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Stacking Wishes @ Bulguksa (Gyeongju)

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“Let’s get this one.” I said, admiring my choice and growing more excited by the moment. The midday sunlight gleamed off the metallic handlebars and reflected the polished sheen on the headlight. The firm spongy seat was warm to the touch. We donned our helmets and looked appreciatively at what was going to be our mode of transportation for the day: 125cc’s of pure sexy badass-ery.

“It’s like a Harley in scooter form!” I cried out with giddiness.
“Not quite…” Chevelle chimed in. She knows a thing or two about bikes.

Determined to hold onto my newfound sensation of cool, I mounted our bike and turned the ignition. Holding a firm mental image of Arnold Schwarzenegger riding the Harley in Terminator 2, I cranked the gas and took off. It was a beautiful Saturday and we were heading to Bulguksa, the premier temple of Gyeongju, the city commonly referred to as “a museum without walls.”

Located in the southwestern part of the city, Bulguksa was an enticing riding distance for this warm autumn day. After a few minutes of navigating through the city traffic, we turned a corner and found the open road. Under the cover of a radiant sun we sped by vast fields and farmland. The road shot straight for several miles. As we picked up speed, the wind began to blare with an unforgiving incessancy, drying out my eyes and turning communication into guesswork. When we finally pulled into the lot some time later, part of me was thankful to be on two legs again.

A short walk up a narrow path led to a park lush with green, with a small pond covered in lilies as the centerpiece. Crossing a stone bridge, we came into sight of the main gate leading into the interior of the compound. The Chinese characters 天王门, translated as “The Gate of Heavenly Kings” spanned the archway. A quick step in revealed that this gate held a bit of depth. Four tall ornate statues stood in pairs within, facing each other and emotionlessly eyeing those who passed through the middle. Standing in that pocket of lifeless scrutiny, I felt a bit like the hero Atreyu walking between the laser shooting statues in The Neverending Story.

Once inside the grounds, things took a on a more festive feel. The immense courtyard seemingly buzzed with tour groups, families, and couples. Everyone seemed to have the excitement of a kid on a field trip, scrambling to get a good view here or a prime photo op there. Wishing to avoid the crowd, we quickly ushered ourselves around the perimeter and towards the back of the compound.

As the noise and crowd receded, we came across a quiet area with a peculiar sight. Piles of small rocks stacked in little towers lined the earth. Several people were in the process of constructing their own. These are wish towers, I thought. You make a wish and build a rock tower to symbolize it. There were clusters of these towers everywhere; it was like looking at a little geo-colony. I stood there for a moment and took in the wonder. How such a simple idea, plainly expressed without any inclination for grandeur, could generate such pure art and beauty was astonishing. Of all the splendor in this jewel of Gyeongju, it was the wishes of ordinary folks expressed in rocks, that stood out the most.



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