I estimate that about 10% of the population are wearing masks because of MERS. Not only is this weird to see considering it isn't spread by air unless in hospital conditions, but it pisses me off how many of them are wearing them improperly. I have to wear a mask whenever the air quality is poor so I've gone through a lot of masks finding one that works against the yellow dust and pollution. These people buy cheap masks which don't even seal to the sides of their mouth and somehow think that it's any use whatsoever. Then there's the idiots who pull down the masks so their noses are exposed. And let's not forget the woman who got on the train next to me, while not wearing a mask, then put on the mask for the duration of the ride, only to take it off before she got off the train. In what world would that have been helpful? It makes me want to not wear a mask in order to not be lumped in to the 'paranoid and stupid about MERS' crowd.

So, I went down to Daegu and Gyeongju this past week to do some research. I'd been to Daegu and the museum before and was just taking impressions of the drill holes of beads which I had already examined. This took a few hours, then I caught the express bus to Gyeongju (which only takes about an hour). Gyeongju was the former center of the Silla Kingdom during the Three Kingdoms Period and this was my first chance to visit. I took another short bus ride and checked into my hotel. This hotel, called Mini Hotel 141 is the only one I could find in Gyeongju that was explicitly non-smoking. Considering my asthma is highly triggered by smoking, it was necessary to pay whatever it took to stay in a hotel that was smoke free. Luckily, this one was only about ten dollars more than the cheaper hotels and it's location close to the train station put it close to a lot of the attractions. I got there and discovered that it was also a really nice hotel which provides toiletry kits, and even had a western style towel (this is amazing, believe me). I headed out then to find the mounded tomb park, which, since there was a tomb viewable from the corner near the hotel, I assumed wouldn't be too hard. As luck would have it, I just followed the trail of tombs to hit the park right around the sunset.

I headed inside of the actual park and just wandered around the tombs. I checked out the inside of the Cheonmacheong tomb, which was full of replicas but fun to see laid out. I ended up explaining what was there to a Korean family who was there and who didn't understand the layout and what was what. I then wandered to the far end of the park and did a giant circle before heading back out of the gate I entered in. I then headed back into town proper, ending up on the fashion streets. I got some spicy beef fried rice for dinner and an ice cream which I ate when I got back to the hotel. I watched Korean tv for a bit, marveling about how there are two channels for watching pro Go players and two channels for watching pro video game players. (At one point they were playing a game which hilariously looked like Yugioh as played by Kaiba and his holograms.) Then I went to sleep early because I had to be up early to get to the archaeological center.

I had a great time at the archaeological center, mostly because they were friendly and didn't question what I was doing to their artifacts (you would not believe how often I have to argue with people to simply let me take a bead off a necklace for a bit). I even got to take a lead isotope sample from a gilt crown! I had lunch in their cafeteria which was fun, then back to finishing my work. The people who make the Dino-lite portable microscope should be paying me at this point. I think I've had three different people decide to buy one since I started my research. (It is pretty damn cool to have a strong magnification portable microscope that takes pictures and video and fits in the palm of your hand.) Once I was finished, it was around 3pm so I decided to go to the nearby national museum. Nearby being relative - they actually gave me a ride there. I stored my luggage and went to see the actual artifacts from all those tombs. There were so many loose beads I want to study!

I bought some souvenirs and considered walking back but my feet were killing me so I gave up and caught a taxi back to the hotel. I dropped off my bag then headed downstairs because the first floor was a sauna and as someone staying there I got a half price entry (cost about $1.50). It was a small jjimjilbang with three pools and two saunas total, but just perfect for relaxing for an hour or so after so much work and walking. I soaked and sweated it out before heading upstairs for a quick shower (I tend to be allergic to some of the stuff they put in their water so it's better for me to shower after most jjimjilbang). Then I relaxed, getting some work done for an upcoming conference and vaguely watching an American movie called Crossing Over about illegal immigrants trying to get into the US. Harrison Ford was pretty much the only good thing about that movie.

The next day, I checked out and stored my luggage in the hotel before hopping on a bus for a hour to visit Bulguksa temple, arguably the most famous temple in Korea. It is, like most temples here, in the mountains, hence the long bus ride. Once there, I had to walk up the hill a bit and buy a ticket before hitting the actual temple grounds. It was very pretty, though there were a lot less tourists than I expected. I'm not sure if this is because it was a Thursday, because of MERS, or because it was early in the morning and the tour buses hadn't gotten there yet. There were very few tourists everywhere I went all day, but it was drizzling. One of the stupa was under emergency reconstruction so I had to be creative about taking some pics to avoid the ugly gray building in the center, but overall, it was a beautiful temple and well worth the visit.

From outside of the main gate to the temple, I caught another 40min bus to further up the mountain to visit the Seokguram Grotto, a masterpiece of Korean architecture and a functioning Buddhist shrine. Once up there, I bought a cup of raspberries off of some grandmothers up there to tide me over and walked along the path towards the grotto. It was a misty, cloudy day and being on the top of the mountain, we were actually in the clouds. Plus, the lotus lantern festival lanterns were still up so it was an interesting walk. Once there, I could barely see the top of the grotto because of the mist but it was still cool to see. I headed back and bought some more raspberries and roasted chestnuts off the grandmothers who told me I was pretty and asked me some things in the local slang which I didn't understand. I probably don't want to know. I waited about twenty minutes for the bus while snacking, caught that bus, then waited another twenty minutes for the bus back to the city at the foot of the mountain. Everyone seems pretty shocked I'm traveling around alone. No idea why.


(That's the top of the grotto above the roof there.)

I got off the bus at Anapji pond which was the former site of the Silla palace. It's a beautiful place though I had to buy an umbrella since the rain was misting like mad.

From there, I walked to see the remains of the nearby fortress and the ice storage house. I then headed over to see the famous Cheongsomdae Observatory which I'd actually been catching glimpses of as I sped by in taxis and buses for the past two days.

I took a quick look at the nearby forest, then headed towards civilization. I stopped to get something to eat and I had been told the area was famous for 쌈밥 (ssam bap) or wrapped rice so I went to the first one I found which said it was founded several decades before. I ordered the meal, not realizing that it would be so much food.

The way you eat it is you take the leaves on the side, and you fill them with various ingredients including the pork that was at the center and sauces then a chunk of rice. Then you eat the whole thing. I did my level best to finish it, but there was no way. Considering the entire meal cost $8.50 that's hardly a bad showing though. It was 4pm by this point so I took the short walk back to my hotel, bought some more of Gyeongju's famous sweet bread and some local plums before catching the bus back to Daegu, and then the express train home. Overall, I spend about five hours traveling that day, and got home around 9pm. Is it any wonder I slept until 11am the next day?

I am now recuperating since I have a blister and it is painful to walk. Next week, I must be ready for more travel.
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