National Treasures Found at “Flying Horse” Tomb

Better known as the Flying Horse Tomb, the tombs in Cheonmachong are best known for the many artifacts, relics and Silla Dynasty treasures that were discovered when this tomb was excavated and then rebuilt.

According to local historians:

Cheonmachong (Heavenly Horse Tomb) was probably the tomb of a king of the Silla Dynasty. The tomb is representative of wooden chamber tombs with stone mounds of the Silla period. Its circumference was 157 meters and 12.7 meters high. It is believed to date back to the fifth or sixth century.

The tomb was build by placing a wooden coffin and a wooden chest for funerary objects on the flat floor and building a wooden chamber over them. Boulders were then placed on top of the chamber and an earthen mound was built over the pile.

Over 11,500 artifacts were retrieved when the tomb was excavated. They include a gold crown and a pair of birch bark saddle flaps which were painted with a flying horse, thus giving the tomb its present name, Cheonmachong, or Flying Horse Tomb.

The Legend of Alyongjong

Another legend involves the birth of the wife of the first king of the Silla dynasty. It goes like this:

Alyong, the wife of Silla Dynasty’s founder and king, was born in this place. When an old woman went to a well to draw water in B.C. 69, she was very surprised by a dragon playing around the well, where a young baby was born of the dragon.

When the old woman raised and taught the baby, she became more intelligent and beautiful. So much so that she became the wife of the Silla Dynasty’s founder, King Bakhyeokgeose.

Thus marks the legend of Alyongjong, located adjacent to the Silla Tombs and not far from where the queen is likely to have been buried.

Trekking to the Silla Tombs

After seeing the birthplace of the Silla Dynasty at Najeong, the Silla Tombs were the final resting places for at least five kings of the Silla Dynasty, including the first king, King Bakhyeokgeosewang, Queen Aryeong (his wife), King Namhae (the second Silla king), King Yuri (the third Silla king), and King Pasa (the fifth Silla King).

As with King Sejong’s tomb, these are not your ordinary burial plots. These tombs were carved well into the Earth, the bodies were buried with many worldly possessions so that these kings had their possessions as they traveled into their next life (reincarnation).

Then the tombs were buried with (not necessarily in this order): layers of rocks, then silt, then more rocks, then soil, then fine layers of sand, all to enormous proportions that would ultimately form these heaping tombs (mounds of dirt) that would serve as the final resting places and at the same time, monuments to their Silla King. Any time a king or royalty died, this process would be repeated.

One thing to keep in mind is that these tombs have never been excavated and no archaeological digs have ever been performed on them, except for the Flying Horse tomb (see upcoming post). So no one really knows the treasures that were buried with these Silla kings. But as gold was an extravagant royalty during the Silla Dynasty, one can assume that plenty of gold artifacts and national treasures are hidden and yet to be revealed, leaving us to only guess at what remains beneath these Silla Tombs.

Legend Pervades Najeong Historic Site

Najeong was not much to look at because of the archaeological dig that had recently been held here and irritated many descendants of the Silla family. Our professor said that family members were upset because the research caused them to tear up the site and “they never put things back to the way they found them,” before the “historic dig” began.

To make matters worse, relics and historic artifacts found here were hauled off to national museums (they didn’t find much, according to local historians) and so much of the site is just land, dirt and maps at this point.

But regardless of the controversy, this site is historic because it is said to be the location of the “birth” of the first king of the Silla Dynastic period in Korea, following the Goryeo Dynasty, and lasting nearly 1,000 years before the emergence of the Joseon Dynasty, which closes out the dynastic period of Korea’s history.

According to Korean historians of the Na Jung site:

According to Samguksagi and Samgukusa, Bak Hyeokgeose, the founder king of Silla (57 B.C. ~ A.D. 935) was born here. One day in 69 B.C., according to a legend, Sobeol, chieftain of the village called Goheo, saw a white horse on its knees by a well. When he went to the well for a closer look, the horse suddenly disappeared. But he found a large egg on the spot where the horse had been. A baby came out of the egg. When he reached the age of 13, six chieftains in the area elected him to be their first king. They called their country Seorabeol, the ancient name of Silla.

Now according to Dr. Peterson, our resident historian and guide for our tour of Korea, the account lacks some details. The horse was a horse with gigantic wings, and with them the horse could fly, which is what happened to the horse when the egg appeared. The horse, according to legend, flew away, leaving this giant egg. But not just any egg. The egg appeared to be a bright, lustrous, iridescent egg – one that definitely is different from any other egg any one would have seen up to that point in time. And as the baby comes out of this egg, the people of the village are mystified by this baby. So much so that the elect him king of their village, and thus begins the Silla Dynasty for 1,000 years.

Najeong appears to be the site of this event and the birthplace (or hatching, depending on accounts) of this illustrious king of the Silla period. Archaeological digs have proven that artifacts found on the site date back to this time period and have helped historians pinpoint the timing of events such that they coincide with the accounts of that period and relics found here.

Visiting Yang Dong Village

One of the highlights of our trip to Korea was visiting Yang Dong Village near Gyeonju, in the Gyeongsangbuk Province of South Korea. The village hails from the Joseon Dynasty, when the Son family and the Lee family came to this area nearly 500 years ago as a celebrated part of the Joseon dynasty. Many of the families descendants still live and work in the village, maintaining homes and buildings, in addition to farming, schooling their children and guiding visitors through today’s village.

The village was recently named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique culture and customs still inherent in the village and the people here today. Yang Dong Village boasts over 50 homes and more than 150 buildings on the site housing their leadership, famous village temples, schools and other structures for village living. Many of these buildings are more than 200 years old and are still maintained by villagers here.

While visiting Yang Dong Village, we were able to meet with the Cheng Son, one of two leaders of Confucianism and the Yang Dong Village by lineage. “Cheng,” means to govern, and “Son” is the heritage of governing which is passed down from the patriarch of each family to the next generation.

Their fathers, grandfathers and ancestors were also leaders of their villages in Yang Dong and ruled as the Cheng Son, one of the 18 original followers/leaders of Confucianism. If the family did not have a son, then the father’s brother’s first son would be next in line for this patriarchal honor. It really is fascinating to see how they had all of the “what if’s” worked out, even 500+ years ago.

Yang Dong Village is home to numerous national treasures of Korea. With this in mind, and the addition of the village to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, the village is currently building a museum to welcome visitors, house many of their national treasures and begin to tell the story of the village.

This will help visitors see the highlights as they walk the rice patties, trek the trails up to the temple, follow the schoolchildren to their schoolyard, and walk to the homes of villagers who will share their stories, cultures and customs, including the wearing of traditional Han Bok clothing and the writing of calligraphy.

The video below illustrates the village of Yang Dong today, its people and their life and livelihood in 21st century Yang Dong Village. It amazes me how their customs and cultures have remained while the world around them has changed so dramatically.

Rodman Makes Paper at Cheongju’s Early Printing Site

Today, we visited the city of Cheongju, in the province of Chungcheongbuk (just south of the Gyeonggi province where Seoul is located), for a lunch of Ginseng soup and broiled chicken (supposedly good for what ails you), along with kimchi, seaweed, buckchoi and other veggies. After lunch, we walked a bit around Cheonju and then headed to Jikji, the Cheonju Early Printing Museum.

The Cheonju Early Printing Museum is famous because it is here that artifacts were found that show evidence of the earliest printing with movable metal printing type by Koreans in 1377, even before Gutenberg’s famous Bible was printed.

You may ask, “How do we know this?” Because in 1985, while excavating to find evidence of the nearby Heungdeoksa Temple, archaeologists stumbled upon movable metal type in the artifacts of the temple and quickly surmised that the temple did, in fact, house the earliest metal movable type dating back to 1377.  So as they were re-creating the temple, they added a museum housing the artifacts relating to the movable metal type.

Best of all, we were treated to a lab exercise in making paper from pulp, drying the paper, printing the paper and assembling a book from the paper. See the related picture of me and my “assistant” helping me make my book (it was more like I was HER assistant in this project, as she was just amazing). But we had a great time and it was quite a learning experience about how pulp creates the paper and the movable type becomes a book … neat activity!

King Sejong: Creator of the Korean Alphabet

If it hadn’t been for King Sejong, the Korean people would probably be using some form of Chinese or Japanese characters to write their language today.

King Sejong, the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty in Korea, invented Hunminjeongeum (which means ‘proper sounds to instruct the people’), which is simply known as Hangeul.

Fortunately, the 28 letters were flexible enough for people to use in writing and they are even adaptable for the technological age. While the Chinese figure out how to place all of the characters of their alphabet on a computer keyboard, the Korean people have no problem placing a mere 28 letters on a keyboard. King Sejong knew what he was doing even long before the first computer even came along!

During our travels around the sights and sounds of Korea, we also visited Yeongneung, the tomb of Korea’s renowned and beloved King Sejong, which is pictured in the giant mound here. Many animals and characters, made of stone, continue to guard King Sejong’s tomb even today, as they did back in 1450 when he died.

These officials were once thought to protect and accompany the spirit of King Sejong on its journey. The tomb is not enormously huge, as are some other tombs of famous kings around Korea. But it is appropriately placed among trees and hills in a perfect spot among the mountains where one can see the rolling hills of the countryside and the importance of this setting, at the time of his burial, to respecting him forever.

Today, the “King Sejong Prize” is given by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, to individuals and/or groups throughout the world who make substantial contributions to successfully lowering the literacy rate.

Floods ravage South Korea

Many of you are probably wondering how we are faring with the floods in South Korea right now. The rain is STILL coming down, but luckily most of the damage has been south of the city of Seoul. Some parts of southern Seoul have been affected, like the subway tracks that are underground and many of the stations in southern Seoul. But luckily, we have not experienced that.

More news on the floods and what’s happening here:

Landslides Caused by Heavy Downpours in Korea Kills More Than 20

(Arirang News)

Heavy rains cause fatal landslides in South Korea

(BBC News)

Landslides and floods kill 38 after worst downpour in nearly a century

(The Korea Times)

41 dead, 12 missing as heavy rains batter the nation

(The Korea Herald)






An evening with the Son’s

So how do you learn more about students, their families and their home life? You follow them home. Well, we don’t typically do this as a matter of course. But at Daeil Foreign Language High School, host students invite American teachers to come home with them for dinner, to meet their families, and to spend the evening talking with them and their families about their lives in Korea, their commitment to education, and how it impacts their life outside of school.

DaSol Son and her family were just amazing hosts for me as they welcomed me into their home. I met her mother, who picked us up from the Daeil School after class was out around 6 pm and drove us to their home not far away from the Daeil campus.

Upon arrival at their home, a condominium located in a high rise complex near the school, Dasol told me the family moved here because of the close proximity to the Daeil School. Unfortunately, it meant that her father now has to commute from 60-90 minutes each way to his small business (where he manufactures and sells shutters and other external home furnishings on buildings in Korea today).

Dasol’s brother informed me that he didn’t even know the family had moved until he arrived home from college and his mother was driving the car in a direction away from their old house. When he asked her about it she said she forgot to tell him that the moved so his sister could be closer to the Daeil Foreign Language High School. Now that’s commitment to education! Wow!

Why do the parents make such a commitment? Her mother told me that she loves her daughter and wants the best for her. Her husband and she agreed that the move was critical to helping her get the best education possible. They want her to have all of the opportunities that they never had.

The father did not join us for dinner as he was working late in the factory, a regular occurrence, according to Dasol. The factory is a family affair when school is out, but the father adds hours when school is in session, resulting in longer days and the need for more workers to help out in the factory, which cuts into their tight profit margins.

So what does Dasol enjoy when she’s not studying? She loves anime. She has some favorite characters in Korean anime and has seen a number of Japanese anime, but continues to like the Korean anime better. The family also enjoys attending their Lutheran Christian Church, just east of Seoul.

Her brother plays the piano at church, when needed, and played a couple of beautiful songs on the piano before we ate dinner, as his mother and sister sang along in Korean to his piano playing. It was like attending my own private concert and it was incredible. This family is amazingly talented. Best of all, it’s something that the entire family can do together. Despite all of their many busy schedules, involvement in their church activities is a great way for them to connect with each other, in addition to their church community.

I mentioned that her brother attends the State University of New York at Buffalo in the U.S. So why did he decide to go to SUNY Buffalo and how has the family dealt with his long-distance education? He said they have been so supportive. Like his sister, his parents want him to succeed in education and graduate with many career opportunities available to him.

Half joking, he said they also want him to get a good job so they can retire and he can take care of them. Pressing further, I asked him how he would feel about that and he said he would love to be able to take care of them the way they have taken care of him. It’s only right to do right by them for all they have sacrificed for him. A very powerful message for all of us.


Learning about Dasol Son

I learned so much from my host student at Daeil Foreign Language High School. Her name is Dasol Son and she is a sophomore at the school. She applied for the privilege of becoming a host student to an American teacher and was paired with me as I was appointed to be teaching her class.

Classes tend to move in cohorts, with the same students in each class or most classes, and so they tend to have the same classes with the same teachers. So it was interesting to be able to talk with Dasol about her experiences with the Daeil school, as well as her fellow students, her study habits and her ultimate goals.

Dasol works hard. She spends most of her life right now in classes, studying (individually or in study groups) and preparing for classes. I asked her about her weekly schedule. She is in classes from 7 am until about 6 pm (with a few breaks here and there in the schedule). She has individual study time from 6-10 pm and either stays at school or spends that time at home in individual study.

From time to time, she may extend that study time until 11 pm or 12 midnight, depending on a test coming up, a paper that is due, or an upcoming deadline. Monday through Saturday, she maintains this schedule. Yes, you heard that right … Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, she attends church in the morning with her family, and then spends the rest of the day (afternoon and evening) working on homework and playing “catch-up” on classwork and coursework for the week ahead.

So the next time you are overwhelmed with homework and your schedule is making you feel like the walls are closing in on you, think about Dasol’s schedule. She’s probably still studying.   🙂

But why? Why is she doing all this work when she could be spending time going out with friends? Spending more time with her mom and dad? Or going to the movies with her brother, who is home from school at SUNY University in Buffalo, New York?

She wants to attend a prestigious college or university, either in Korea or in the United States. She knows that her future is in her hands. Her education is the key to her future success and she doesn’t want to lose. She wants to win … and win big! So she strives to be the best in all she does.

When I asked her if she was the top of her class, she laughed at me. She said she doesn’t study enough to be that alpha girl (see earlier post on alpha girls). But she said she definitely wants to be one of the top students in her class, so she continues to compete with the best and the brightest at Daeil Foreign Language High School.

What does she think about all this pressure? She said sometimes she gets overwhelmed by it all and has to have a “heart to heart” with her mother, her closest friend and confidante. But she said they talk about the reasons why an education is so important, how it will help her in the future, and what she can do to impact that future. She said once they have that conversation, and she is reminded by her mother that she can do this and how intelligent, bright and energetic that she is, it helps give her the fuel to keep working. Her mother is definitely her role model and her strength to keep succeeding.

So how do you really get to know someone and their family’s commitment to their educational success? You follow them home! That’s in my next blog entry …