So far, Tuesday has been my favorite day of the trip. I don’t think it was intentional, but the day was focused around peace. We woke up early and drove an hour towards the DMZ. At first, it was a little intimidating. I slept the whole way there, and woke up to barbed-wire fence and many military men. They came onboard and told anyone who had taken a photo needed to delete it immediately. Since it was such a high security military zone, pictures were not allowed to be taken, since it could compromise the security. We went through the museum that explained the tensions of North and South Korea, where it originated, how it progressed, and it ended with the hope to move forward. The whole second floor was designated to a hope for peace, including an area for people to write their hope or wishes on a piece of paper and hang them, creating a garden of hopes and dreams.
Afterwards, we walked up to the observatory tower and got to see parts of North Korea. We couldn’t see much due to the mountains blocking it all, but the whole thing seemed rather peaceful. There were many statues there to see, and you could add your own wish on a silk ribbon and tie it onto the poles around the tower. It definitely enlightened to mood, and made the whole place much more welcoming and inviting. Our tour guide, Jessica, told us that at one point in time, North and South Korea used to send radio broadcasting signals to the other side, each one trying to be louder than the other. The two countries finally decided to agree to a “ceasefire” of signals after a North Korean soldier who listened to the broadcast recalled on how beautiful it sounded to live in South Korea.
After the DMZ, we went to eat at a local seaside restaurant. It was nothing to complain about; I didn’t feel to well afterwards but that may have just been because I wasn’t used to it. We did sit on the floor and had to take our shoes off, so that was a cool experience we got to try for the first time since coming to Korea. After lunch, we went to the beach for a few minutes, but it was too cold and I was too tired to get up and go look. It just seemed to be a beach, just like any other one, but the water is much clearer here than in VA, even though we are close to the same parallel.
Afterward the beach, we went back to Sokcho where I was staying. After a very long hike uphill, we arrived at a Buddhist temple…although it was about the size of a small national park in America. We first walked in and a woman walked out, offering us tea. We gladly went in, with our shoes off and back onto the floor. She taught us how Buddhist usually drink this type of tea: first by smiling into it, then smelling it, and then drinking it. It was a really great time, and as much as I love group tours, it broke our group into two groups, so we took this trip more as a “explore your own” type of thing, allowing us to focus on the things we wanted to focus on, and skipping the things we wanted to avoid.
After tea, we followed the “Path of making a dream come true” to a giant statue of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. It stands a little of 50 feet tall, and took almost five years to complete. The entire temple is dedicated just to Avalokitesvara, with some monuments being built back in 1692. We didn’t get to spend near enough time in any of these temples on the grounds, but this one stands high, faces towards the sea, and is breathtaking to anyone who sees it. It’s hard to describe, because there’s nothing to compare it to in America. Nothing even close. It’s like the Mount Rushmore of religion, and there are multiple temples scattered through Korea just as big, or bigger than this one.
There were multiple more temples scattered throughout the park, ranging in extravagance. The most amazing one I saw, though, was the temple of golden figures. Avalokitesvara is the emblem of compassion, and is very popular. Even if you don’t know what she looks like, we’ve all probably seen a picture of her, which is in the center of the photo below. She is a popular bodhisattva, and one that is loved by many. With a mix between mountain and sea, the views were amazing and plenty. The whole experience was just so peaceful and extremely enjoyable. As someone who enjoys spending time outside, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend the day any way else.
After we were finished, we stopped in the gift store. On my way to the shop, a pair of women stopped me and asked me if I was from Virginia, I’m guessing after seeing my Shenandoah sweatshirt, and I said yes. Turns out the women were from Leesburg and Blacksburg (to which she yelled “Go Hokies!”). They were in Korea for the Olympics, and asked why we were here as well. It was a surreal experience, living so close to someone, but only meeting after traveling across the world, and by chance, choosing to go to the same temple on the same day. It just goes to show that you never know when you’ll be able to represent and reach out to people you never would have met otherwise!
By Courtney Hodges, Business Administration major, ’20, Posting From The DMZ & Sokcho City, South Korea