I tried to make the last day in Ulsan special, so I took the bus to Seongnamsa, a temple about an hour away that houses Buddhist nuns. It was another very warm day, even though I left at 10 a.m. and arrived at 11:00 a.m. I went into only one shrine, which requires taking one's sneakers off (quite the feat) (ha ha). It's not a terribly big place but the shrines are lovely and you can see nuns, so it's all good. When I first got there, after walking up the hill and across the lovely stone bridge, I was so hot I had to sit down and mop myself with a tissue. I chose to sit in the shade, but unfortuntely didn't notice (!) the barrier that must've said in Korean, "no admittance beyond this point" and before long, a young nun very politely invited me to leave the area. Thankfully, one of phrases I know in Korean is "choesong hamnida" which means "I'm sorry."
I walked up the stone steps to the stupa overlooking the temple grounds, and the view of the mountains, the flowering trees and the bamboo was breathtaking (yes, I took photos). But, the sun was beating down and even with my parasol I was dripping sweat. I started back down and found some shade on the way back down the mountain, where a fast-running stream runs near the temple. Many Koreans out on their vacation were lounging and splashing in the water. I took my sneaks and socks off to cool my feet a bit in the water and when I looked down, there were minnows everywhere!
I bought some incense at the little gift shop on the path down the mountain and then crossed the street to the food shops where I ate some vegetarian kimbap (looks like a sushi roll). Bap in Korean means cooked rice, and I believe kim is seaweed. I hopped on one of the buses about to head back to Ulsan, and 4 hours after I'd left this morning I was back. I stopped for a cold drink at the corner store and headed up to my room to shower, cool off, and pack my bags for the trip to Seoul tomorrow.
For dinner I decided to try a traditional place that's literally around the corner from the hotel I'm staying at. The restaurant is a traditional Korean drinking and eating place, not a bar, not a restuarant, actually. There's food and all kinds of alchohol, from soju to beer to Korean rice liquor called dong dong ju. A word about transliteration: it's not "dahng dahng jew" it's more like "dohng-dohng joo." The man who met me at the door is the owner's son (his mom runs the place) and he had very good English. Since I was the only customer at the time, I invited him to sit down and have a beer with me while I ate, and we talked about all manner of Korean curent events, especially the 23 hostages taken by the Taliban. He also informed me that Korea is having a tough economic time thanks to the governments policies that are keeping out foreign businesses that would like to set up shop here and hire Koreans. Anyway, his name is Tae Young, and he lived in Australia for a year, which explains the good English. We had a good time talking about politics and world events, and languages. He applauded my use of Korean, and I have to say, modest as I am, my pronunciation has been given a thumbs up by just about every Korean I've met. Now if only I could get a bit more vocabulary!
So my last day in Ulsan was very nice - I prayed at a wonderful temple and I ate a great meal (fried kimchi with tofu) and made a new friend. What more could I ask for? This is the essence of traveling - going to places even if you're not sure 100% how to get there or what to do once you're there, and inviting new friends into your circle. Sometimes they turn out to be friends for a few days or a year, sometimes they become friends for life. Doesn't matter. What matters is that human connection that spans cultures, and it's one of the best feelings in the world.
Tomorrow morning I'll head to Seoul. Turns out that one of my Korean friends here in Ulsan is also goin to to Seoul tomorrow, so with any luck we can travel together and he can help me find a yogwan (Korean style hotel, much cheaper than the kind of place I'm in now) in the neighborhood I'm hoping to stay in. Honestly, I just need somplace clean and not a lightyear from the airport for when I need to go on Sunday. My flight leaves at 11:00 on Sunday, so I'll have to get to the airport pretty early to return my cell phone, check my bags, and get settled in.
My time in Korea is drawing to a close... I've been journaling quite a bit about the experience, which I shall post probably when I'm back in the States. I will miss Korea - I'll miss the food and the saunas and the ease of traveling to different cities, and of course the friends new and old. I have one more chapter here, in Seoul, and I'm curious as to what it will bring me.
ADDENDUM: It was five years ago to the day that I left Columbus International Airport for Gimhae Airport in Pusan. So much has changed in five years - here in Korea, in my life, in my heart.