Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Make NEW friends, but keep the OLD

Following a wonderful breakfast at the hotel, we set out for a 50 minute drive to the POSCO steel factory/mill and headquarters in Pohang, South Korea on the coast of the East Sea (aka Sea of Japan).  POSCO began in 1968 and today is the third leading producer of steel in the world; many consider Pohang to be the jewel of Korea's industrial crown.  We were able to walk through a company curated museum so as to gain a historical understanding of the company's history and then we went on a tour/bus drive through the primary production compound.  Due to fears of corporate espionage, we were not allowed to take photographs during the tour; in fact special bags were given to us for us to place our camera phones inside of so that we were not tempted to use them for photographing.  One point along the bus ride we did stop and walked inside one of the buildings.  In this phase the machines were cooling down long (100+ feet) sheets of steel.  As the steel moved along the conveyor belts we could feel the massive heat coming off of the sheets.  I had a moment of remembrance of my maternal grandfather who worked in a (much smaller scale) steel factory in Oklahoma City many years ago.

Following lunch in Pohang, we journeyed back to Geongju for a visit to the Geongju National Museum.  Most of the items in the collection are from the Silla era of the Three Kingdoms, the era of growth and flourishing of Buddhism in Korea prior to the era of the introduction of Confucianism.  One of buildings on the compound dealt with the architectural details of Buddhist temples.  Another building focused on various statues, large and small, of the Buddha which were unearthed during excavations of destroyed/eroded temples.

Our next stop was to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cheonmachong (aka the Flying Horse Tomb).  This tomb mound is in an area of Geongju in which many burial mounds were close together.  Typical Korean practice is to only excavate tombs if there is no knowledge of who is buried there.  There was no general agreement on who might be buried in this tomb so it was excited and one of the items found inside was a a saddle flap on which a flying horse had been painted.  This finding helps to give testimony that horses were significant to early Sills culture.  Of the various tomb mounds we've visited, this was the only one in which would could go inside.

Our final stop before dinner was to a site of two Buddhist temples.  Bunhwangsa is a small temple with an important pagoda in the history of Korean Buddhism.  Most of the more "recent" temple pagodas in Korea are made of stone.  This particular pagoda was envisioned by someone who had made an expedition to China and saw many pagodas made of brick.  Rather than actually making Bunhwangsa's pagoda out of brick, stones were cut to resemble brick.  This temple is immediately adjacent to the ruins of another temple: Hwangnyongsa.  The temple and pagoda previously standing on this site burned in 1238 (originally built in 600s).  This temple and pagoda were made primarily of wood, but the stone braces on which the structures rested as well as the stone reinforcements placed under the portion of the temple which held the heavy stone Buddha statue are still visible today after having been unearthed several decades ago.

It was a great day of remote road roaming that helped me to interact with POSCO, one of Korea's newer friends (historically speaking), and these special historic sites.

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