This past weekend I was in Gyeongju on the mainland for my program’s fall conference. We spent the first few days in a hotel, eating a lot of imported American food and sitting through workshops on teaching, cultural adjustment, and some new English technology program we’re supposed to tell our schools to buy (I’m not planning on it). The last day, though, was reserved for sightseeing. We left the hotel, crammed on two buses, and took in seven or so different tourist sights over the course of five hours. A bad memory and a jam-packed day means that I can’t honestly recall the names of most of the places we went.
One place that stands out, though, is Bulguksa— a famous Buddhist temple whose large compound is a mixture of stone pagodas, brightly colored wooden halls, and traditional gardens. We had an hour to explore. Towards the back of the compound I found a long building whose sign read “The Hall of No Words.” Despite however long one might study, the sign informed me, no one will ever be able to describe the true majesty or wisdom of Buddha’s teachings with words. I found myself nodding while I read the sign—having spent three months surrounded by people whose language I understand about 5% of, I was all for a Wordless Hall. I slipped off my shoes and stepped in.
Later that evening, in sharp contrast to my temple moment, I shot a gun. It was not something I planned on doing in
Somehow, though, my curiosity edged out over my ideals. 35 minutes later I put on the headphones, the man adjusted my legs, and I fired. I shot a hole through the very corner of the paper in front of me, quite far from the target. The bullet shell clanked to the floor. I shot three more times. The last shot I aimed properly through the viewfinder and hit the target, miraculously, in the center. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I made the owner high-five me.
In the gun range lobby, the man took me and herded me (it’s common in general here for people to just move you around when they want you to go somewhere) to the corner and started taking things off the wall. “You! Cowboy!” he exclaimed, as he pulled off a cowboy hat off the wall and stuffed it on my head. He draped a cartridge belt over my shoulders and stuffed two plastic guns in my hands in what I now understood to be the picture corner. My language class friends joined me and the elderly lady I think was the range bookkeeper was coaxed into the group as well. “One, two, three!” we counted in Korean and the gun range owner snapped a bazaar picture on a very bazaar day.
ps-- shout-out to Paul, Amber, and my mom for sending mail!