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Sunday, December 14, 2008

National Treasure: Bosingak

One of the extraordinary things about living in a huge city is something unexpected can happen around any corner. Literally.

After church this morning, we started walking toward lunch and found ourselves on the heels of a procession of men in traditional Korean costume. Suddenly we were part of the parade!

The procession continued to Bosingak (the "dragon bell"), the second official treasure of Seoul. And once there, we were invited to participate in the ancient bell-ringing ceremony.

We climbed up narrow steps to reach the bell tower, and were given gloves to protect the large mallet from body oils. The bell is famous for being rung 33 times on New Year's Eve, and thousands of tourists from around the world come to hear it chime. Today, however, it only rang 12 times.

It's an incredible sensation each time the mallet hits the bell. Reverberations shoot straight up your arms and leave you tingling. And the sound -- well, I think the below picture perfectly captured my reaction the first time we hit the bell and it rang out.

It was incredible to be part of this ceremony and be more than just an observer. I'm not sure how often they ring the bell these days -- it's become part of a push by the tourism board to ring it more often than just New Year's -- but I think it only happens once a week.

It still hasn't gotten old to turn a corner and see a pagoda or temple staring back at you. As much history as has been destroyed in Seoul (where, sadly, thousands of years of history have virtually been erased compared to other such ancient cities), there are still little reminders everywhere of what existed in the past.

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