Thursday, 27 May 2004

Buddha's Birthday

It was Buddha's birthday yesterday which was a good thing, not just because birthdays are a happy event generally, and not just with deities, but because it meant a public holiday in Korea.

So a day off for me, and one that I celebrated not by nursing a hangover but, rather, being up at 8am and meeting a group of people at Dong-bu bus station for 10am, to take a trip to the nearby town of Gyeong-ju.

A big water wheel

My group, by the way, featured the following people:

1. Matt, a NZ fellow whose misadventures have been previously catalogued here.

2. Rebecca, a dark-haired Irish nymphette good friend of Matt's.

3. Carolyn, a highly motivated and fast-walking friend of Rebecca's from home.

4. Nicki, Matt's cousin, a pleasant girl who makes comments that give cause for wonder about the New Zealand educational system.

5. Pamela, a Canadian who is perfectly pleasant in a kind of dull North American female way.

6. And some guy called Lackey, Lockey, Lucky, Lanky or possibly even Lusty (but perhaps not) who was new to Korea. He was Australian and a very nice guy, but I was wary of him the entire trip due to his tall, surfer good looks and suspicions that he might like stuff like incense burning.

Pam, Matt and Carolyn

Anyway, we got to Gyeong-ju, got another bus and ended up at some big temple. I have no doubt that this temple is very signifcant, not just for Buddhist heritage but as a general Korean tourist attraction, but as I did absoutely no background reading or paid any attention to any historical details, all I can tell you was that it was lots of temple-like buildings with big golden Buddhas.

Bulguksa temple woth lots of lanterns.

A trio of Westerners sit outside a temple (Matt, Rebecca, myself)

Being the big man's birthday, the place was heaving with people and even moreso with paper lanterns which seemed to defy the realms of space, so much were crammed into one area. At times, I couldn't actually see anything around me as I'd be surrounded by paper lanterns. Carolyn, Pam and "Lackey" were away hiking, leaving the rest of us to cruise around the temple, observe some small singing concert that was taking place outside the main temple, and me and Matt had an ugly Westerner competition.

We had 1000 Won (50p) riding on it. Who could spot the ugliest Westerner. There were a number floating around, predominantly ugly ones, and so Matt took a quick lead by spotting some ratty looking jerk with a stupid hairstyle, but I then surged ahead with an awkward geeky looking guy with bad glasses and probably bad teeth too. This victory was sealed when later I saw some poor soul with a roundish face that was just wrong. He was in the distance but I guessed by looking at him that his skin is too dry, he likes Dungeons and Dragons and that he wasn't popular at school.

Aside from this, I was waiting by the front of the mian temple with Matt when I noticed two Korean girls, perhaps about 19 or 20 years old, hovering nearby. They seemd to be looking at us nervously, and one seemed poised to approach me. With a nervous giggle she asked me, mainly be gesturing, if I'd mind posing for a photo. Well, ok, so I stood with her and smiled as her friend took a photo of us on her camera-phone. I was thanked, and the girls, giggling, scampered off, surely pleased with their trophy. God knows what they'll do with it - show their friends they day they saw the white man? Maybe gaze at the image dreaming. Or perhaps the girl will concoct an elaborate story around me being her Western boyfriend.

But then it occurred to me. Maybe they were having their own "ugly Westerner" competition.

Actually, this is not the first time I've been approached for the sole purpose with appearing in a Korean's photograph. Months ago, while at Hyundae beach in Busan, myself and Matt were stopped by a group of both male and female Koreans and made to appear in a group photo.

Anyway, me and Matt quickly grew bored of temples of ancient historical and religious significance, and with the girls we all headed into the town of Gyeong-ju, where we had a leaisurely beer and went down to the lake. A blue, shining beacon of crystalline water? No, this is Korea, it was a murky, dubious water that sloshed before us. But on it floated loads of little pedal-controlled boats fashioned as either swan-like ducks or duck-like swans, and so we had no choice but to hire one and pedal like maniacs about the lake. I was quite drenched with sweat by the end of doing this, but it was tremendous fun. especially controlling the lever that decided which direction our duck/swan-like swan/duck went

Swanboat happiness

Then just a reunion with the three hikers and back to Daegu, arriving at about 7.30pm. I decided not to go with the rest to the Pakistani restaurant as I was just there a few days ago, so just went home.

And there we are. No holidays now for a couple of months. Just the endless onslaught and bleakness of relentless work. There should be more religions around so I could celebrate more deity's birthdays.

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