Today we are in Gyeongju (or as I prefer to spell it, Kyung Joo). Ironically, we’re staying at the Gyeongju Park Tourist Hotel (my Korean name is Kyung Joo Park). We took a bus over to Bulguksa temple, wandered around the grounds, and then hiked 2 miles the mountain to Seokgulam Grotto, where a giant Buddha is carved out of granite in the mountainside.
Amul turns and asks me if I’m okay. I’m very quiet today. Yes, I’m just lost in thought, caught up in the history of this place. This is my heritage. I remember the last time in was in Gyeongju in 2001, it was spelled Kyungjoo (Koreans go through different Romanized spelling fads), and it was so hot, the air so thick, you could barely move. It was the year the cicadas emerged from underground, and their shrill buzzing was deafening as we hiked up the mountainside. And even then, the beauty and the peace of the mountain temples in Gyeongju were breathtaking.
This time around, it is autumn, and the maple and gingko leaves in the forests are turning brilliant red and gold. From atop the mountain, the rice paddies stretch out across the landscape. And the peace is still so tangible. Aside from the fact that I am named after this city, I am reminded why this remains one of my favorite places in Korea.