Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future. – Elie Wiesel
Gyeongju – Old School Korea
When thinking of Korea, an image emerges of a woman in her mid-30s, running inside a train station. All the while trying not to hit anyone as she barrels towards some unspoken destination. In a way, that sums up modern Korea and puts it firmly into a nutshell for me. Perhaps it’s time to leave now. Class is over. No questions.
But wait! There’s more to it than that moment of frenzy. Hundreds or thousands of years more, to be clear. And yes, places exist to stand as physical proof of this time. Granted some are recreations but which part of this country WASN’T spared from the years of invasions and occupation.
Rebuilding requires tearing things down. And at a time when Korea started a path towards “miracle” status, the controversial man barely mentioned in today’s society made sure that things wouldn’t change in Gyeongju. His efforts assured the country of at least one cultural representation of the distant past. Korea’s industries picked up major steam in neighboring cities and forged a present and future hardly imagined by previous generations but still, the people can look back in one place.
Gyeongju stands for more than just a look into the Silla Dynasty long pushed out of existence. It’s probably one of the most accessible places and home to some truly tourist-friendly sites Korea can offer. “Tourist” might evoke visions of pushy tour groups elbowing and asserting their way through as many spots as their package advertised but if one arrives early enough, that sense of calm sought after can be achieved.
Seoul, Busan, and a host of others offer glimpses into cities on the move but Gyeongju demonstrates a slower pace capable of working smoothly. Surrounded by cities of growth and industry, Gyeongju is a breath of fresh air and full of picturesque views more easily acquired than elsewhere. Cycling around the Silla tombs does well to put the beauty into perspective and made for the overall highlight of our time spent in Gyeongju.
I wasn’t the only one. Everyone else who visits, gets it. This place means something. Why? The scenes and as a result, the hordes of visitors speak for themselves.
What do you think of Gyeongju? Ever been? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section!
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