Saturday, April 9, 2011

Temple, Temple, Where Are You (19 February)

AK trips usually mean having to travel to Seoul a day early in order to be at the pick up sites on time.  This weekend’s trip is one of the few in my province so, since I live only 90 minutes away from the destination, I can meet the group at Geumsan Temple instead of travelling all the way to Seoul.  I have no idea what time the bus from Gimje to the temple leaves so I’ve decided that I should leave at around 10:30am and rather spend a bit more time in Gimje if need be than be late in meeting the group at the temple.  The AK trip is scheduled to arrive at Geumsansa at around 14:00 so I expect to arrive before them. 

Thanks to my appalling lack of punctuality, I end up only leaving Gunsan at around 12:00.  Jeonju and Gimje are roughly an equal distance from Gunsan so I opt for a bus to Jeonju which is a bigger city in the hope that the buses to the temple will be more often than those from Gimje.  Unfortunately, this also means changing bus stations in Jeonju and I, as yet, have no idea where the second station is or what to say in Korean in order to get to that station. I text my fantastic co-teacher who lives in Jeonju and even she seems uncertain as to which bus station I need to go to – I’m starting to think that the bus to Gimje might have been a better idea after all. 

Hajima ajeossi!

In my haste to get on the Jeonju bus, I didn’t pay careful attention to where I took a seat and ended up sitting in the third row.  The first three rows on buses in Korea are often reserved for older people but I convince myself that this will not be a problem since the bus is fairly empty – it’s barely half full.  Of course, being a foreigner can sometimes be a disadvantage: Where many Koreans seems to actively avoid sitting next to the waegooks if they can help it, many older men seem to happily sit next to female waegooks on a bus.  This seems to be one of those days as I notice an older man pass by two empty rows of seats and make a beeline for the empty seat beside me where he happily squashes himself down beside me and half on top of me. 

As the bus pulls away, he even has the audacity to slide a hand under my thigh while showing me to move over despite the fact that he is already sitting in half of my seat too; if I move over any further, I’ll be climbing out of the window of the now moving bus.  I shuffle over in my seat as far as I can and take out my book in an attempt to signal that I do not want to be disturbed.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t deter this man who seems to see nothing wrong with putting his hand on my leg every time he tries to talk to me.  I politely tell him that I don’t understand Korean and feign total ignorance happy to play up to the stereotype of arrogant foreigner in this situation.  He’s not easily discouraged! 

No matter how much I try to make it clear that I don’t understand what he is saying to me and that I don’t speak any Korean, he presses ahead with his attempt to converse with me all the while running his hand down my leg.  It takes every ounce of my self-control not to smack him and I silently vow to sit in the very last row of seats in future on every bus ride.  He even takes the liberty of taking my phone out of my hand to look through my messages and numbers, and methodically helps himself to the paper and book on my lap to peruse despite clearly understanding no English.  In desperation, I text KiwiKat to ask how to tell him to leave me alone; her response: Ya! Hajima! in a loud and angry tone – it works and mercifully, we finally arrive in Jeonju where I eagerly get off the bus forgetting that I have no idea where to go from here in my desperate attempt to escape from this creepy ajeossi.

Geumsansa ka juseyo...

Having heard that the AK group has already arrived at the temple, I give up trying to find the Bangsong bus station in Jeonju and decide to take a taxi to the temple.  The 20 000 won taxi ride from Jeonju to Geumsansa is a peaceful and pretty drive and I can feel myself slowly starting to relax as I allow myself to consider the next 24 hours at the Temple.  I’ve heard mixed reports about the Temple Stay but have consistently heard that while it is something you only do once, it is also a trip that must be done.  Most foreigners try to cram it in right at the end of their contracts in the final weeks before leaving Korea for good so I feel a small sense of smugness in checking it off the “Experiences List” before I’ve even reached the halfway mark of my contract. 

I arrive at Geumsansa at 14:30 and immediately text ByungWoo to let him know I’ve arrived and am not certain where to go from here.  I’m relieved to see another foreigner standing just inside of the gate as this means that I’m not the last person to arrive for the trip.  We introduce ourselves as we wait for ByungWoo to meet us and show us where to go.  Within minutes, he’s heading towards us and we’re introducing ourselves once more before following him and an organiser from the temple to the room where we’ll get our monastic wear.  We take several minutes to negotiate the doll-sized outfits around our more voluptuous frames before once again following ByungWoo and the temple organiser to the venue where the rest of the group are already learning about temple life.  ByungWoo takes this moment to show me a message that KiwiKat has sent asking him to look after me this weekend.  It’s good to have friends looking out for me!

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