Yeoju's cultural experience
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea-- -- At least once a year the Korea America Friendship Society offers culture tours to all Osan U.S. service members and their families. This year, the cultural tour went through Yeoju Ceramic Center, Sillueksa Temple, the Royal Tomb of King Sejong, and the Gangcheonbo Water Irrigation Reservoir, and I had the great opportunity to tag along.
Along the way, I found out exploring Korea through some of its most impressive tombs and temples is a great way to experience the county's culture and heritage.
Not having gone on too many tours around the beautiful country of Korea, I was excited when I found out the tour was once again being offered, so I signed up as quickly as I could. I was one of 36 Osan people who were able to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. We met early that morning directly in front of the main gate. About an hour later, we were at the Yeoju ceramic center.
Walking into the exhibition center and viewing all the beautiful ceramic arts was a pleasant experience. It was a relatively short exhibition since they only had limited space to showcase a huge number of artists at a time. Yeoju is Korea's largest contemporary Ceramic trading Center which annually hosts the World Ceramic Exposition that features ceramics from a multitude of Korean artists.
After we were done viewing the exhibitions, we had a chance to try and make some of our own ceramic art. First, we painted on ceramic mugs with water colors then we were able to create our own ceramic piece of art when they gave us clay and explained how to use it in order to mold whatever we wanted.
Once we finished with our hands-on experience with ceramics, lunch was provided to us by the KAFS at one of the restaurants at the ceramic center.
After lunch, we visited Silleuksa temple. Usually, visiting a temple in Korea means getting a good leg work out since they are typically on top of a mountain. But this time I was pleasantly surprised to see it was just on a small hill right next to the ceramic center.
Silleuksa temple is the only Korean Buddhist temple that sits beside the bank of a river. The temple is a sacred pilgrimage site which holds several treasures, including a 500-year-old aromatic juniper tree and a 600-year-old ginkgo tree on the temple grounds. The temple was first founded in 580, and since then it has been burned and reconstructed several times.
Walking though the temple was a great experience. Just being around all of the old buildings, treasures, and old trees could make you feel the vast history behind it. The riverside view by the temple had only added to its awe and beauty. It is one of Korea's smallest and most unique temples.
Our next stop was to a royal tomb of one of Korea's greatest leaders, King Sejong. The entrance to King Sejong's burial mound has many replicas of inventions that were commissioned by the king are displayed before you reach the towering Hongslmun gate. When we walked through the gate, we were told to ensure that we walk on the side of the path instead of the raised middle, as it is reserved for the gods. The path to the grave itself was very steep and the Korean heat that day did not make the small hike any easier. King Sejong is one of only two Korean rulers posthumously honored with the appellation "the great".
Visiting King Sejong's tomb was definitely a highlight of the culture tour. Visiting a traditional royal tomb is always an exciting part of the day, but visiting the tomb of one of Korea's greatest kings made the day even better.
Our last stop on culture tour was the Gangcheonbo Water Irrigation Reservoir. We didn't have much time to spend here since we spent more time at the other sites, but we were able to walk around the reserve and enjoy the view from the second floor of the building.
By the time we were done spending all the time we could enjoying the view and weather, it was time to head back to Osan. We arrived back to base at 5:30 p.m. tired from a good day of seeing interesting Korean culture thanks to the Korea America Friendship Society.
The overall trip was a great learning experience. I learned a lot about the Korean culture and feel like the trip is definitely a great way to see some of Korea's most interesting and historic locations. Unfortunately, this free cultural tour is only offered annually, so the moment the tour is announced, it gets filled up quickly, so make sure to sign up fast the next time you see the opportunity pop up.