Tuesday, 13th of December:
Another Tuesday, another update from the land of the morning calm. This past weekend was chock full of awesome stuff.
The awesomeness started on Saturday morning. Along with a group of friends I set off for Geumjeong mountain to seek out a temple known to the locals as Seokbulsa (If you are wondering about the pronunciation of the temple it rhythms with “suck ball sac” – I wish I was kidding). There were two ways to get to the temple, which is located high atop the Geumjeong mountain – the first involves hiking up a mountain path, the other involves taking a cable car to the top. Naturally, we opted for the cable car. Hilariously Konglishized as the ‘rope way’ the cable car was fast and fairly cheap. Even though they crammed it with way too many people we managed to get on first so we got a decent view out the windows (which we were pressed up against by the multitudes of Korean hikers shoved in behind us). From the cable car we could see some of the city (including Sejik Stadium, where the Busan baseball team the Lotte Giants play). We could also see the hiking path below us (full of poor saps who opted for fresh air and exercise over paying 3,000 won to be crammed onto the ropeway) and lots of beautiful scenery.
When we left the cable car it was just an hour hike to the temple. Did I mention the temple is notoriously difficult to get to? The hike had lots of unmarked intersections and we had to rely on a printout from a blog that gives even less reliable directions than mine. It also led us through a small Korean village nestled into the mountainside.
The temple itself was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in Korea. Even though it was a total pain to find it was worth every minute. The temple was basically carved into the side of a cliff. There were two or three buildings at the bottom of a vertical rock face which comprised the main part of the temple. Beyond, nestled between cliffs on 3 sides was a small prayer/meditation area. In this area the walls of the cliff had been carved into the likeness of Buddha and various Korean historical figures. These carvings were really impressive – the walls were pretty high, probably around 50 feet. Finally there was another stairway (carved out of the stone) that led up to a small crack in the rock. If you push your way through this crack (it is so narrow I had to take my backpack off and walk sideways) you come out onto a small prayer/meditation platform that overlooks the mountains and city below. Its hard to describe the area accurately, so check out the video I will be posting shortly.
I can’t explain why exactly, but the temple was by far the best I’ve seen in Korea. It was serene and isolated. You could sense the years of labor that were poured into carving the statues and chiseling the stairs. You can imagine generations of monks climbing to the perch and squeezing through the crack in the rock to pray high above the forest. It was like the whole area had a sort of energy to it, like its history was becoming a part of me. This is a way too deep way to describe the feeling this place imparted on me, but I’m trying to convey how awesome this temple was.
After the temple we hiked down the mountain by a different route. Conveniently, the path we followed led out near one of my friends’ house, and he happened to know a great barbecue restaurant. We got stuffed on barbecue pork, sesame leaves, kimchi, garlic, onions and various Korean BBQ sauces and marinades. We also had four beers. Total cost: $6 dollars each. I am seriously going to miss this place.
That night there was a frisbee team gathering at the Wolfhound near Haeundae Beach. Most of the team turned up and we had a great dinner and drinking session, punctuated by a lunar eclipse, which many of us gathered outside (drinks in hand), to watch.
The next day I did something that most would say is impossible. I regrew my virginity. Actually, I just went to an international video game competition. I’m pretty sure that can’t really cause my virginity to regrow, no matter what my friends and loved ones will say when they hear. The 2011 World Cyber Games (WCG) were held in Busan, South Korea at Bexco convention center. Admission was 3,000 won (same price as the ‘ropeway’ – this was definitely the better value). Basically the convention hall was filled with various booths showing off new games, technologies and hardware as well as two stages with seating for several hundred and big screen TVs to show all the action. Gamers from all over the world competed in several different games. I need to check my facts on this, but I heard that the winnings totaled $500,000, and that this was spread over 6 games (meaning each winner brought home just under $100,000). Certainly not small change (although it is small change for some of these professional video game players, who earn six digit yearly incomes).
I watched the finals for 3 games – Tekken 6, Counter-Strike and, of course, Starcraft 2. The Tekken 6 final was short but really, really entertaining. Tekken is a one on one fighting game. The match was between a Japanese player and a South Korean. The Japanese player basically wiped the floor with the South Korean, beating him handily in ever fight (except one the Korean took with an awesome combo after ducking a sloppy punch from his over-confident opponent). Imagine watching the final battle between Neo and Agent Smith in The Matrix but in videogame form and you have some idea of how awesome it was. Or you can check out the video, though I only filmed the first two fights which were not the most interesting. The second game was Counter-Strike, a first person shooter (which is my preferred type of game). It was cool for a while, but difficult to follow as I have never played the game and it was between two teams of six instead of one on one, meaning you had to follow the overall action instead of just individual firefights (imagine watching a sport for the first time and trying to figure out why everyone is cheering at certain times).The Counter-Strike final was between a Polish and Swedish team – I can’t remember who won. The final match I saw was between a South Korean Starcraft player (IM_MVP) and a Chinese player I had never heard of. They played a best of three in which the Korean handily beat his Chinese competitor.
For those of you who don’t play video games, let me sum up the last paragraph in laymans terms: I watched people who are really good at video games compete in different video games to determine who is the best at video games. And I thought it was awesome.
There was some other interesting stuff to see at the convention, like laptops playing new 3D video games (this technology has been around for a while now, though I’ve never seen it in action, so it was an interesting experience), a mini arcade (complete with air hockey table), even a dress up area where you could pick out costumes, go into a dressing room and take photos of yourself dressed as your favorite video game characters. It was while I was in this area, watching grown men dress up as video game characters and play with the prop guns and swords, that I considered the possibility that the number of sexual partners I’ve had in my life might somehow be retroactively receding.
I have video and picture spanning the entire awesome weekend and will waste no time in uploading them this evening. Okay, I may waste some time – those video games are not going to play themselves are they?
I guess I’ll wrap up this entry by saying it is difficult to imagine another time and another place in my life where I will be able to climb a mountain and explore a Buddhist temple, have drinks with my friends in the street, eat an entire meal for $6, and attend a video game convention featuring the latest technologies and innovations, all in the same weekend. My time in Korea is drawing to a close, now more than ever I realize the importance of squeezing everything I can out of my remaining time here. Before I left I promised myself I would make the most of this adventure – I haven’t let myself down yet and I don’t plan on starting now.
Stay tuned for video of last weekend and more updates soon!