Over the weekend before Chuseok, we went down to Gyeongju, in the southern part of the country. Chuseok is a huge family weekend — it seems always to be described as “like Korea’s Thanksgiving”, but the reality is that (like the T-day) people go home, see their family, etc etc. One side effect is that travelling is really difficult. We bought our tickets at the station on the day that tickets for travel around Chuseok went on sale; Seoul Station was mobbed! Anyway, the Friday before Chuseok we caught the KTX express train down to Gyeongju (actually, the station is around 10 km outside of town). Between one thing and another we were tired by the time we were settled into the hotel, and it was still a bit cold and wet, so we didn’t do much that day. That Girl was on crutches, unfortunately, so she didn’t do much the entire weekend, but A. and I did. (I think that F. had a good time anyway, but what teenager dislikes being able to loll around for a few days with room service from time to time?). There were some ultra-lights flying around over the lake, which looked like a lot of fun.
The next day, Sunday, we did do quite a bit more, starting with the Royal Tombs (왕릉) in Tumuli Park. We parked at the south end, between Tumuli Park and Cheomseongdae Observatory (첨성대) (by luck… that’s where the parking lot is!). There’s a lovely path through pine trees before you get to the tombs proper. The tombs are all large-to-enormous grass covered mounds, sometimes individually and sometimes linked. The interior of one has been turned into an interpretive center, half the mound cut away into a large chamber. Against the back wall (the center of the mound) is a reproduction of the burial chamber and the other walls have display cases of with objects from the mounds — jewelry, saddle flaps, bowls, etc.
After that, we headed to lunch. First we wandered around the neighborhood just next to Tumuli Park a bit, but then settled on a restaurant in a large traditional house, a short way down the road towards the center of town. We ordered a meal for two, with beef in a chili sauce, and 23 side dishes, if I count the soup and the leaves for wrapping the meat in.
Then it was time for Cheomseongdae Observatory (첨성대) across the road to the south of Tumuli Park. The observatory is very old, from 634 AD they said but didn’t do much for me. I guess I as hoping too much for something like the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, India. Curiously, I yesterday ran across a full-size reproduction in Da-dong, not far from the Embassy, in Seoul.
From there we wandered past the Gyerim woods (here’s a picture of the Gyerim monument) and around to an old monestary. There was a wedding going on… it looked as if there was a wedding going on every day at 3pm, but we were accosted by two nice young women (who turned out to be Jehovah’s Witnesses), who told us that to their surprise as well it was a real wedding. As we walked on, we ran across the band working its way up to join the wedding party, accompanied by a feisty old lady.
Next door was the ancestral home of an old wealthy family from the area, the Choe (or Choi) clan. The house & grounds are now owned by Yeungnam University. “The Choe Family refers to twelve generations from the family of founder Cheo Chi-won (1569-1636), to the twelfth generation of Choe Joon (1884-1970) who donated his whole wealth to Yeungnam University based in Daegu, Gyeongsangbuk-do.” (copied from korea.net, who said it better than I could remember). A gentleman there gave us a fascinating history of the family and of its precepts. I don’t recall all the precepts, but they basically involved dealing fairly with people (e.g., don’t buy land in years of bad harvests), living frugally (e.g., new brides must wear only inexpensive cotton for 3 years), being hospitable to guests and generous to others in famine years. Beautiful house and interior garden.
Beyond that was a small new-looking craft village, each household specializing in a particular thing — ceramics, glass-blowing, textiles, etc. We had a nice stroll there after which we headed back to the hotel.