The Story of…Seokguram Hermitage – 석굴암 (Gyeongju)


The hall that houses the grotto at Seokguram Hermitage in Gyeongju.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I’ve been to Seokguram Hermitage more times than I can count. I’ve been with friends, my students, my wife, and my mom. The first time I visited was way back in 2003, and all I can remember about that first visit is how spellbound I was by the statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) inside the grotto. Then in 2004, when my mom visited me for the first time, I remember seeing the wonder in her eyes as she saw this breathtaking statue for the first time, as well. And I was even lucky enough to see the wonderment in my students eyes as some of them saw what lay inside the grotto for the first time back in 2012.

More recently, I’ve been back to sneakingly take pictures inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall just below the grotto, as it was a shift change for the women that watch over the hall. But the funniest/strangest story of late comes from within the grotto itself.

Customarily, I’m very respectful when it comes to temples where there’s a sign that reads “No photos,” or any other variation that Konglish might cook up. So each and every time I visit Seokguram Hermitage, I just look with my eyes, and I leave my camera off…that is, until recently.


The statue of Seokgamoni-bul inside the grotto before I was told to stop taking pictures alongside the Chinese and Korean photo-happy tourists.

I was standing just staring at the statue of Seokgamoni-bul when a bus full of Chinese tourist entered the grotto. Immediately, they started snapping an endless amount of pictures as the woman inside the grotto that ensures that no pictures are taken said nothing. It wasn’t until I started taking pictures that she said, with a wave of the finger, “No, you can’t take pictures in here.” I looked around at the Chinese tourist as they kept taking pictures, as I was told that I couldn’t. This hypocrisy didn’t make me all that happy. So when the Chinese tourist left, and a new bus load of Korean tourists entered with their cameras clicking away, I looked at the woman with a look that said, “So it’s also okay for them to take pictures?” And all the woman did was shrug her shoulders with a smile on her face. Sometimes, I just don’t get it…

For more on Seokguram Hermitage, please follow the link.


The view from the grotto as I leave more confused than anything else.