Today Gookheon, one of the members of my adult class, took me to Gangwha Island, a large island at the mouth of the Han River on the western coast, west of Seoul. We had a splendid time! First, Gookheon is good company. Second, we took in quite a variety of sites on the island, which opposes North Korea across the water. Before we got there, however, we stopped off at a bird sanctuary:
Bird-watching by the Han River--Photo by Gookheon with His Camera
Our first stop on the island itself was the Gangwha Island History Museum, where, in addition to seeing the lovely national treasure with the lotus design, pictured above, I learned that the island is historic for many reasons, almost all of them having to do with foreigners. I'm afraid we foreigners don't come off looking too well here (despite this, the two companies of Korean troops who came by on tour didn't bother us). First, when the Mongols invaded during the Goryeon dynasty (13th century CE/AD), several important treasures, articles, and books were relocated here for safety. Second, a major naval battle was fought against the French here, (after despoiling the island, the French lost miserably while inflicting few casualties on the resourceful Koreans). Today many priceless treasures, including liturgical books about ceremonies associated with the monarchy, remain in French collections. Third, at various times, China, the US, and Japan all invaded here. The treaty signed with a victorious Japan in the 19th century opened up the isolationist Korea of the Joseon dynasty to foreign commerce. The picture below is of the Gagpot Cannon Emplacement, Historical Site #306.
Gookheon and I at the place where a 19th century US-Korean naval battle was begun.
The museum took pains to point out the chequered history of the island, and its multiple subjections and invasions by foreigners, including Americans. I felt mixed emotions upon seeing this. First, I felt sorrow at the damage of the age of colonialism. There was no excuse for what the French and Americans did around the turn of the century. On the other hand, foreigners, led by the US, under the banner of the UN have been defending this country for fifty years, and that went unrecognized in this museum on this beautiful island.
The lay of the island is rather like the Fraser Valley around Chilliwack, BC. The mountains are about the right height, and in places the width between them is similar, too. Gookheon likes the countryside, and I was happy for a break from the city, even the city I love. This picture, below, was taken from Jeokseoksa, a small temple located high on an island mountain. I may be able to post one picture of a really interesting statue in the prayer hall in this temple: stay tuned.
Gangwha Island historical remains go back early; the island features many Bronze age dolmens, as the Korean penninsula does, too. One particularly large one, pictured below, is recognized by UNESCO, and by the Korean government as "Historic Relic #137." These interesting tombs number around 26,000 in the Korean penninsula; about half of the world's dolmen population.
The "Gangwha Island" Dolmen
In the museum, which had excellent visual aids, depictions, and sculptures of real life scenes, I learned that the 80,000 wooden blocks on which are carved the "Tripikata Koreana" (Buddhist scriptures in Korean), long sinced moved to the Heinsa Temple, were made here.
The five-story pagoda, pictured below, has a special story. Associated with a temple known as "Bongeunsa," it was moved during the period of the Mongolian invasion under Genghis Khan. In the process, some of the vertical stones between the stories were lost. In the 1960's, local villagers looked for the stones and reassembled what they could find. It stands today, in an out-of-the-way spot, not quite as fully it did eight hundred years ago, a monument to Korean pride and poetry in the face of outside hostility; accordingly, it is recognized as "National Treasure #10."
Five-story Pagoda associated with the old Bongeunsa Buddhist temple
Less than one kilometer away is a statue of the Buddha, again, thought to be associated with Bongeunsa, and dating to the Goryeo dynasty. It is recognized as National Treasure #615.
Unique Buddha with halo
I don't have a photograph, but National Treasure #11, one of many great bells in South Korea, is present in the museum.
The first Anglican church in Korea came with the foreigners, and was completed in 1900. Despite this fact, it has been recognized as National Treasure #424. As you can see, it reflects the Anglican tendency to include, rather than exclude.
The Anglican Church of St. Peter and St. Paul
While on Gangwha Island, Gookheon and I went to a traditional Korean restaurant, and I finally remembered to take a picture of it. Look at all the little bowls!
A typical Korean meal
Finally, my little list of adventures in not over yet. After returning to the mainland, Gookheon took me to my first public bath over here (they're HUGE in South Korea), where we enjoyed the rock-room sauna, whose walls were formed in the inside of rock-salt crystals! It was very relaxing, and we lay down on the wooden sauna benches and enjoyed the end to a good, busy day.
The information in this post comes from: 1) the English signs at the monuments and sites; (2) from the Moon Handbook on South Korea, and (3) from the wonderful website of the island of Ganghwa.
Finally, look for another update on Gangwha Island in the future: there are many equally important sites, including a magnificent cliff-wall carving of a Buddha statue, that we simply didn't have enough time or warmth to accomplish on this midwinter's day.