Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Operation White Buddha

The sun was showering it's rays upon Seoul. It was an absolutely perfect day.
5 adventurous, good-hearted compadres decided to take a trip to a special destination: the White Buddha.
What laid ahead of them was both unexpected and unforgettable...

The day started out as normal as possible. I met my fellow companions near Insadong, a very popular traditional Korean district of Seoul. We wandered over to a tourist information booth to get directions to our final desitnation. We were informed tha we actually had to travel a bit further north (3 subway stops) and it would be about a 30 minute walk from the station. No problem.

As our stomachs cried out with hunger pains, we headed to a cute, little hidden restaurant and enjoyed a great meal. We relived the events of the night before through pictures and stories (my friend Donna had had a Mexican themed dinner night at her apartment and everyone had a wonderful time) and indulged our lunch like it was our last meal. We watched some small children play Angry Birds, a huge craze here in Korea, on their parent's phones and headed out back into the crowded streets of Insadong.

We strolled up and down the area, stopping for random pictures and some very, very delicious ice cream! The guy serving the ice cream acted like a flirt with the females in the group, but luckily didn't demonstrate any loving feelings towards myself. The ice cream hit the spot and gave us the needed energy to head out to our destination to find the infamous White Buddha.

We boarded the subway again, rode it three stops north, and disembarked. As we let the platform, we stopped to inquire about the location of this conclaved, non-robust Buddha and were met with some blank stares (either due to the language barrier, a genuine lack of knowledge, or both) and decided to just do a bit of exploring to see what we could find out.

As we emerged from subway station to the busy streets of Seoul above, we were greeted with three or four monstrous mountain peaks. It was quickly decided that we would not be hiking as not everyone was properly prepared for that type of an endeavor (Donna was in a sun dress and flip flops and I was also donning the coveted flip flops as well). I typed the name of the monument into my phone (we luckily had the Korean translation) and discovered a rough path that we needed to take. Off we went.

We quickly realized that our earlier statement regarding "NO HIKING" was going to be overturned. As we progressed towards the red dot on my Google map, the incline started to steadily increase. Left. Right. Left again. We followed a maze of streets until we reached this cluster of apartment buildings. We had reached an apparent dead end. Not to fear though, because there was an older Korean man sitting in this little booth that pointed the way: UP!

And so the long, trechorous hike up some random mountain in Seoul began. Our first encounter was with a stone path that was composed of boulders that were confused as to what their role really was. They couldn't decide if they wanted to be a smooth walking path or a dissarayed collection of stones that did whatever they felt like. Then we encountered some stairs, which was a nice little break. Those steps quickly turned into climbing up smooth faced rocks (with the assistance of a rope) and then turned back into the jagged, confused path. This was all within the first 10 minutes of walking up. We were in for a long climb.

Laughs and curses were shared as we continued our journey up this mountain. Unstable footings, water breaks, and cries for tissues all helped pass the time. The entire trip up we never had any idea if we were actually getting closer to the White Buddha or not. But we continued our trekk, determined to get to the top.

Slowly, we managed to make it to the top. We slipped, slid, grabbed, and pulled our way up to the top of that mountain just to discover that the White Buddha was no where in sight. Glancing over at the other moutnain peaks in the area, we speculated that it was actually on another peak and we had just chosen the wrong mountain. However, this little bit of disappointment could not take away from the breathtaking view that we were treated to. From our mountain top, we could see the entire Gyeongbokgung Palace complex, the Blue House (president's residence), and a vast array of the greater Seoul area. It made our trials and tribulations to the top totally worth the trouble.

Upon the realization that our ultimate prize was nowhere to be found and with the sun quickly setting, it came time to reverse our journey and head back down. This proved to be more of an adventure than the hike up. Normally the hike down takes less time than the hike up does. Not necessarily true in this case. Between Donna and myself in our flip flops, Alex going on and on about her desperate need for tissues, and Myheshni's constant falls/slips, it was a riot watching us all try to get off this mountainside. We all managed to make it safely down to the bottom of the mountain in one piece, enjoyed some delicious waffles with ice cream, and saw the movie The Avengers. It was a perfect end to such an unexpected day.

The White Buddha may eluded us on this one, fateful day. But we plan to continue our quest until this legendary, mystifying sight has been seen.

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