Sunday, 21 June 2009


On Sunday, Scott and I went to Bongjeongsa (As Mrs. Im explained to me later: "bong" is a colorful bird, I think a phoenix, "jeong" a place where the bird rests, and "sa" meaning "temple").
(I pulled the above photo from the Internet, to give you an idea of the size and location of the main area)

It is a still-active Buddhist temple that was built in 672 AD. It is said that Ui-sang (a monk and scholar) threw a paper crane into the air and built the temple where it landed. Therefore, like most beautiful and historical places in the country, it is set up on a hill. The climb to this one was only about 10 minutes though, which was great news because Scott and I picked the day of 90-something heat for our venture.
We were welcomed to the sound of a high pitched gong ringing at about 20 second intervals. Between rings, we could hear a man chanting. As we walked around we finally caught a glimpse of him, repeatedly standing and sitting back down to bow low to the ground, through the open door of National Treasure Number 15; The Hall of Paradise. It is the oldest existing structure in Korea (It's only been repaired three times: in 1363, 1972, and 2001).

The whole place is quite large, and has several smaller temples on the grounds as well as a large drum, a large bell, and an intricately wired speaker system hiding in the trees so that chanting or daily messages can be heard everywhere you go. This took us quite awhile to figure out- Scott and I were convinced the trees themselves were calling us to meditation. Even walking away, the temple no longer in sight, we could hear the low soothing tones of a man speaking with gentle recorded chimes and flute tones in the background.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing to us was that the temple is still active. We didn't know this at first, because up front it appears to be any other historical site of interest: ticket booth at the base, informational signs outside of every building, travelers walking around with their families taking pictures. Yet it also felt very much like a place where people lived: shoes outside of the doors, farming tools worn from constant use, a mat airing on a fence outside of sleeping quarters, incense wafting from a door just barely cracked open, an outdoor dining area with hanging bananas and tomatoes waiting for mealtime.

And of course, the kimchi jars (traditionally, kimchi is created and stored in large jars buried underground- except for the covered top of it for easy access).

But these monks don't live like the American Amish, as I was inclined to consider at first. They may live in a traditional setting, with traditional vocations and rituals, but they are not without modern amenities. In addition to the speaker system, the first clue was the freshly paved street that lead up up to the temple (and the monk driving the fancy black car that passed us). They also have electric lighting, and at least three flat screen computers that I saw turned on through a screen door. So although they live very naturally and harmoniously in the traditional path of Buddhist life, they seem to have a nice balance with the modern world.


  1. Love the pictures! You really captured the beauty of this place. Let's go back and get some fresh Kimchi!

  2. Is this the temple you mentioned for our overnight visit? ~Mom

  3. I read the last 2 blogs at the same time. The temple info was great and the pile story was funny. A great juxtaposition. Hemorroids were called piles in the old days. So Mrs. Im was right. I hope we see the temple and Mrs. Im.

  4. Your photos make me want to run right out and get a plane ticket to Korea. Gorgeous!

  5. Your writing is wonderful! You have such an active voice in all that you write, it really draws me in and it is such a pleasure to read. Your pictures are beautiful too. This blog is absolutely amazing! I was introduced to this site by a friend of mine... your Aunt Helen (who is truly amazing herself) she always says how beautiful and talented you are and boy is she right! She is so proud of you and obviously for good reason. Keep up the good work... look forward to reading more:)

  6. Absolutely stunning photography Sara. Thanks. Looks like a great place. See you in about two weeks. Larry

  7. I so enjoyed your writing on the food! Never thought you would enjoy sharing that much. Your artistict talent shows even in your photography. I love everything about your site. Keep up the great job and I appreciate your educating me on Korea.

    Luv ya bunches

    Aunt Helen

  8. Sara: I just watched your pictures again. You are truly a great photographer. See you in about nine days. Larry