After I left the UN Park, I continued searching for the seven story pagoda. I followed the signs with pagoda pictures on them up the street. I turned to climb to the top of a hill. This time I was in a real park–trees, grass, people, even a walkway through the forest. I parked my bike and decided to follow the path through the forest thinking the pagoda must be somewhere in the park.
Just two steps in I came across a statue of a metal ball with a sheet over it. I was intrigued by the statue and snapped a few pictures. Soon there was a statue of a woman, then another statue of another woman, then another…and then I came upon a war memorial commemorating the Koreans who defended against the Japanese in 15-something (Lunar year).
“This is surreal,” I thought. I continued walking, around every corner I was greeted by a new statue. An artwork of ducks on sticks, another statue of circles and squares, another war memorial, more naked women, stone flowers, some abstract metal works. The statues just went on and on.
Until they stopped and the path became old and worn. The stones seemed older than what I had been walking on, less uniform, moldier and not very sturdy. I veered from the path to take a look at the view. I was near Chungju Lake, but the trees were so thick I couldn’t see much of the lake. In the distance on the far shore I could see the center of Chungju and people water skiing on the biggest lake I’ve ever seen. It was astounding!
I got back on the path, thinking even though there may not be a pagoda at the end, hopefully there would be a more open view. I walked up another hill and at the top I was greeted by a PAGODA! My search had ende…..oh, wait, nope.
I had found a pagoda, just not the one I was looking for. I was looking at a pagoda built very much in the style of Buddhist temples. It was covered in hangul and presumably told the story of the Koreans who killed themselves rather than die at the hands of the Japanese. (Remember the earlier war memorial? It’s a big deal in these parts.)
The pagoda was beautiful so I walked up the stairs and looked around. I could see Chungju Lake through the tree branches again. I also saw the path went down closer to the water. From there I had one of the most beautiful views in Korea. I sat on a rock just soaking in the beauty of this place.
When I was ready to go, I decided to continue on the path just to see what interesting things the park would greet me with next. Up a small hill and down a steep hill later, I happened on a small shrine. Inside there was a turtle/dragon statue and next to it was a plaque with my favorite Engrish yet. Once I’d deciphered the circa 1970s Engrish, I recognized this shrine as a memorial for the captain who led the Koreans to honorable suicide. (See, I told you this is a big deal.)
Next the path from the shrine led me to a Buddhist temple, only it was different. I’ve seen three or four Buddhist temples since I’ve been here and they are all old, intricate and beautiful. But this one was new. There were cans of paint on the ground in front of the temple, bits of wood on the steps and it was clear some of the work remained unfinished. A small altar had been set up outside where passing visitors had left tokens for Buddha. But somehow the newness of the temple took away from the peaceful, quiet that most have.
I quickly continued up stone steps built into the hill. There was a four story building in the middle of the forest and I couldn’t figure out what it was. It didn’t seem to be a house and after this much wandering I wasn’t sure I was still in the park. But I was curious enough to walk up the steps. As I turned the corner at the top of the hill, I saw a man and a woman shooting arrows. The building was the archery club and the biggest non-soccer field was cleared allowing the archers to shoot across it and providing a spectacular view.
After resting for a few minutes and chatting with a Korean tourist from Incheon. I continued up the steps in the mountain. At the top, I came to a small market with tables set outside, next to an open lawn and nearby was the statued walkway through the forest.
Before heading home I took a look at my map and discovered I had been at Taegmundae Park.
I’ll leave the seven-story pagoda for another time.