Day 4: A walk through apple and rice country
Post 4, Dec. 7, 2011-12-07
A dog was barking at us as we left Yangdong Village in the dusky light of early morning as we headed to Gibuk Myeong, about 13 miles away. We had been awakened by crowing cocks about 5 am and decided to make the most of it and leave early. There were just two of us today, Chris and myself.
Our landlady, who looked to be in her 80s, prepared small cups of hot, strong coffee for us and pressed some oranges into our hands. As we left, she smiled and waved vigorously at us.
Almost immediately we started along a white concrete path atop a banked-up causeway. To our right was a swampy river about 200 yards across filled with plumes of a kind of bulrush plant bobbing in the light breeze. To our left were harvested paddy fields with the grey rice hay lying in rows across the fields. A solitary heron-like bird glided above us.
The morning was fresh and we breathed deeply of the country air. We expected to reach our destination without problems because it was a short walk and we were well rested because of the break we took the day before. I had wrapped my big toes in bandages and tightened my boot laces as much as I could. My toes were not hurting and neither was my left leg, which I had banged in a fall on the first day of the pilgrimage.
We started discussing the journey that we were emulating, the journey Wonhyo and Uisang took from Gyeongju to a place near Dangjin where Wonhyo received enlightenment in the 7th Century. Both men were Buddhist scholars, quite different in background, outlook and personality. Did they argue over doctrine? Did they have disagreements over navigation, which path to take?
An argument erupted amongst us one early morning before we left Gyeongju after a late-night telephone call disturbed everyone. How good were the two scholars in achieving harmony and focusing on their aim of reaching China? In 7th century Korea there were no paved roads and highway signs, and neither had a Global Positioning System (GPS), which we are relying on.
We came across an apple orchard, one of many we encountered that day in that area. It was a modern orchard with the tree branches strung out along wires to facilitate picking the apples. The whole orchard was covered with a cloth net to keep out birds. At the top of one of the trees was a big red apple, which had been missed in harvesting.
We were hungry and discussed getting the apple since it would obviously been missed, but we thought it wouldn’t look good and I pointed out that the second precept, which is usually interpreted as “no stealing”, actually says not taking things which are not offered. It was not offered to us so we passed it by.
About a half hour later two local famers in a pick-up truck stopped and asked us in a friendly fashion where we came from and did we need a lift. I gave them the laminated sheet in Hangul (Korean language), which explained our pilgrimage. After reading it, one of the farmers handed us two big apples and waved us on our way. We walked to a nearby roadside pavilion and ate the firm, sweet red December apples that smelled of trees and apple leaves and talked about how fortunate we had been so far on the pilgrimage.
We smelled cow manure and came across a shed full of black and white cows, which stared uncomprehendingly at us as we passed. About 1 pm we stopped at a roadside café. As we waited for the waitress to serve us, Chris suggested we play a game. Each of us would open Chris’s Korean/English phrase book. We would then have to explain to the waitress whatever phrase was on the page we opened. I opened the book. The phrase I had to explain was “My companion is blind.” We decided to ditch that game.
About 3 pm we finally made it to Gibuk Myeong. We went into a convenience store to buy a soft drink and asked the two middle-aged ladies there if there was a minbak, hotel or motel in the town. They gestured for us to go back the way we came. We weren’t sure whether they were pointing to a place within Gibuk Myeong or to another town.
We walked into the police station and tried to tell the solitary middle-aged officer there that we needed a place to sleep. He spoke a few words of English and with Chris’s basic Korean, we got him to understand that we needed a place to stay. He said there were no minbaks (small family inns) in Gibuk Myeong but that he would drive us to the closest one, which he did. I couldn’t help but think what a different approach North American police would take.
We got out at a well-built house and hall and were welcomed by by a man called Son, which showed us into a huge hall with an adjoining bedroom and told us to make ourselves at home. Shortly afterwards, he invited us for a drink and offered us some peach wine, which I tried even though I don’t usually drink. I had made up my mind before I left on the pilgrimage that I would take – at least in part – whatever was offered to me, and give back whatever I could. The wine was delicious.
Later Son’s wife, son and son’s partner arrived. Son’s son spoke English and had spent a year in Victoria, my home city in Canada. We had a wonderful meal of abalone soup with Korean side dishes. Son’s wife offered to wash our clothes, an offer we grabbed on to with great thanks because our clothes had not been washed since we left.
Sangmin called in the evening with good news. He had managed to secure the next day’s lodging for us at a temple, Daejeon Sa.
After dinner we discussed the story of Wonhyo and one of his teachers, Master Tae-an, who took care of some raccoon cubs. In that story Wonhyo experienced guilt and remorse because two of Master Tae-an’s raccoon cubs died when in Wonhyo’s care. What, I asked Chris, is the role that guilt and remorse can play in spiritual growth.
He said guilt and remorse are two-edged swords. They are both positive and negative. Some people drown in guilt while others can use guilt to transcend their situation and get better. The best situation, he said, is not to put yourself in a position in which you would feel guilty. He said that on the pilgrimage so far, he had not been reflecting. “I’ve just been existing in the present, he said.