Saturday, March 14, 2015

Korean pit stop

A pit stop is where you refresh your energy to keep going. That's what Korea is for us. Thank you for your prayers for safe travels!

A beautiful sunrise as we land in Korea
When W and I land in Incheon, Korea, we see a sign for free tours. Really? You can leave the airport, explore town, and get back on the plane without hassle? Ok, let's try it. Pictures tell the tale.

First, we are whisked through some back halls and signed into the country. "I hate long lines," says the gal leading us. We signs our temporary entry papers and she points us toward the tour desk (free tours hosted by the airport). 

We sign up for a 1-hour trip to a temple. The C12 Buddhist temple is a 15-minute bus ride from the airport. "35% of Koreans are Protestant. 17% are Catholic. But this is a Buddhist site and the materials used are natural: bronze, wood, clay, steel, and stone," the guide explains.

Ongoing construction in front of a manmade carving
Along the path, a glass case encloses altar candles, lit in front of a tall white statue of a Buddha. "To express the compassion of the universe, Koreans offer incense, rice flour, candles, and flowers," says our guide. I'm struck by the prophet Isaiah's incredulity that anyone would pray to something their own hands have made. Who would think of prayer to a stone or piece of wood or clay that does not move, listen, or respond? (Read the scripture passage below.) 

"We use 5 colors of paints," continues the guide. "White, black, red, blue, and yellow. Our greens are a combination of our other colors. This big bell (pointing to an iron bell on a stand) is rung 33 times in the morning and 28 times at night. We say that souls go to hell or heaven after death. This soul travel takes 39 days. When the monk rings the bells, we hope the dead person will hear the sound and gain salvation to slip into heaven."

Beautiful folk paintings on the Buddhist temple
Everywhere we go, people explain their hopes for salvation. No one wants to end up in hell. The Christian confidence that Christ has purchased our salvation resonates with me. Today, it sounds so much more logical than praying to a carved statue in hopes of ending up in a good afterlife ... after 39 days of soul travels. What do you think?

A cat snoozes on a mat in front of the bronze altar
We have an hour between tours. We eat bibimbap and sweet rice noodle dish for breakfast. It has a rich warm flavor. Now we stink of kimchee (garlic).

Soon we're back at the tour desk, lining up to board another bus. Joy is an amazing tour guide and makes the 3 1/2 hours lots of fun. "The port of Inchon has longest bridge of Korea: it takes us 22 km from the airport to the Incheon mainland. The toll for the bridge is $12 each way. Gas costs $1.50 late or $6 gallon. Samsung and LG are the main electronics made in Korea."

Miles of mud flats under a bright sky
"By the way," Joy points to the sea beside us, "the sea has just come in. The tide here is 9 meters (30 feet) high. First thing in the morning you can see the mud flats [as W and I did at 8am]. We'll have an annual Mud Festival in July."

A blond royal in Korea? I doubt it.
Joy spills out fun facts on the way to a cultural center. We learn about Korean royalty and get pictures taken in traditional court dress. We all walk around a nearby park. The plants are resting in greys and browns, and the leafless tree-trunks are quietly contemplating the end of winter. W and I climb about a hundred steps up to a viewing platform before high-tailing it back to the bus.

W poses at a table set with traditional Korean food
that would have been served to royalty
 Our final stop is a food market. 

Clean and sweet-smelling: a Korean food market
Joy points out the market specialty: fried Chicken. She advises us to push past the long lines outside (waiting for takeaway) and to eat inside. "We can't eat on the bus or it would smell bad for the next passengers." True, there's a lot of garlic in the cooking! As people climb up the steps to the second floor and more seating, we invite them to join our table. The latecomers pull another table over. 

Our nationalities are Japanese, Pilipino, Canadian, and Singaporean. It's an international feast. The chicken is amazing, too. We laugh, talk, and eat together.

While we're heading back at the airport, W and I are talking about what we'd do on a long layover the new time through Incheon. Our daughter loves Korea. With its vibrant colors, friendly people, and good food, we know why.

Read more:
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?

Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lordor instruct the Lord as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?

Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. ... Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.

With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

“To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. 

Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lordmy cause is disregarded by my God”?

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (From Isaiah 40)

Prayer: Lord, we worship you as the One True God. Help us to remember that you understand us, even when we do not understand you. We rest today in your lovingkindness. Amen.

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