Dr. Rodney T. Hard

No ground was wasted for farming.  We had to camp above the terraced rice paddies high up the mountain side.

Korean Buddhist monks at a temple (monastery) walking in line.

Giant gong (bell) with striker hanging on a chain to the right, behind the post.  The monks would swing the log on the chain back and then let it swing back to strike the gong.

             MURDER ON THE MOUNTAIN

 By:  Dr. Rodney T. Hard

My father was an Orthodox Presbyterian missionary in South Korea for 35 years starting in 1954.  Although he had many responsibilities, he tried to take the time to do things with us kids.  One memorable summer when I was about 13 years old, Dad took my older brother Sterling and me on a camping trip.  We hiked half way up a steep mountain and found a small area of flat ground on which to set up camp.

As we began to clear the ground area and start pitching our tents, we heard a distant, but loud, gong sound.  We stopped what we were doing for a moment while the sound  hung in the air for some time, trailing off into a faint hum, and then silence.  We determined that it was coming from the top of the mountain.  We resumed working.  A few moments went by, and then another haunting gong sound jolted our senses.  We resumed setting up camp as it was starting to get dark and soon learned to ignore the gongs. 

We got a fire going and, as we neared the end of our campsite setup, we realized it was getting really dark and we had been working faster and faster.  Actually, the gong sounds had been getting progressively closer and closer together and just as we realized that we were working in a frenzy in time with the ever increasing tempo of the gongs, there was a blood curdling scream from on top of the mountain that made our hairs stand on end.   My heart stopped.  The gongs stopped.

We froze in place as we looked up the mountain and watched twenty or so lights in a row, winding down the mountain.  The lights got closer and closer as we realized that the lights were torches that must be being carried by people zig-zagging down the switch backs on the mountain path.  Our hearts were pounding, and we started to talk about what we were going to do when the group reached us.  We did not know their intentions, who they were, or why they were out at night after that terrifying scream.

Sterling took the machete and hid in some bushes on one side of the camp and I took the camp knife and hid behind a tree on the other side.  Dad stayed out in the open by the fire.  We were ready for a surprise welcoming party in case there was trouble.

When the group reached us we discovered it was a bunch of Buddhist monks from a temple near the top of the mountain.  They had seen our campfire and had come in force to investigate.  They informed my father that there had been a murder on that mountain at a campsite a few days ago.   Once they realized we were not dangerous, they cautioned us to be careful and be watchful.  They told us it would be better if we broke camp and headed back down the mountain.

As the monks left to return to their temple, we watched the line of torches wind slowly back up the mountain.  It was a surreal scene.  We quietly discussed our options but ultimately decided to stay the night.  We took turns staying up for guard duty and to keep the fire going.

I did not get much sleep that night because every sound I heard jolted me wide awake.  I was really happy to get home the next day and sleep in my own bed that night.  I slept like a baby.