(Continued from yesterday...)
The afternoon came and we decided that it was time to finally get somewhat clean. We took soap and shampoo and towels and headed down to the stream at the base of our hill. We looked up and down and saw no one around, and cautiously started trying to bathe as discreetly as possible. The guard who had seen us the first night had checked on us earlier that morning and told us that this was a safer place to camp since on the other side of the stream, behind more trees, were the high walls of the temple monastery where the monks lived and trained. They were high ranking martial arts monks who competed with other Buddhist monasteries around the country and were well known for their expertise.
Wow, real Shaolin Monks! I thought that kind of thing only existed in cheesy Chinese movies, but sure enough we were right next door to champion black-belts! He told us that if we needed anything we could call on them and they'd help us out. Well, we had no intention of needing Bruce Lees of any sort, and we really had no intention of bathing in front of monks either, but knowing that monks had made a vow of celibacy and forswore all worldly temptations, we probably wouldn't see much of them anyway - they were too busy praying, fasting and chopping cinderblocks in half with their bare hands.
At night we rustled up a campfire, cooked our dinner, roasted some marshmallows, and slept under the bright shining stars surrounded by a peaceful forest and the ground seemed much less lumpy and my little orange tent much less pitiful than the night before. We were all getting along well, and adjusting to life in the wilderness.
The next day after breakfast and prayer and cleaning up in the stream, we decided to go for a hike through the woods and up one of the closer hills. It was fun and we wondered what we would do in the afternoon to entertain ourselves. Lunchtime came and we were all feeling pretty good. My swollen arm was slowly turning from bright purple to greenish-yellow, and I was handling the pain much better. We had been pretty vigilant about making sure that someone was always at the campsite to watch our things if others went off to wash or hike. But this time we were in such good spirits, and didn't want to give anyone washing-up duty. We decided to all go down to the river for each to wash her own plates so we could get it done quickly. We hadn't seen anyone walk by since we pitched camp there, so ten minutes at the stream wouldn't be a problem.
I was the first to finish washing and head back. When I came up the hill, I saw a head of black hair bent down behind one tent.
"Sandy? Sandy is that you?" I asked, knowing that I had just seen her at the stream a moment ago.
Up popped a face from behind the tent. A Korean man was staring at me, and I froze. Then I began to shout. He tore off running into the woods and I didn't know whether I should chase after him or run for help. He obviously was up to no good the way he had run off.
"Hey guys!! There was a man at our campsite! Guys!!" I ran back to the stream shouting for everyone to come. They scrambled back and Coach Gustafson told everyone to search their things and see if anything was missing. Sure enough, about $50 worth of Korean money was stolen from one girl and a camera from another. Apparently there had been a thief watching us the whole time, just waiting for the moment he could move in and take what he could. It was a horrible feeling.
So now what? The monks! The kung-fu, sunmudo, taekwondo monks! Beth and I raced over to the monastery to tell them what happened, but just as we got there, we found them in their afternoon prayers. We waited around, and waited and wondered what the protocol was for interrupting Buddhist prayers. We didn't want to seem disrespectful, but we had an emergency! Eventually after a long wait one of the other girls were able to let them know what happened, and our neighbor monks were incredibly helpful. They told us not to worry, to interrupt them during prayers if we needed anything. (For future reference, in case any of my readers are in the position that they might need to interrupt a Buddhist at prayer, just go right ahead. It's okay. Really!)
As fast as a flash, a group of monks gathered and called all of us to split up and follow them to run through the forest and see if we could catch the thief. Without having a chance to think, I tore off after one who ran like a cross-country racer over rocks and boulders, leaping and climbing and leading me through winding pathways as if it was something he did every day. It didn't take long before I was gasping for breath, I just couldn't keep up. I was scared that if I lost sight of my monk, I would have no idea how to get back to camp. He saw me lagging behind and felt sorry for me. He gave up the chase and turned back to lead me back to the others, who were also panting from their excursions into the forest as well.
No luck finding the guy, they would have to send someone down to the local town to contact the police. They had no phone at the monastery - too worldly, I suppose. So off ran a young monk to report our robbery. They apologized and were truly sorry for what had happened, and blamed themselves for not having kept a closer eye on us. We didn't tell them that we didn't really want anyone's eye on us, but we appreciated their concern.
Well after the drama of the afternoon, the sun was preparing to set and we built another campfire to cook our dinner. As the shadows grew longer and the stars started to appear, no one wanted to go into the bushes to use the bathroom for the last time. What once had been a very private thing, was now something that we all wanted to do together, holding hands!!
"My gosh, this guy must have been watching us the whole time! Gross!"
Well, no one can hold the call of nature forever, so we all fearfully did what had to be done and ran back to the campfire as quickly as possible. As or fire slowly went out, we all bundled together in a tight circle on the grass. What looked like peaceful trees last night were now menacing arms of shadowy monsters ready to snatch us. Our imaginations started to go wild. Where was this guy, is he coming back? Will he attack us in the middle of the night? What did he see when he was here? Does he have other thieves that are conspiring to do worse? We prayed, but none of us had peace that our prayer would do any good. Our emotions were far too wild to use faith at that time.
As the fire went out, we huddled closer. The night was so dark, and the shadows around us were swaying and menacing. No one wanted to go into their tents. We smashed together. We were one solid blob of trembling teenage fear, and our fearless coach was just as scared as we were!
And then, all of a sudden we heard a sound. It was coming from the bushes on the right. We heard it again, and again. And then footsteps. And the noise grew louder. It was a violent sound, like something slashing through the underbrush. At first we thought we were imagining things, but the closer it got, there was no doubt about it - there was something or someone coming straight for us.
With one terrified voice, we screamed!
We saw the bushes knocked from one side to the other as he stepped out into the clearing, carrying his long bamboo pole. It was one of the monks. Instead of the normal robes, he had on a white tank-top and the traditional grey pants they wore under their robes tied tight with a cloth belt. He saw how scared we were, and bowed and apologized for frightening us. He introduced himself politely and asked us if we wouldn't mind if he showed us some of his martial arts skills with the bamboo pole since he was about to compete at another monastery in the morning.
A friendly monk with a weapon? Ready to entertain us with martial arts on our own hillside? Of course!! We all shouted yes, huddled together, and enjoyed his performance. He took his position at the bottom of the hill and we marveled as his bamboo pole twirled and swung around him and up in the air with ease and skill. We asked him why he wasn't in his monastery, and discovered that he had snuck out past his curfew, dying of curiosity to see the American girls and show off his prowess. He was the youngest of the monks there. Well, we didn't want him getting into trouble on our account, but we sure were thankful that he had shown up!
"Would you like to see me with num chucks?" He asked eagerly. He'd brought those with him too, and we cheered him on as he whirled those around with amazing speed. Korean martial arts do not traditionally use num chucks, but somehow he had gotten some. I guess he used to watch plenty of cheesy Chinese movies too - before he became a monk! That was the first time I had ever seen them used and we were all deeply impressed. We clapped and thanked him and thanked God for sending him to us to alleviate our uncontrollable fears.
He finally ended the show and had to sneak back into his monastery without being caught, so we reluctantly said good night, and felt a whole lot better about going into our tents to sleep. We had prayed for God to protect us, and out of the wilderness, He brought forth unto us... a monk with num chucks! We'd been so emotional, I don't think we had a lot of faith at the time. I'm guessing that the protection of God had more to do with our moms and dads praying for us back home than anything else, but God took great care of us nonetheless.
So still with a bit of trepidation and worry, we slid into our sleeping bags and fell into deep sleep. It had been a very eventful day. And more eventful days were still to come...