Just kidding, it's been two weeks since my three day weekend and I've been incredibly remiss in updating this. I kept a notebook my entire trip in Gyeongju (since I had a lot of time to myself), and I would love to do some kind of pseudo-literary write-up on it. Maybe I will in the near future. But before they vanish entirely from my memory, let me get the bones of the trip out here, even if they lack the meat.
Gyeongju is beautiful. While the naked Korean winter has its own kind of beauty, I was glad to be down there in the summer for the greenness and foliage and so forth. If anything, expectations were exceeded in that department. Since I don't have any of my pictures ready for Internet publishing (in need of some GIMP adjusting and image resizing), I'm stealing some of Mark's. He'll deal with it.
The weather was intermittently rainy, with some spots of gorgeous sunshine. The temple itself was also lovely, though not as huge and extensive as Bongeunsa or Bulgoksa.
Truth be told, that was about all I got out of it. There were a lot of mitigating factors involved: my personal experiences with Buddhist retreats and thus my expectations thereof; the sheer number of foreigners (way more than they seemed to really be prepared for); unpleasant life situation leading to uncharacteristically dyspeptic mental state; my general disdain for fellow anglophone foreigners; whatever. In a nutshell, I found the experience extremely tourist-y and not particularly well-organized.
The former descriptor is a subjective one, absolutely: other people seemed to really enjoy themselves and I don't doubt they found the experience enlightening or life-changing or whatever. Organization is a fair one to take them to task for, though. The schedule often changed at random and without warning; meals that took ten or fifteen minutes to eat were allocated to ninety minute blocks which left you with a lot of random meandering to do (or, presumably, naps to take). If you didn't show up for an event, no one came to look for you. Upon arrival they warned that "missing morning chanting means you do 3000 bows for punishment, and it's 1080 bows for any other chanting that you miss," but I skipped out on the evening chanting my last day there and suffered no consequences whatsoever.
Mark and I left one day earlier than anticipated—traveling ON Chuseok proper—and it was probably the smartest decision I could have made. Nonetheless, it was nice to be out of Seoul for a few days, and seeing Mark was also a pleasant (and totally unexpected) surprise.
Overall, I wouldn't really recommend this particular temple's program, at least not their Chuseok one. Maybe during the off-season it's a different tone, but Chuseok is simply too scatter-brained and too disorganized to really give you any sense of culture that isn't prettied up for white people.