Monday, August 31, 2009

Namsan Area of Gyeongju

Looking down at Gyeongju.

Our first Sunday back from America, Min Gi and I decided to take advantage of our jet lag and go hiking. I proposed that we head off to Palgongsan, but Min Gi smartly suggested that we go to Gyeongju, where the kitties were "couchsurfing" with our friend Hayoung, and then collect the animals after we finished. I have been to the ancient Silla capital, Gyeongju, several times, and I love it. It's a very beautiful, historic city with two UNESCO World Heritage sites!

Creepy old trees that look like vines.

The Namsan area is a small mountain range to the south of Gyeongju with many Buddhist carvings and temples still intact from the time when it was the capital. Namsan, in conjunction with the downtown historic sites, is a designated UNESCO site.

Well-preserved Bodhisattva statue, with yogurt drink offerings in front of it.

One of the things that always strikes me about visiting temples and mountain historic sites in Asia is the fact that these ancient shrines are active, living places where people worship. They aren't just some old relics for tourists to look around. I always see people praying before the statues and hear monks chanting up in the mountain temples. I avoid photographing people engaged in active worship because it feels a little too voyeuristic for me, but it is so interesting to live in a culture where the ancient is so present in modern day. I guess growing up in America makes you feel rather disconnected from the idea that religion is both ancient and modern--something a large number of congregations in America could benefit from remembering before they use all the tithes to build a snazzy new church instead of provide homeless assistance or start a food bank...

Enjoying the beautiful weather.

All in all, Namsan was very scenic. The vegetation was some of the most varied I've seen on a single Korean mountain (from the twisty old forests above to pine trees to bamboo to a brilliantly green canopy). The idea of it being a "museum without walls" is both accurate and incomplete. And for someone now out of shape from failing to hike for awhile, it's a pretty tough hike. (Really, I'd rate it about medium for Korea--along the lines of Gatbawi--but like I said, I'm out of shape for hiking right now.) I was about to die at the end of it.

The most difficult parts are also the most fun!

I got lucky with the weather, which made for some gorgeous photography. Check out the full album:

Gyeongju's Namsan Area (경주 남산)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Only in Korea...

One of my Hong Kong swing dance friends posted this video to his facebook. It is unbelievable, but makes perfect sense if you live in this country. I bring you Korea's champion synchronized swimming team, dancing to Michael Jackson, in the 63 building's aquarium in downtown Seoul. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Where'd the month go???

Well, I'm back in Korea. (Already?) Have been for about a week. Moving to a new apartment today and Thursday is keeping me pretty busy and jet-lag's been zapping my energy. But enough of that.

Min Gi and I had a fabulous vacation, seeing and doing lots of stuff and meeting a lot of people I love (including some new folks at swing dance and my brother's friends). This year's visit was much longer than my solo trip last year, and therefore more refreshing and energizing overall. I will now inundate you with photo albums as I summarize my trip.

Dad, Brian, and I took Min Gi on his first sailing trip. He fell in love with it. We later took Amanda's husband out (Brian declined that round) and he also enjoyed the ride. Sailing is the best:

Sailing with Dad, Brian, and Min Gi

We visited my (absolutely beautiful) alma mater, St. Mary's College of Maryland, located conveniently next to yet-to-be-discovered tourist attraction of the historic colonial settlement at the first capital of Maryland. Min Gi was inspired by the scenery and re-proposed. We also completed a 4 mile nature hike after exploring the campus and historic sites thoroughly, so we were pretty beat at the end of the day. I took some of my favorite photos of the America trip here:

St. Mary's College of Maryland at Historic St. Mary's City.

We were suppose to meet Michelle and her brother Zach for some fun white water tubing near Harper's Ferry, but got rained out. (We were able to go tubing with Michelle a week or so later, but my camera is not waterproof, so she has the only pictures from that adventure). Instead, we went to the National Aquarium in Baltimore (complete with Dolphin Show viewing) and hung around the Inner Harbor, watching the storm:

Baltimore Inner Harbor

My kind and wonderful parents whisked my siblings, guests, and me away for a five-day, four-night stay on Chincoteague Island in Virginia. We spent the time relaxing on the beach, gorging on glorious seafood, bonding with each other, kayaking around the nearby streams, and being eaten alive by evil mosquitoes. It was relaxing and heavenly:


Next, Min Gi and I went on a road trip to Parkersburg, WV and Little Hocking, OH (just across the Ohio River from one another) where my aunt from Lebanon owns a very successful Lebanese restaurant and she lives with her husband, Dad's brother, respectively. While there, we gorged on Lebanese food and went to a Lebanese culture festival with my aunt's brother (and co-owner of the restaurant). There was belly-dancing and general silly fun:

West Virginia/Ohio

And (finally) we kidnapped my adopted brother, Sam, and went to the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair. This is a very fun, but very expensive, activity that involved getting Min Gi to pet American Beef (it was so cute!) and eat Death (aka Funnel Cake). We had a great time and took a bunch of pictures:

Montgomery County Agricultural Fair

So... I hope you get a chance to peruse whatever albums appeal to you. We also did some things that I (regrettably) didn't photograph, such as the giant dinner I hosted, or the barbecue with friends I had, or Sarah's dance recital at Carter Baron and Min Gi's and my first foray into the DC Swing Dance scene. I have so many great memories of time with family and friends. But wouldn't you know it? Three weeks wasn't enough time to see everyone I hoped to see or do everything I hoped to do.

I am actually excited about moving back "home" next year... but that concept of home keeps changing the longer I live away. I will blog more about that soon. Mostly, I just wanted you all to know I was alive!


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