We are at the end of our vacation story! It has been just as fun writing out our adventure as it was experiencing it. And I hope it was enjoyable to you as well.
Here are the previous posts in the series:
As we come back down the trail from the stone gate, we explore a small wooded trail and find some fascinating mushrooms and plant species.
We slowly make our way down the long staircase, back to the parking lot which is now surprisingly empty. Other than a few rowdy groups of adults on the restaurant patios, most everyone has left. Even the shop owners are off having coffee or sitting and talking in the tents.
Kidnapped on a tour of Danyang
Once again we meet the lady who had given us a sample of pickled garlic and we thank her for them. She invites us to sit with her friend, and we do as Jay and I take turns going to the restroom with the kids.
We chat in English about our plans for the day. Since the stone gate didn’t take nearly as long to see as we thought, we are contemplating what else we could see on our last day in Danyang.
After talking to our friend for a while, we start to get the vibe that she is kind of “quirky”. Not in a bad way, but she just makes some odd statements. For one, we think she lives in one of the tents set up and she has belongings and furniture strung along in various places among the tents. Yet she assures us that her husband and kids live in Seoul in a nice house.
She gives us a little tour around her shop/living area. About 5 tents are scattered along the gravel. At the back she points out a very interesting landmark – an old train tunnel that was dug by the Japanese during their occupation of Korea (1910-1945).
Then she offers to give us a ride back into town. We kindly turn her down, but she insists and leads us over to her van. Since the drive is less than 5 minutes, and there are no buses or taxis in sight, we appreciate the offer and climb in.
However, as we start out driving she changes her mind and offers to take us to visit something interesting. I’m not sure what to think at this point. We are in a total stranger’s van, completely at her mercy, but she seems genuine and kind. She has been nothing but helpful and open to us.
She asks us where we want to go. The only thing we can think of is that we wanted to see another temple before we leave. And as it turns out, she is a Buddhist and knows of a giant temple complex being built on the other side of town.
A modern Buddhist temple
As we drive up to this new temple complex, we are stunned by the size and the modernity of it.
Part of the reason that we, as Christians, want to learn about Buddhism and visit the temples is to give our kids the experience of learning first-hand about other religions. Not just reading vague descriptions, but seeing the different sects and talking to the people who believe and worship.
The temple is enormous inside. We let our friend know that we are not Buddhists, and are very careful with our actions. Nevertheless, our friend invites us to take off our shoes and walk on the prayer floor, in front of three giant Buddha statues and thousands of electric candles lit for prayer.
The kids get to see and hear how a Buddhist prays, what the symbols and stations in the temple stand for, how intricate the art and woodwork is, and how people give donations to light candles, hang lanterns, receive incense, and more.
We were amazed at the contrast between this temple and the one we visited in Chiaksan. This one was sleek and new, with lots of room for visitors to stay and learn from the monks. But it was also practically empty. We were the only visitors aside from the monks who popped in to say hello and give us a ceremonial bow.
After we all get back into the van, our friend stops for some gas and a chat with a friend. Jay and I have to laugh a little because it reminds us of growing up in Nebraska in a small town. We offer to help pay for gas, and she refuses.
She has to drive us back to her shop because the wind is picking up and she is worried about her tents blowing down. So we will have to find a taxi into town after all. We thank her profusely for the (lovely?) trip and she gives us her name and phone number – in case we ever want to visit the temple again.
The rest of the day is quiet. We manage to have the parking attendant call us a cab and drop us of downtown. Since we are leaving in the morning, we want to walk the garlic market one more time. This time, the market is teeming with people. Fishmongers and local farmers hock their wares, and there are even some local basket weavers.
After a long walk around town in search of a place to eat supper, we ask a cab to take us to the nearest noodle joint. He drops us off at a traditional restaurant and we have some grilled meat, vegetables, and noodle soup. Then we head back to the hotel for the last time.
We are not in any rush to get to the train station, but I am nervous because I didn’t book our tickets beforehand. We wake up around 7am and pack our stuff. It’s nice not having tons of baggage to keep track of – we can be organized and ready to go in about 15 minutes.
After double-checking for stuff left in the room, we head to the front desk to pay for our extension and call a cab. We all feel a little sadness about leaving this beautiful place.
When we arrive at the train station, I realize that the next train to Seoul leaves in about 9 minutes. I rush to the counter to get tickets, but have troubles when the man at the counter says there are not 5 seats available. So I tell him we will wait for the next train. Something gets lost in translation though, and he issues us tickets for the coming train. I pay and we head out to board. We have seat numbers, so I am relieved.
We settle in for a nice train ride.
Except, I start looking at our tickets more closely and see that we have separate tickets from Wonju to Seoul. I flag down a train attendant and ask him if we have to transfer. “No, you stay on this train,” he answers. So I ask why we have two separate tickets. He doesn’t know how to tell me. A young lady in the seat in front of me offers to help, and explains that our tickets from Wonju to Seoul are standing room only.
This is exactly what I was afraid of. Standing on a train for over an hour, with 3 kids and 4 backpacks. I’m mad. But, she assures me that unless someone has a ticket with our seat number at Wonju we will still have our seats. Somehow, that doesn’t reassure me.
Sure enough, when we get to Wonju a family – just about the size of ours – takes our seats. There is nowhere else to go but the dining car (or stand in the aisle). So we wrangle everyone up and head back there – only to find that there is nowhere to sit OR stand in there either.
We cram ourselves against the wall opposite the arcade games.
I try to hold it in, but the tears start to come. I cry – ashamedly in front of everyone. I cry because I’m mad at myself and not being able to communicate. I cry because it feels humiliating to stand and be hustled out of your seat. I cry because of the stares we got on the train car as we left. I cry at the business men sitting in the arcade game chairs, staring out the window so they don’t have to look at all the people with small children and the elderly who don’t have a seat. But mostly I cry because I feel stupid and foreign and a failure to my family.
Jay tries to reassure me and I appreciate his concern. But I’m only mad at myself, and a little embarrassed.
As the agonizing minutes count down, we start to relax and eventually a nice couple offers the kids a seat next to them at an arcade game. And the kids make a couple friends with two lively boys by the window. I’m not used to such cramped travel, but even I calm down and chat with a few people. I find out that today is a Korean holiday (of course – everyone is going to Seoul). And I answer a few questions in Korean about where we are from, what we are doing in Korea, etc.
By the time we pull into the train station in Seoul, we are all in good spirits again.
We head out into daylight, it’s about noon but no-one is hungry. So we grab a taxi for HOME. It feels good to be back in Seoul – something familiar. Our taxi ride takes way too long, and as we approach Itaewon the streets are blocked off. Of course – they are having a festival for the holiday. We laugh it off and have the driver drop us off as close as possible.
We hike the long walk up to our apartment. The end of our vacation is kind of boring compared to our experience on the road. We walk down and order pizza and take a long nap in the afternoon.
In retrospect, things didn’t go as planned. We had difficulties with schedules and not being able to see everything we wanted to. But we also got to see and experience some things that no one else probably ever will. And I think that is what travel and vacation are about. It’s not just having everything planned out and excepting a certain experience.
Our vacation was real, it was rough, and it was amazing. We took the good, bad, exciting, disappointing, weird, uncomfortable, fun, dizzying, and phenomenal and rolled with it. And we came out on the other side with tons of memories to joke and cry over in years to come.
I’m also thankful that I can share it with the world, through this blog. Because it was something you just want to tell someone about. It was too exciting not to share.