Wednesday, 2 November 2005

First Trip to Korea - A Journal (Part 9)

Just returned from a disco at Hilton Hotel at Namsan (the Southern Mountain) of Seoul, after returning from a four-day trip to Gyeongju. Sun-mi called me shortly before 9 pm, saying that Bill has arrived in Seoul and they were hosting a dinner and some entertainment for him. She also invited me to join. Why not?

I didn't know that Sun-mi has told all her colleagues about my research on Korea, which made me a bit embarrassed when they praised my courage and knowledge. It was good though to have met the colleagues in Seoul, and I was astonished at how good their singing is! None of the incumbent Canto pop singers can be their match.

The morning was mostly spent in walking to the historical sites in west Gyeongju, the tombs of General Kim Yu-sin and King Muyeol of Silla, both honoured as heroes contributing to Silla's successful unification of the Korean peninsula in the seventh century AD. General Kim was granted the most senior title of "Taedaegukgan" and after his death, "King Heungmu". He seemed to be a legendary figure who had led many victorious battles against Baekje and Goguryeo but little has been written about him in my Chinese history book of Korea.

The tomb of King Muyeol was about 2.8 kilometres to the south of General Kim's, and it took less than 45 minutes to walk along the straight road from north to south. Fortunately I didn't come across hundreds of school children like I did at General Kim's tomb. On appearance, King Muyeol's tomb was no different from those scattering around downtown Gyeongju, but some sharp ends of the foundation stones creeping outside the green grass revealed that at least the foundation was built by stones but not covered by soil like the famous Cheonmachong. His second son, Kim In-mun, who had spent most of his early and last years in Tang China, was buried to the east of his father's tomb across the road. Some other unknown close relatives were buried to the west of the king who laid the foundation of Silla's unprecedented unification.

It was a pity that I didn't have time to visit Namsan in Gyeongju, where most Silla historical sites, notably Buddhist sculptures and temples, are located. Neither did I have the opportunity to visit the underwater tomb of King Munmu of Silla, who not only formally unified the Korean peninsula and drove off the Tang forces afterwards, but also willed that he should be cremated and buried under the sea to guard his country against invaders from the east. While it is said that this underwater tomb is the only of its kind in the world, I am very much interested to find out how King Munmu's will could be carried out given the dangerous tides that have been separating the isles, where the tomb is supposed to be located, from the shores that are more than 100 metres away.

After returning to downtown Gyeongju I had a magnificent lunch of "kagulsu" (hand-made noodles like linguine but slightly thicker) and fried pork ribs with vegetables and eight side dishes. Back in Seoul, I had fried "udong" for dinner. Actually Sun-mi was right - the food in Gyeongju was not as good as other places in Korea, and notably Seoul. I hope I will have the chance to try the food in Jeolla provinces in southwest, where Baekje was based. Sun-mi said it is generally recognised as the best in Korea.

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