5/12/19- Cultural Carousel

To say the least, today was a whirlwind.  The goal for the day was to visit every historical site in Gyeongju, and there are quite a few, all within the span of 8 hours or so. We got it done, but it was no easy feat. The day got only a moderately early start, as we got dressed and were ready to board the bus by 9am. After being introduced to Nam, a local expert who would be leading our tour, we took the 15-minute ride to our first site of the day: Daereungwon. This place is an ancient cemetery where royalty and nobility alike were buried in giant mounds. A few of these mounds were excavated by archaeologists, and we even got to go inside one that belonged to an unidentified king. It was very interesting to see the intricate design of the tomb to protect the body from robbers (the remains of a few who attempted and were crushed under the piled rocks were found during the excavation). In addition, another interesting factor of these tombs was the belief that people took whatever they were buried with to the afterlife. As a result, many people of the time were buried with massive chests containing gold, jewelry, plates, cups, etc. In addition, when the king died, his relatives often executed his favorite servants so they could be buried alongside him and join him in the afterlife. Our next site was only a 5-minute walk away, Cheongseongdae. This word means star-gazing tower in Korean, and that’s exactly what this was. In fact, it is thought to be the oldest astronomical observatory in Asia, and perhaps even the world. It has survived so long because it is filled halfway with stone and earth that strengthen it against earthquakes and other disruptions. It is strategically positioned to observe the Big Dipper and its movements. Afterwards, we traveled to Gyeongju National Museum. There, we saw many amazing ancient artifacts, including crowns, swords, and quite a bit of pottery. However, the artifact that stuck out to me most was an ancient statue of Buddha. It had no nose, because in ancient times women thought that by grinding up the nose of Buddha and making tea from it, they would birth sons. After this busy morning was over, we traveled to a local Korean restaurant for lunch, which consisted of at least 12 courses. The food seemed endless and included fare such as steamed octopus and bulgogi. When we wrapped up lunch, we headed to Anapji Pond, a beautiful area that was used to host royal parties in the olden days. In its prime, it included swimming, a zoo, and much more. Next, we boarded the bus once more for a 45-minute journey to Bulguksa, a Buddhist temple that is located at the top of a massive peak and is only open to the public one day every year: on Buddha’s birthday, which happened to be today. We were very fortunate to be able to see this, and in my opinion someone unfortunate too, because getting there required a death-defying bus ride up thin, winding mountain roads, and a mile-long uphill hike. During this, the combination of fatigue, thin air, and allergic reactions to the massive amounts of pollen blowing in the breeze combined to give me a splitting headache. However, a few Aleve quickly remedied the situation and I took in the beautiful scenery from the peak. After this, we boarded the bus for another scary ride down the mountain (shoutout to our bus driver), for our last visit of the day, Seokguram Grotto, another temple and UNESCO world heritage site at the base of the mountain that contained a massive Buddha statue as well as an icon of a golden pig that was found in 2007 and was thought to bring wealth to whoever touches it. Finally, we boarded the bus and took off back to the hotel. Once we got back, Zack, John and I walked a few blocks to a local McDonalds for a much needed taste of some good American food. We walked back to the hotel, and proceeded to meet with our groups to brainstorm for our upcoming product development presentation. This ended our day, and based on how I just yawned, I’ll be falling asleep with no trouble tonight. Thanks for reading!

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