Every once in a while you need to escape your own town and go explore somewhere new, even if you don’t travel very far. That’s how Sam and I ended up in Cheonan; a city that is a mere four stops away on the subway line, yet also lies in a different province. Our first stop: the Giant Statue of Buddha.
Once in the city we boarded a local bus and zipped out to the outskirts of town. Having been dropped off in an empty parking lot at high noon, we began the walk uphill with beads of sweat beginning to form on our faces. We walked past the restaurants, past the noraebang (karaoke room) with a mural of a scandalously clad foreigner, past the shops selling souvenirs, and finally reached the steps that lead up to Mount Taejosan. Once we reached the top, there was a clearing in the landscape, and before us stood the giant statue of Buddha in a shade of green which discreetly blended with the surrounding greenery. So much so that I somehow missed it at first glance!
The statue is by far one of the biggest I have seen to date, though being a newbie in Asia, I am certain that I am in for quite the surprise. This statue of Buddha seated on a lotus pedestal was 15 meters in height, 30 meters in circumference, and his ears were 175cm long, which is almost my height! You could say I was impressed. As far as temples are concerned, it ranks favourably with some of the best temples in India I visited several years ago.
What is special about this temple is that on May 9, 1977 it was designated as a place of prayer for the reunification of North and South Korea. Throughout the day couples and families trickled in to pray, while monks simultaneously conducting their prayers. We watched as people removed their shoes, ascended the steps to the temple, and prostrated themselves before the images and golden statues. Nearby, candles burned and the smell of incense hung in the air.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the temple grounds before returning to town and eating our fill of hodugwaja. Not a bad adventure considering we travelled less than 20 minutes to get there!