About a month ago, I was invited to go on a school trip with the sixth graders. I was merely told that it would be sometime in September over a couple of days. Well, the time came near and I found out the exact time and date five days before it came, which is fairly normal. However, this was when I also found out that the person who asked me never asked my coteachers. I had assumed they had spoken as the Korean teachers converse like buzzing bees and I got used to being left in the dark. Apparently, this is the one time someone decided to go straight to me, which is a nice feeling, but also means I have to deal with the fact that these three days of school trip means I don’t teach for three days and my coteachers that I teach with those days are left to teach alone. I felt bad… but not too bad. After all, it’s not like we’re all really close and I’ve pretty much given up trying to gain a relationship with them that’s more than coworker.
The first few impressions I got from the trip were interesting, but there was a definite theme. From a student and throughout a majority of the trip that dealt with Korean history and culture, there was an anti-Japanese vibe that was present. This was obvious when one of my better students, who’s a little quirky and slightly more mature for her age, came up to me and asked me if I heard of some Korean place of some historical significance. I replied in the negative and she said that it was once very beautiful – but then the Japanese came and burned it down. She then concluded that that was why all Koreans (yes, she said all) hate the Japanese. When the head homeroom teacher told me some background stories of sites, it was always because they were preventing invasion from invaders – “especially the Japanese”. (I’m sure “the Chinese” would have been included as well if I weren’t ethnically Chinese, haha.) Then you have my 5th grade co-teacher who loves Japan, the Japanese, and their language, but that’s another thing entirely.
Anyway – to the location. We took a roughly 3-hour long bus ride down to Gyeongju (경주), a city near the southeast coast of South Korea. It’s a smaller city and isn’t listed as one of the metropolitan cities, like my home city of Daejeon is (though, granted, Daejeon is the smallest Korean metropolitan city), but it’s a cute little place. It’s predominately known for the wealth of Korean culture and historical artifacts and sites that are present as well as the fact that it served as the capital of the Shilla (신라) Kingdom. This makes the city a very appropriate setting for a school field trip. In fact, throughout my three days away from teaching, I learned a bit about Korean history as well as the many other students who came with their schools to the same sites my school visited.
I got to school at 7:40 am and we left the school with a line of five charter buses; one for each class and as we have five 6th grade classes, there were five buses. I stayed with the head 6th grade homeroom teacher and so I sat in the first bus. Once we arrived, our first stop was up a mountain with our ultimate destination being a temple – Pulguksa, to be exact, but let’s not get too far ahead. When we got to Gyeongju, we went straight towards Mount Toham (토함산) and went to Seokguram (석굴암), which is host to a famous, historical grotto in which a stone sculpture of Buddha lies. It’s rather beautiful, but no pictures were allowed in the grotto. However, I did get some shots of the surrounding area.