After experiencing the hustle and bustle of Korean cities—it was now time for country-side travels. My husband and I first decided to venture to the Southwest part of South Korea. We took a surprisingly comfortable five-hour bus ride through the mountain-cradled picturesque country-side towards Haenam County, Jeonnam Province. Beside the natural beauty of the destination—we had made arrangements for a week-end “temple stay” at Daeheungsa Temple – a Buddhist Temple nestled within a remote national park. Daeheungsa is located on Duryun Mountain, in the southernmost area of Korea, and is the head temple for the 22nd District of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. The exact date that the temple was founded is unknown, but historians are certain that the temple has stood since the Three-Kingdom period of ancient Korea (4th-9th centuries CE). The Temple Stay program is an educational and a cultural experience program designed to enhance the understanding of Korean spirituality and Korean culture. A typical temple stay program entails overnight stays at a Buddhist temple, and experiential participation in such Buddhist rituals as yebul (ceremonial service), chamseon (meditation), and barugongyang (monastic meal). We were given very comfortable living quarters (with traditional floor beddings) as well as traditional clothing. We had very welcoming and helpful guides, including much individual attention from the Head Education Monk. He provided many formal and informal discussions of Korean Buddhists’ life, culture, and spirituality. Possible future collaboration of Korean to English text translations even discussed.
After the temple stay, we also made arrangements to stay nearby at what has been described as one of the “first” Korean “Inns”. This “Inn” was nothing like what we think of in America as an Inn. In Korea, these overnight places are called a “Yeogwan”. Yeogwans are a traditional Korean housing structure, with heated floors and in this case a stunning natural view. Traditional Korean meals are also served for a low fee. We enjoyed a delicious dinner of fresh fish and vegetables with a scenic view of the mountains. Nothing could have been a more perfect way to end this country side-trip.
Later, after returning to Seoul, we also did a day tour to the DMZ in the Northern-most part of South Korea. The DMZ area is near the border of North Korea and is a place of great contradictions. It is a very peaceful and an exquisite natural area of a renewed nature preserve. Since no large structures–urban or military are allowed there—it has abundant natural and wild life. Many animal and plant species– once nearly extinct —have returned in this quiet undisturbed setting. But in this beautiful stillness there are also signs of great tensions. There are many Army checkpoints, restrictions, and watchful armed observations by military soldiers. As we ventured our glances into the vast distance mountains of North Korea—one can’t help but feel the pain of past losses and pray for a future peace.
The blog post was written by DoHee Kim-Appel, Ph.D. Associate Professor for Art Therapy and Counseling at Ursuline College.