Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bulguksa: In Which Strangers Treat Me to Lunch

A couple of days before my flight, rains were quite strong and I was worried that my flight to Incheon might get cancelled. Thankfully, it was sunny in Manila that morning and the flight was pretty smooth. I arrived at Incheon International Airport at noon and bought a bus ticket to Gyeongju. After a comfortable 5-hour trip on a luxury bus, I arrived at Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal. That was when the challenge started-- I could not find the bus stop for the local buses and no one spoke English! Well, I found it eventually, rode the correct bus and went down the correct bus stop but another problem presented itself-- I could not find my guesthouse! It was dark, the city seemed asleep (though it wasn't even 8pm yet) and I could not read street signs well. (I really should have gotten my eyeglasses' lenses changed before coming to South Korea.) However, by some miracle, I found my guesthouse. I was staying in a dorm but I had no roommates that night so hurray for sound sleep!

Having spent the entire Sunday traveling, I was, of course, excited to go on an adventure the next day. Gyeongju isn't very easy to navigate because buses are the common mode of transportation and you won't find anything inside the bus translated to English. Also, not all the bus stops have English labels on them! There are many taxis in Gyeongju but because I'm traveling on a budget, taxis are not an option. Thankfully, my guesthouse is near a Tourist Information Center (by the train station) and major tourist spots aren't very difficult to find so I found my way to Bulguksa without a problem.

It was quite a climb from the Bulguksa bus stop to the temple itself but the air is fresh, the surroundings are nice and the weather was cool. It was tiring but it wasn't so bad.

Bulguksa is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Treasure of South Korea. It's a big complex and there are many structures to see.

Sometimes, I wish I knew more about Buddhism so that I will be able to admire Buddhist temples better but even so, I enjoyed exploring Bulguksa. Thankfully too, the place wasn't crowded.

The paintings in South Korea's temples are amazing.

At noon, I went down toward the bus stop and then my tummy started looking for lunch. I found a complex full of restaurants near the bus stop. The place was very big but it seemed almost deserted. I went inside one of the restaurants and found that the only customers was a middle-aged couple. I read from somewhere that in Korea, dining out is considered a social activity so I guess that's why after I ordered food, the said couple invited me to share their table. Thinking that there's no harm sharing a table, I obliged. The lady spoke very little English and her boyfriend practically none. They kept talking to me in Korean and I just kept smiling. We shared food and they even shared makgeolli (alcoholic beverage made with rice) with me. It was actually fun. I mean, I was eating with locals!

Eventually, I decided that I wanted to continue exploring Gyeongju so I told them that I was going to another place and then when I was about to bring out my wallet to pay for my meal, the lady stopped me from bringing it out. I got surprised and confused... were they telling me that they're going to pay for my meal?? Apparently, yes. 

And that's the story of how strangers paid for my lunch in Bulguksa. Ah, such kindness!

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