Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pre-Buddha's Birthday hike to Gatbawi

For a couple of weeks, I'd been planning on bringing Fina up to Gatbawi on Saturday as a prelude to Budha's Birthday.  I thought we'd take the bus to the Gyungsan side, an easy hike up, then continue down the Daegu side of the mountain, where I used to hike when I first lived here, and visit some of the temples I used to routinely stop at along the way.

The night before, Eunbong said she wanted to come and I was really happy. Eunbong's not a very big fan of hiking, but she's been growing fonder of nature and "mountain energy" since she's been with me (one of the few positive influences I've had on her life!) We both know we've never made it up and down a mountain without at least one spat (we have very different ideas about what an "easy" hike is), but I knew both of the trails would have plenty of places to rest.

I offered to carry Cello but Eunbong carried him up the first leg of the hike, until her back got a little sore. We stopped at the first temple (and just missed lunch but there always seems to be candy for Fina!) and I strapped on Cello's carrier and lifted Fina onto my shoulders for the final push to the peak. It was a really amazing feeling, carrying my two children to the top. It felt like a Karmic metaphor for the journey I'll be carrying them through until they are on their own, except this little trek wasn't nearly as much work as the rest of the way will be, I'm sure.

I've mentioned Gatbawi, the Stone Hat Buddha in many posts before, but it is one of my favourite spots in Korea. It's a 1374 year old rock-carved Buddha that sits on the eastern edge of Palgong Mountain. Aside from the ancient Buddha, what makes the place particularly appealing is the warming energy of the constant crowd of people there doing 108 bows. I've been to Gatbawi morning, day, and night, during every season, and there has always been at least a few people prostrating. On this beautiful Saturday in May, it was quiet busy, and I had to step carefully around a few people to find a spot to do a few bows. Anyone who's done bows in Korea can understand the perils of stepping to close to someone about to come up from the ground. Those butts in motion could send you flying!

The trail down the Daegu side is a bit steeper and more rugged than the Gyungsan side and with every step Eunbong was less pleased that I'd guided us this way. Just when things were about to get tense, two couples passed us and when one of the girls mentioned that Fina was pretty, her boyfriend added, "But when a "mixed-blood" marries a "real foreigner" their baby is brain damaged." Now, for the passed few months, I've been mentally and emotionally checking out of Korea (all I need is a job in Canada and I'll be gone!) because I'm getting tired of things like this but this was one of the worst. It's not so much that it was offensive, but more that it showed just how ignorant people can be. Eunbong was shocked, partly in disbelief at what she'd heard but also because she immediately started wondering if it was true. I confronted him, even though that's a non-Korean thing to do, and he just played dumb, too ashamed to admit what he'd said.

With that, we needed another break, and though I calmed down quickly, that's going to be a difficult one for me to let go off. Just around the corner was a temple where I'd first seen the ox herding images seven years before. I'd wanted to go back and see them again for a while. The temple complex had grown quite a bit since my last visit and had a few really stunning images. Eunbong found a nest of baby birds and we got to see them being fed, something I'd never witnessed before.

At the next temple down, we met a glowing, friendly young nun who had a lot of fun seeing Fina. Fina had fallen down and scraped the palms of her and, and I'd just been shouted at by an old man when I tried to wash her hands with the spring water at the other temple but the nun had no problem with her playing with the spring fountains here. She gave her a little plastic water lily to play with and asked us to come back again before she headed out on an errand. The temple had a friendly old stone Buddha sitting in the courtyard and the nun told us if you rub it in a place that you are sick, it can help you heal. I don't really know if I believe it or not, but I rubbed it anyway!

When we finally got to the end of the trail, we had an amazing meal at a restaurant perched over the mountain stream. We ate bibimbap, mountain vegetables mixed with rice, and chive pancake, which is amazing despite what it might sound like! Green onion pancake is one of the most popular foods in Korea, but I usually find the half a crop of green onions they use to be too much for my stomach. The chive pancake was perfect, though.

When I asked Fina how her day was, the two things she was most excited about was that she drank the spring water from the plastic ladle on her own and at the bottom of the mountain she hosed off her shoes with the communal air hose. I was a little surprised that those two things stood out more than climbing the mountain, seeing all the caterpillars along the way that she'd just learned about in her latest bed-time story, or seeing the stone Buddha, but what I realized is that those were two things she did by herself, and that's a big deal!


  1. Joe - my heart sank as I read your latest blog posting. Out for a day with your family which you knew would be challenging, when a distasteful remark from a stranger rearranges your mind set.

    In a sense, it is quite necessary to occasionally be reminded that hatred, ignorance and distrust are in no short supply. Your response to the situation demonstrated compassion.

  2. Hi Willie, I'm sorry if it gave you a bad feeling... I try not to vent too much through my blog, but that one struck me a little harder than usually because it was directed at my children. You hear things constantly and though I try to let them go but after years of it, I'm not taking it very well anymore, sort of like a small allergy that suddenly goes wild or something like that. It's my decision to be here, so I can accept a certain amount of racism but there's no need for my children to hear it, especially since they were born here and are Koreans. Sadly, they'll never be accepted as Korean, though.

  3. Hi Joseph,
    None of my business I know, but where will Fina be better treated at school and with much less racism - in Korea or back in the west?
    I know where I'd be heading!
    All the best mate,