Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Gwe Bang San and Bang Eo San: One of Jinju's Interesting Secrets

Okay so this is going to be a half assed post.  I meant to write it a long time ago but I've been busy.  A few years ago I was riding in my wife's car looking out the window.  We were on the East side of Jinju when I noticed a mountain.  The mountain was far away and it looked tall and wide.  I wanted to know the name of the mountain and if it could be climbed.  Eventually I learned that the mountain's name was Bangeosan 방어산.  Last summer I tried to climb the mountain for the first time.

Getting there from Jinju was painful.  Jinju is a city in Korea that has one of the largest land masses.  People say that the actual area of Jinju is bigger than Seoul.  I don't know how they make those measurements but Jinju is part city and part amber waves of rice.  The Eastern section of the city is serviced by an independent bus system that departs from a terminal in a part of town called banseong.  It takes about 20 minutes to get to banseong by bus and then you have to get on a separate bus to go to some of the other places in East Jinju like 2 banseong, Jisu, or Sabong.  Bangeo mountain happens to span Sabong Myeon and Jisu Myeon. It also serves as the boarder between Jinju and Haman.

I took bus 004 from Banseong terminal to some small village called Cheongwon Ri.  I don't exactly know why I got off the bus at that place, the place looked interesting.  There is a small temple at the far end of the village.  I used the logic that there are usually hiking trails near temples so I walked behind the temple and indeed found a hiking trail.  This particular trail wasn't well kept and I kind of lost my way after a while.  Remember this was June of 2012 so their was a lot of plants and other obstructions.  My hike ended when I found a cave.  It was a bizarre experience.  The cave had some sand bags in it and it looked as if someone had eaten some potato chips on the outside of it.  What was cool about it was that there was cold air coming out of it.   I tried to press on and find a trail but I couldn't, so I just gave up and went home.  I was also somewhat worried about catching a bus so I just left.

At the bottom of the mountain I ran into the people who owned the temple.  They were quite surprised to see me there and they offered me some barley tea and a chance to have a chat with them.  They asked me about my wife and kid and all of the normal Korean interview questions.  I made it back to proper Jinju without much of a hitch.

I waited about six months and that mountain still bothered me.  On the Haman side of the mountain there is a temple that has a large rock with some ancient Buddha carvings.  I wanted to check those out and also to actually make it to the top.  I did some more research on the mountain and learned that Bangeosan was the site of a Korean war battle.  After I learned that I had to go back.

This time around I took the same route and found the cave again.  This time I was aware of some new information.  Bangeosan is actually two mountians: Bangeosan and Gwebangsan.  I don't know why they are two mountains, the two seem be the same thing, but what the hell?  Anyway I had an adventure on Gwebangsan.  This time after I found the cave I lost the trail again, but I climbed in winter and the hill actually isn't that steep and there was no underbrush so I just walked to the top without a trail.  At the top I found the trail at the top of the mountain and followed the trail until I realized that the mountain was actually quite massive so I went down again out of fear that I would miss the bus. 

                                            Bangoesan from Wol ah San

On my way down I had a bit of a religious experience.  While hiking I noticed that there were a few roads carved in the side of the mountain.  Again I departed from the hiking trail and just kind of scooted down the hill until I hit one of the concrete or gravel roads.  While walking on the road I heard a small noise.  It sounded like something walking.  I had a flash of fear for a moment because I had heard of wild boars on Korean mountains attacking people.  I froze and searched the landscape for the sound.  It turned out to be a small deer.  I was quite surprised.  I had never seen any kind of wildlife like that in Korea before.  I counted myself lucky. 
After I saw the deer I remembered something that a student had told me in an adult conversation class.  That particular student was from Jisu.  It turns out that the founder of L.G. was born in Jisu too.  The student told me that people from Jisu think that that mountain has some kind of beneficial spiritual energy.  After seeing the deer I believed it.  I followed the road to the end and ran into the bus stop.  It only took the bus about five minutes to get there.  I expected a one or two hour wait. 

Another interesting fact that I learned about the mountain is that some legendary general named Mook Shin Woo 묵신우apparently built a fortress on top of the mountain, in the 1300's.  Legend has it that the man had wings and that helped him to build the fortress.  I have yet to make it over to the Bangeo san side of the mountain, but the Korean mountain tour website says that you can see traces of the fortress.  Also the Korean 방어 and Chinese 防禦 mean defense, so if there ever was a fortress maybe it was to protect Jinju or Haman at some point.

I intend to make another trip sometime.  This mountain just bothers me that way.  Also from the top of this particular mountain you can see Seobuk san.  Seobuk san in English is called "Battle Mountain."  The Americans and North Koreans had it out at that place for a month in a bloody struggle that ended in the deaths of about 8000 people.  I'll save that post for the future when I climb that mountain.  Until then I want to explore this whole thing.  Another nice thing about this mountain was the fact that nobody climbs it.  So when I climbed it I only saw one guy walking a dog.  Usually when you climb a mountain you can see at least ten people, hundreds if you climb a popular mountain like Jiri.  Anyhow Bangeo san and Gwe Bang San are some of Jinju's best kept secrets.