Sunday – Goseong and Jinju
Woke up early and headed out to Goseong which took about 2 hours by car. Goseong is where both my mom and dad grew up. My dad actually grew up in a small village outside Goseong, which is where we headed first. Met up with my aunt (dad’s brother’s wife), her son and another cousin (and his adorable dog) and went to the burial site for my grandfather and grandmother.
My grandparents were Buddhists, and by Buddhist burial rites they were buried up in the mountains. If you travel the Korean country side, you will see burial sites (or sanso) all over the mountains. I’m not sure how these Sansos are designated but once buried there, the site is pretty much considered sacred. We hiked about 10 minutes up this mountain to a small clearing where my grandparents are buried. My father built a monument to his father about 10 years ago which describes his life as the village doctor and leader. Then the men followed the ancient Buddhist ceremony for honoring the dead which included:
1) clearing weeds from the burial mounds to signal that we were there
2) kneeling in front of the burial mount and offering a glass of traditional rice wine
3) bowing head to earth once for my grandfather and once for my grandmother
Once we were finished, we shared some drink and food and shared this with the dead by pouring the wine on the ground and leaving food on the burial mounds.
This was all new to me and was quite moving. My name is also included on the monument and when I have a son, it is my responsibility to ensure my son’s name is also included on the monument, so that the family legacy can continue to live on. It is quite an honour and responsibility.
After we paid tribute to my grandparents, we continued to my great-grandparents Sanso. These mounds were very old and unmarked, I’m not sure what will happen to these down the road. But anyways, we repeated the same rituals and then left the mountain. We all went back to the house my father was raised in the village of Gohwang, which I had visited 20 years earlier and was now being run by my father’s sister for a traditional korean lunch.
After lunch, I walked around the village which is surrounding my rice fields and mountains and visited the village school and Buddhist temple. Until 50 years ago Buddhism/Confuscius was the predominant religion in Korea and is still very much present in the country side. It was really cool to walk around the village because it was pretty much hasn’t changed in 100 years and it was like walking around a living piece of history. There is also a monument to the famous Admiral Yi, who is a hero in Korea for repelling a Japanese invasion using iron clad turtle ships.
Around 2PM, it was time end my visit with my dad’s side of the family and to begin my visit with my mom’s side. My mom’s older brother came to pick me and drove me to Jinju where we picked up the rest of his family. Surprisingly his wife and daughters (my cousins) spoke pretty good english. We started off the visit by going to a Buddhist temple. The 24th of May is Buddha’s birthday and is a national holiday in Korea, so many of the Buddhist temples are preparing by stringing paper lanterns everywhere. The temple I visited, was different in that the Buddha statue was not in the sitting position but rather Buddha was lieing on his side relaxing. I have no idea what this signifies but it was cool nonetheless.
Then we drove to Namhae island which is the 3rd largest island in Korea and toured the seaside. The whole time my family had many questions to ask me and I was happy to oblige. My cousins are both interested in studying English in Canada and I was more than happy to answer their questions about Canada, including our crappy winters It was great to spend time with them, like my uncle’s family they were genuinely so happy to see me and wanted to know all about me.
We finished the tour by going back to Jinju where they checked me into the nicest hotel in town called the Dong Bang hotel. This hotel sits on the Nam River which runs through town and was really beautiful. The best part of the hotel is the top floor which has this Royal Cuisine Buffet. I could best describe the food offered here like eatting at a buffet prepared by the Iron Chefs! Amazing appetizers and foods which I had never seen before but tasted so good. Fresh sushis and caviar, truffles, and little dishes which were all super good. My other cousin and his family also joined us for dinner. We sat around and drank and ate til I couldn’t eat anymore. By far the best meal I’ve had in a long time.
After dinner, we went to Jinjuseong or Fort Jinju which was an ancient fortress built to fight the Japanese and Chinese invaders and was commanded by the famous Admiral Yi. At night it was truly stunning, as you could see the lit up river and bridges throughout the city. After touring the castle, I said goodbye to my uncle and his family and decided to head back to Goseong with my cousin for a surprise visit to my aunt. When I arrived at my aunt’s house she was so shocked to see me as I guess she didn’t know I was coming. I hadn’t seen my aunt in 20 years, so it was great to see her and her husband. We could only hang out for a bit where my aunt called my mom to bitch her out , then we headed back to Jinju where I crashed really hard.
It was really great to see my family. I have to be honest, I was dreading it before I came but in the end I was really happy I went. I wish I had more time so that I could spend more time with them. This short visit really made me appreciate how important family really is. One thing they kept pressing me on though was getting married! They all couldn’t believe I wasn’t married yet and they all hope I get married soon, so as my aunt put it.. “I can bring her to Canada for a visit!”. Anyways, great visit and I hope to keep in touch with my newly acquainted cousins.