The sky was a bit gloomy when I left the hostel at about 8:15 am to catch a bus to Andong, a strategic military stronghold since the Three Kingdoms period. When I got on the bus right before 9 am, however, the refreshing sunshine was creeping out from layers of thick gray clouds that were covering the sky like a suffocating blanket.
The journey to Andong, which was more than 100 kilometres to the northwest of Gyeongju, took about three hours including a handful of stopovers in small towns like Uiseong. The bus terminal operator and the bus driver were very curious about a foreign woman travelling alone - yes, and that's me. The bus driver was so kind that he offered me a drink of coffee when taking a break at Uiseong.
It was noon when I arrived at downtown Andong. I obtained a map from the tourist information centre and bought a return train ticket to Gyeongju, which would leave Andong two minutes before 5 pm. Then I decided to have a quick lunch at Lavender, a nicely decorated Western restaurant that serves excellent set meals of pasta, before I took a No. 67 bus to Dosan Seowon, a Confucian private academy that barely escaped the devastation of Mongolian and Japanese invasions.
Actually I was struggling in my mind whether I should go to the Andong Folk Museum first or to Dosan Seowan first, given the tight schedule. And it later proved that my decision based on time was a wise one.
The bus ride to Dosan Seowan, which was 40 km to the north of Andong downtown, took about 45 minutes. It was built by Yi Toegye, a renowned Confucian scholar during the reign of Jungjong of Joseon Dynasty, who enjoyed a reputation of being the "Zhuzi (Zhu Xi) of East Sea". I didn't recall this until I met another information officer, Ms Kwon Hyeon-mi, who again spoke perfect Mandarin. She told me that she majored Chinese Literature at university and I was more than happy to have her showing me around the intact and yet aesthetically constructed private college.
We had a good exchange about the history of Korea from the Three Kingdoms period to the last dynasty of Joseon, although Ms Kwon was unable to tell me more about Jeongjo's mother, Hyegyeonggung Madame Hong. Sun-mi told me on Saturday that Madame Hong was involved in the political struggle of factions at that time, one of which was led by her father Hong Bong-han. Her book Hanjungrok, or literally The Records in Anguish, was meant to be a defence of what she and her father had done in betrayal of Crown Prince Sado, who was committed to wipe out political factions among the senior officials. That is why I am now even more eager to read this book, but the chance seems slim, if any at all, to obtain a copy in its original form in Korea.
Ms Kwon also told me that she was very happy to have received me, someone from Hong Kong, given her poor experience with Mainland Chinese tourists, who are seen as arrogant, ill-mannered and ignorant. Sadly, Dosan Seowan is hardly an attraction for Hong Kong tourists. I only found out about this private college upon arrival at Andong, and more precisely, having read the map taken from the tourist information centre.
Interestingly, Ms Kwon asked me about what a short paragraph handwritten by Jeongjo, which was on display in an exhibition hall to the west of the college, means. It was written in classical Chinese text and I tried my best to explain to her. She seemed very happy and I was glad that I could be of any help.
Having spent only about an hour at the college, I had to catch the bus at 3:20 pm for downtown to catch the train by 5 pm. Ms Kwon was so kind that she accompanied me to the bus stop and saw me off before she returned to her office. I was tempted to write her a letter when I am home.
Just 15 minutes before returning to Gyeongju, Patricia called me on the mobile, telling me how much she enjoyed Beijing over the last week, so much so that she wanted to extend her stay there and change the flight back to Hong Kong. Fortunately she didn't, otherwise I would have missed her when I'm back home. I must meet her on Monday, 7 November, to give her everything I have bought for her before I set off for a business trip to Manila.