Everything about Korea is awesome with (frozen) awesome sauce. We went to a temple called Haeinsa in a southern province, Gyeongsang (nam-do). The scenery was spectacular - we were surrounded by mountains, rice fields and ancestor graves - little round mounds with totems nearby. The sky was beautifully blue.
The Haeinsa Temple houses the Tripitaka Korea, eighty thousand + wooden blocks carved with Buddhist doctrine. Quoting the guidebook it is "A superb feat of craft, patience and devotion".
Since it was sub-artic, we had the place to ourselves. The (freezing) wind blew the bells and wind chimes around. Sometimes we were sheltered by temple buildings, so we could stand quietly and just soak in the beauty of this very holy place.
Afterwards, we stopped for a late lunch at a tiny, tiny tea house where we sat Japanese style on the floor, watching a group of older Korean's playing cards, eating and toasting each other's success. Obviously a group of close friends, they talked and laughed the whole time we were there, which made the excellent meal even better.
It is still very very very very very cold here in Korea. Yesterday (Wednesday -- remember, I am in the future people!) we drove south to the mountains, and spent the day hiking through a Buddhist temple. It was -7 degrees Celsius, which made for a pretty brisk hike. Despite the weather, it was really breath taking - but I don't know how all those monks walk around barefoot!! I stood huddled in the corner of the temple by the heater watching the monks walk around with shaved heads and nothing but thin robes on. By chance, the only known remains of Buddha were on display at this temple, which is a pretty rare site. So I got to meet Buddha (or what's left of him). It was interesting, but I expected him to be taller.
The weather is really kicking our butts here. I bought an enormous fuzzy green hat with a stuffed alligator (or possibly dragon) on top -- and then saw a toddler wearing the same one 20 minutes later. I may look dumb, but it's warm! And everyone laughs at touches it - this must mean they like it!
Today (Thursday) we will tour the palaces of Seoul, which I hope is a mostly indoor activity. Wearing two shirts under my coat is getting a little old, plus it puffs me up and I can't put my arms down.
Later we plan on taking the whole gang out to dinner at a Korean rib house. There is a tempting Outback Steakhouse across the street, but I think we will skip it. The food in Korea has been wonderful, but the most interesting thing to do is experiment with their version of food from different cultures. I tried a jelly filed donut, which was filled with some kind of purple toothpaste substance. Then the next day I tried what I thought was a mini pizza over a croissant-- it was actually hot dog, ketchup, and a white substance (that I swore was cheese) whose origins remain unknown. It is pretty funny to see how many things get lost in translation.
The driving and personal space concepts continue to baffle me. I haven't yet gotten used to watching the taxis drive up the sidewalk when they don't want to wait for the red light, and I have had a lot of near misses that make me getting hit by that cop car look like a joke. And no matter where I stand, an old Asian lady is right behind me, pushing me out of her way. I've never been shoved so much in my life -- these broads are tough!
Tomorrow (Friday) we will probably spend the day traveling, since we fly out in the evening to Thailand, where it is currently 97 (Fahrenheit) outside. A welcome change!