trip to Haenam (part 1)

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So, last week, I set off “in search of Daeheung Temple, the Dharma Mountain, tea fields, a 100 year old guest house, and a German village.

I had my doubts we would do everything, but that was the plan, anyway. As it turned out, the German village is in Namhae, not Haenam, which is on a whole other province, and though the Dharma Mountain was only another 31 km south, we were so content exactly were we ended up, we decided to save it for another trip. It’s actually quite close to the furthest point south on the Korean mainland, and there an interesting monument and park that EunBong said she’d like to visit when it’s warmer.

Getting to Haenam took most of the day, but we had fun. We arrived at the temple bus stop around 5:30 and started walking, and walking, and walking… I think it was the longest temple road I’ve ever walked in Korea. We had no idea where the guest house was, and with each step we hesitated, knowing it would be one more step back in the cold night, later. But something inside urged me to keep going and EunBong didn’t argue.

The sun had already sunk behind the mountains about forty minutes earlier, but the hue of the sky let us know that it was now past the horizon, With each bend, we expected the temple to emerge as we came round, but instead more Camellia trees, more silence, and more road. Finally, EunBong voiced so concern about where we would sleep, so I suggested we call the guest house and ask where they were. We knew we must be close to the temple by then, so EunBong said we could just go there first, then she would call. And just like that, we came across an immaculately kept traditional home, surrounded by a beautiful wall, and smoke coming from the courtyard chimney. We poked our heads through the gate, and hanging just above the master house, in the in the steel-blue sky, was the new moon, tilted on its side like a cradle. We knew that must be the guesthouse.

We both took in deep breaths of relief and as we exhaled, we heard the temple bell being sounded, calling us to evening ceremony. By the time we made it around the last turn, pushed the stroller up and through the long gravel entrance and found the Dharma Hall (Dae Ung Bo Jeon), we’d missed the first part of the ceremony, but got through the door just in time for the chanting of the Heart Sūtra. And the monk finished chanting just in time for Fina not to interrupt him when she finally woke up.

She had been really good on the way down until we ran out of milk and she cried (screamed hysterically) for a solid fifty minutes on the bus. I was amazed how relaxed the country folk were about it. In Seoul, I’ve had a bus driver yell at us to keep her quiet when she was laughing… No one said a word, just one man who was next to us changed his seat, but came back to offer some barley tea, which did the trick, and Fina slept soundly (without a sound) for the next two hours. We decided that getting milk was more important at that moment than trying to sit through the Thousand Hands Sūtra, which I have always had difficulty following, anyway.

I haven’t had many opportunities to visit a mountain temple at night, but it’s a very intimate experience. As darkness encloses, the universe seems to shrink down to what’s before you, as anything in the distances fades beyond the threshold of the eyes discernment. At night, it’s just you, the temple, the deep blue peaks dissolving into the night sky, and the monks and other devotees who have gathered in space and time. We passed beneath the hall housing the temple drum, over the bridge and the sound of the trickling stream, and past a terrace with three tree elders, sharing stories with the colorful clay lanterns and lotus candles burning inside them.

We made our way back to the guest house, got our room, dropped off our bags, and called a taxi into town, to eat and find some milk for Fina, which turned out to be a bigger task than finding the temple!

Once our bellies were all taken care of, for the night, we made our way back to our room. It was small, and the was nothing but blankets on the floor, but it was cozy in a way that only traditional houses can be. The chimney smoke we’d seen earlier was from the fire beneath, heating the floors. It felt wonderful sleeping so deep into the mountains. The stars were bright and by far the most I’d seen in Korea. Though our door, facing into the mountains, Orion stood just above the small peak. It was so peaceful, even being awoken by the sound of the 3:30 am bells wasn’t bothersome.

Suwon may have one million people, but…

an old train

EunBong enjoying the massage chair

Fina, working on her memoirs

in the coffee car

Wolchulsan, Korea’s smallest national park, a mountain I hike over 5 years ago. I was surprised to recognize it after so long, I wasn’t really sure until I saw the signs on the highway.

leaving Dae Eung Bo Jeon

3 responses »

  1. Sounds like it was a good trip!
    I know what you mean about the stars; after spending nearly a year in Seoul, I spent a few days out to the Odae mountains, and it was kind of amazing to rediscover stars in the night sky.

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