That one time I almost died in Gyeongju

Okay so maybe the title of this post is a little overdramatic but…still.

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Students at Bulguksa Temple

Back in 2013 when I was in Korea I went on a day trip to Gyeongju to visit…well…..Gyeongju. The city is located in Gyeongsangbuk-do on the southeastern part of the Korean peninsula. You may hear Gyeongju referred to as “the museum without walls” thanks to a rich cultural history spanning over 1000 years. In fact, the city and immediate region is home to several UNESCO-designated world heritage sites. On top of that, every school child in Korea visits Gyeongju with their school at least once.My tour would take me to Seokguram Grotto, Bulguksa Temple

My tour would take me to Seokguram Grotto, Bulguksa Temple (both of these locations are exquisite examples of religious and architectural masterpieces) , and the generically named “Gyeongju Historic Areas”. In the Gyeongju Historic Areas, I would be visiting the Tumuli Park Belt consisting of burial mounds, and Cheomseongdae.

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 9.29.21 PMCheomseongdae is the one of the oldest surviving astronomical observatories in the world, dating back to the 7th century. At one time it could even be found on the 10,000 원 banknote. Symbolism can be found everywhere in the observatory’s architecture take for example that the 362 stones used to build Cheomseongdae represented the 362 days in a lunar year.

So the night I arrived in Gyeongju I wasn’t feeling so well after dinner. I didn’t think much of it and went ahead and fell asleep that night without really any problems..well aside from the fact that the wi-fi was not working, but I digress. The next morning I went ahead and got ready for the tours I had scheduled for the day and went down to the breakfast buffet. From what I recall, this is when things really started going downhill.

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 8.57.52 PMI made my way through the buffet and all of a sudden felt my legs go weak. In my mind, all I was thinking was “okay, just get to the table and drink some water.” Everything was going in slow motion.I made it to the table and literally just wanted to “sleep”. I was miserable, I had no appetite, and then I started sweating. The type of sweating when you feel your skin get cold. Soon after that my vision started going out (everything was going black) and my hearing as well. The people I knew around me asked if I was okay, but I couldn’t even find the words to answer them correctly. The last thing I wanted to be known as was that American guy who passed out in a hotel breakfast hall. I wanted to SEE the burial sites, not be IN one. Strangely, although my body seemed to be failing (that lack of blood flow, though), my mind was thinking so many thoughts and trying to figure out what was going on and what I should do. In the end, I never totally passed out from the ordeal but the rest of the day I was terrified that something like that would happen again while I was on the tours.

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Luckily, all was well after that morning although it was freezing cold (in May). I saw spectacular sites, enjoyed delicious food with the locals and had some much needed 온돌 relaxation time. I still am not 100% sure of what went wrong with my body that morning. I’m leaning toward some sort of food related issue (the food the night before was a little sketchy) but that is just speculation. I’m not sure if I’m happy with the decision I made, going ahead with the tours. On one hand I’m glad I pushed myself, even though perhaps rather irresponsibly because Gyeongju is amazing….but on the other hand, did I fully realize how serious the situation could have been? I wonder how I would handle a similar situation and I like to thin I learned from that experience that I should listen to my body more when it is telling me things are heading south.

I’m not sure if I’m happy with the decision I made, going ahead with the tours. On one hand I’m glad I pushed myself, even though perhaps rather irresponsibly because Gyeongju is amazing….but on the other hand, did I fully realize how serious the situation could have been? Would I have reacted differently if I were back home? I wonder how I would handle a similar situation now with this experience in hindsight. If anything, I like to think I learned to listen to my body more when it is telling me things are heading south. All too often I think we may forget to do that most important task.

Ad astra per aspera,

-Jeffrey

 

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