The Transformation from Slum to Fun in Busan (Day 246)
What a day, so much to see, a temple, observatory, lighthouse, meeting great people and learning about the transformation from Slum to Fun in Busan (ok it near rhymes!)
Late the night before we wondered what to do in Busan and miraculously found a day tour, managing to book the last two places. What luck! Less than 12 hours later we were sitting in a full coach heading off for our first destination, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, first built in 1376. We have seen quite a few Temples here, the novelty is wearing off a bit, however, the location was lovely, right by the beach and on the mountainside. This is quite unique, most are up into the mountains. We first walked down a pathway lined with stone representations of the 12 Chinese Zodiac animals. A quick photo opportunity next to our respective animal. Apparently, Rats are quick-witted, resourceful, versatile, kind, smart, and lovely and Dragons have innate courage, tenacity and intelligence, not afraid of a challenge, and willing to take risks. I am glad to find out that these animals are compatible and Tim is very pleased to hear that his lucky numbers add up to 14 – his favourite number! There were two guides on our tour, Max (Dabin Kim) for the English speakers (we were the only westerners) and Julie (Seo Yeon) for Chinese speakers, and I must say that both of them really looked after us so well. At the Temple, Seo Yeon enthusiastically showed us some of the traditional things to do: pouring water over a statue of a boy, drinking the fresh spring water in an underground room, bowing to a large stone statue of Haesu Gwaneum Daebul (Seawater Great Goddess Buddha of Mercy) and posing in the typical Korean style for photos. The Temple area had an 8 storey Pagoda, two golden Buddhas (where we noticed people were having their photo taken with their back to Buddha – an absolute no-no in India and Sri Lanka) and behind the beautifully painted Temple were stone stacks in a shape of stupas, built for various reasons depending on the sect. Some built for an exercise of the mind in coordination, balance and concentration, or built as a gesture for luck or prayer.
Back in the coach, next stop was Taejongdae, named after King Taejong Muteol (604 – 661) who unified the three kingdoms of Korea (Mmm… another Taejong is needed here). This area is a natural park right on magnificent cliffs and rocky shoreline. Via a small train, we climbed the slope to the Observatory and then onto the Lighthouse which is 35m high and with much-needed air conditioning at the top! Its beam can be seen for about 40 km, definitely required as even on this hot sunny day the visibility was quite misty. Apparently, a dinosaur footprint has been discovered nearby, dating back to the Cretaceous Period. Bother, we missed it. During our train journey, we chatted with a mother and daughter from The Netherlands. The daughter is studying Cultural Heritage in Seoul. What a fascinating subject that must be. They shared that in 1653 Hendrick Hamel and 35 crew were shipwrecked on Jeju Island. As was the customary treatment for foreigners at the time, they were not allowed to leave and lived in Korea for 13 years, before managing to escape to Japan. Hamel was the first westerner to write first-hand about Korea. What the four of us have realised is that there really is not much written about Korea, unlike other countries. Perhaps that will change now that Lonely Planets have named Busan as “Best Place to Visit in Asia for 2018”. It was lunchtime and Seo Yeon took us under her wing. We went to a recommended restaurant and discovered Dabin Kim was there. The four of us sat together and ate a delicious meal of octopus stew, grilled fish, tofu and bean soup and lots of side dishes. We do so enjoy the food here, a fresh, healthy balanced meal. Next was a thirty-minute ride to Songdo, Koreans first official beach area (whatever that means!). This area is very popular and the premise “less is more” has certainly not been adhered to! Within the bay is a long Skywalk, a huge model of the tail and head of a whale sticking out of the water, a giant turtle diving platform, a statue of a tale of love between a fisherman and a mermaid, a cable car going overhead, speedboat rides with squeals of excitement come from the passengers and the usual beach bars and cafes. Phew! We walked over the 365m curved Skywalk above the ocean, again with the glass and the grated flooring, not for the faint-hearted.
Our final destination was The Gamcheon Culture Village and possibly my favourite. The reason being is the recent history of the place. Just 10 year ago this was a slum area with small wooden huts and corrugated roofs originally formed by war refugees seeking protection. The labyrinth of alleyways with tiny houses lining up in an orderly fashion along the mountainside is quite unique. In 2009 two village art projects were launched by local artist and residents; “Dreaming Busan’s Machu Picchu” Project and “MiroMiro Alley” Project, where they have transformed the place, improved the housing conditions and painted murals to renovate the town. Everyone was involved. The shacks were rendered and painted in a variety of colours; local children painting wooden plaques which are scattered around the town and made into a colourful fish on one of the walls, and shops and cafes were opened. The area has become a great example of urban rejuvenation, a role model to transform other slum areas around the world. It has now become a successful tourist area, bringing much-needed revenue for the local people. One place that has got its marketing right. We were even given 4 postcards each to send around the world (Family – one will be in the post before we leave the country – promise) A great day seeing some of the sites of Busan before it gets too busy with all the tourists that the Lonely Planets will bring. And we met some delightful people. The two ladies from The Netherlands, a family from Hong Kong, whose 15 year son goes to school in York, a lovely man Ong Tze Wee from Singapore, who we had some wonderful chats about travelling, politics (Trump), and the art of negotiating (something that Trump needs to learn!) and of course our wonderful guides Dabin Kim and Seo Yeon, the perfect guides on a hot and fascinating day.