shown the lovely bedroom which would be ours for the next 2 days.
Once we had settled in we all sat down for a chill and a chat and had our first decent glass on wine for nearly 2 months (thanks Kim!!!) That evening we headed to a BBQ restaurant round the corner from Kim's place then settled back down on the sofa for more wine and chatting before finally getting to bed about 1.30am! I think we kept Kim up much later than she normally would be as the next day was supposed to be a work day for her but she phoned in sick! ;-) We still all managed to get up early thou and take Dexter for a nice long walk round the countryside. Back at the flat and Grant and I did some washing (Kim had very kindly offered us the use of her washing machine) and travelling research while Kim ran some errands before returning back with some dumplings for us to eat. That evening while I tried and failed to book some flights, but did manage to get 2 of my bank cards blocked in the process, Kim cooked us a lovely dinner before going to bed, at a decent hour this time!
The next morning Kim left early for work while Grant and I, and Dexter who had managed to sneak his way onto our bed, had a nice lie in before packing to leave. Kim had offered to come and get us for the train station, so it gave us the chance to say goodbye. We can't thank Kim enough for everything she did for us, she was an amazing host! Thank you so much!!!!
Back at the train station and we were heading for a templestay in Golgulsa on the South East coast. As the templestay program started earlier than we could get there for, we booked a night in the nearest town first, Gyeonju, and checked in to another pretty cool love motel. There wasn't much going on in the town but we did manage a wander round the park lands with grass mound memorials of some famous (dead obviously) locals. Trying to save some pennies, dinner that night was pot noodles and snacks in the room while watching Korean TV.
After checking out the next day, having had a fairly confusing conversation with the women at reception about leaving our bags in luggage storage, we were on the bus heading for our templestay at Golgusa. We arrived and were surprisingly greeted by an English girl who was staying at the temple for a year, it was nice to meet someone from back home, there aren't very many English travelers in Asia! We checked in and were given our 'robes' to wear, which consisted of very large and baggy MC hammer pants and a massive orange waist coat (although it felt very authentic it wasn't the same clothes that the monks or long term guests wore, so I suspect it was more to highlight the templestay tourists than anything else) and were asked to wear them while on temple ground. We were given our room keys and told they were single sex rooms and given our schedule for the 2 days we were there. The first item on the schedule was meditation so after a quick change into our groovy outfits we found the hall where our meditation class would take place. I had done some meditation as a kid so had some idea of what to expect, but it was interesting being told the purpose of meditation was to awaken and enlighten the 'non ego' part of your brain and thus bring your conscious self more peace. We got started and sat cross legged on little cushions for about 45 mins while trying to totally clear our minds. Although I found the meditation relaxing, I'm not used to sitting cross legged for so long and after about 20 mins my legs went totally numb and I couldn't move them on their own no matter how much I tried!! Eventually it got too much and I had to drag them out in front of me which broke my meditation concentration, but never the less I found it relaxing.
The temple we were at specialised in Sunmundo which is sort of a mixture of yoga, thai chi and karate. The monks did a demonstration to the public twice a day, so after meditation we headed off to watch them in action. It was pretty cool to watch, there was a lot of jumping about and doing splits in the midair, considering they never left the temple ground they were all very fit and agile! It was pretty impressive watching what they could do!
After the demo we amused ourselves for a bit while waiting for the dinner bell. Dinner consisted of mostly cold vegetables and rice, with a weird fishy type soup, but was nice all the same. We had been told at our check in that the main rule of dinner (apart from girls and boys sitting separately, a common theme on temple grounds) was that you couldn't leave any food in your bowls, so in fear that I wouldn't like something but would have to eat it anyway I only took a small portion, which to be fair having put on a few pounds with all the rich food I've been eating while away wasn't a problem at all! After dinner there was an orientation meeting when the English girl we had met earlier gave us the rundown of the templestay, and explained what we could expect and how to get involved in the chanting ceremonies which were coming next. She also gave us some history on Buddhism which was really interesting, and actually made a lot of sense! It's not so much as a religion, but a way of life and I can understand why it gives so many people peace in their lives.
The changing ceremony was next and although we didn't get involved in the chanting, we did do all the bowing (a lot of bowing - some of it half bows, some of it getting up and down and putting your face on the floor 3 times, for one bow!) and the brief meditation afterwards. The service involved kneeling on cushions on the floor, while watching the monks and trying to work out when you should bow, and the type of bow you should do. The younger monks were at the front and led the service with their chants, and then the rest of the monks would join in at certain points. It was quite cool actually, their voices seemed to just gel together in a soothing rhythm, and apart from all the bowing it was quite relaxing.
The chanting service was followed by Sunmundo training for us and the monks, it was an hour and a half of hell!! It involved a lot stomach crunching exercises and high leg kicks, I struggled to move for days afterwards! The last bit thou was Thai chi which I've been interested in for a while so that was quite cool, although all I kept thinking was, can I sit down yet?! After training it was bed time (thank god!). Luckily I didn't have anyone else only room so settled down on my Korean style bed, basically a thick duvet on the floor with a thin duvet over you, ready to get up at 4am for morning service!!
Getting up in the dark wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, although I didn't particularly enjoy the 20 min walk up hill to get to temple for the chanting service. The service was similar to the previous day and was followed by walking meditation while the sun was rising. Quite a peaceful way to start the day! Breakfast was exactly the same meal as the dinner the night before which was a bit weird, and then we were given 2 hours free time when Grant and I immediately went back to bed. It was still only 6.30am at this point! We were up again at 8.30 for more Sunmundo training, which I was absolutely dreading and thought about skipping more than once, but it turned out to be more like yoga with a lot stretching so it was fine. It was quite a relaxed session and we all got chatting with the monk running the session about where we all lived, and which temples he had been at. He showed off a bit with some of the ridiculous moves he could do, we just laughed and didn't even attempt to copy him! After the session the monk took us on a knackering but nice walk through the mountains, it felt like we'd already done a full day and it was only 10am! We ended up at the north side of the complex in time to see another Sunmundo demonstration, this one was much larger and even more impressive than the one we'd seen the day before and then it was lunch time. Lunch was the same food that we'd had at the last 2 meals (the food was nice but I don't know how they eat the same thing every day, 3 times a day, the cook needs a bit more imagination!) and it was time to leave! I really enjoyed the templestay. It was knackering, but very calming and I can totally appreciate how people can live there or stay for long periods of time. I'd only been there 2 days and came away totally relaxed and determined to appreciate simpler things and let go of everything I stressed about that isn't remotely important (we'll see how that goes shall we! ;-)
Our next stop was Busan, a beach town on the south coast and our last stop in Korea. We'd booked a hostel in the center of town for our first night as we knew how knackered we'd be and just wanted somewhere near to the train station to stay. When we checked in we were exhausted so although we tried not to, we couldn't help passing out for a couple of hours. The hostel wasn't very exciting, it didn't have a common area and was more like a tiny hotel so when we finally dragged ourselves out of bed we went for a stroll. The area was very similar to Ximen in Taiwan and had loads of restaurant, shops and bars around. We sat on the balcony of an 'Irish bar' and had a couple of beers while deciding what to do. We were pretty Asian fooded out after the templestay so wandering around looking for something western to eat and finally ended up at a steak place for some nice, but pretty tasteless, pasta before heading to bed.
In the morning we moved to the Haeundae area on the beach. I immediately liked it, the hostel was lovely and the town had as really chilled vibe. It reminded me of Byron bay in Oz. We had lunch in a Mexican place, looked around the town for a bit and then headed to the port to buy our train passes for Japan (there was a special deal on, but only if you bought your passes before entering the Japan). As the hostel had a pretty decent kitchen, for dinner we cooked in the hostel and drank many many bottles of beer and soju (Korean rice wine type drink) while playing monopoly, party time! ;-)
The next day was our last day in South Korea. We spent it chilling on the beach people watching the random Koreans go in the sea fully clothed, sometimes in jeans, one guy in a shirt and suit trousers! It was a nice relaxing day, and was needed after we moved around so much in the previous weeks. We ate dinner in a BBQ restaurant where you cook it at your table (I love those restaurants, I'm tempted to start one up at home) and then went to the cinema as luckily they don't bother dubbing over most blockbuster films and just add sub titles. It was so like being at home that at one point I forgot we were travelling and thought we were in the cinema in Putney!
Back at the hostel and it was time to pack up ready to leave early in the morning and fly to Japan!