South Korea is a small (the size of Indiana), populous (~50 Million) and prosperous country. As you think of the products you use, more likely than not you are going to be thinking of those from here – Samsung, LG, Daewoo, Kia, Hyundai – all worldwide brand names. I have visited here on a number of occasions for work and was always impressed by the incredible work ethic, the value placed in higher education and the quality of the professionals I worked with
America is held in very high regard – it came to the rescue in 1950 – a close run thing, and it remains the guarantor of South Korea’s survival. The US also provides a role model in other, more subtle, ways. The most frequently practiced religion is Protestant Christianity. Buddhism is second. If a Korean has money and wants his child to succeed, the child goes to prep school in the US!
Despite this view to the west, Korea has been a nation (albeit now divided) since 668AD with a pretty stable geography, language, population and culture. It has, however been monotonously invaded, brutalized and occupied by the Mongols in the 13th Century and then the Japanese in the 16th and 19th centuries and from 1904 to 1945.
Busan is the major port of South Korea. It is the gateway to the Pacific Ocean and Japan and handles heavy container traffic. As we looked and drove around you could see large numbers of Container ships, containers and the red cranes used to lift them in and out.
It is also an important fishing port – as we sailed towards Busan last night we could see hundreds of fishing boats with their lights brightly illuminated.
Also much in evidence were armed Coast Guard and Police ships.
Our tour today started off with a drive through Busan which was characterized by very mountainous terrain and high density housing – particularly high rise apartment buildings by the hundreds. Much of the population growth derived from refugees fleeing the rapidly advancing North Korean forces during the 1950 invasion. Today ~3.5 million people live here.
First we traveled North to the slopes of Mount Geumjeongsan to visit the Zen Buddhist Beomeosa Temple. This was founded in 647AD when Buddhism was first adopted in Korea together with many other Chinese cultural characteristics.
The temple, which consists of many separate buildings for prayer and study, is situated on the mountainside and as you walk through the grounds you come across beautiful wooded glades, bamboo forest and lovely mountain views into the distance.
The temple buildings themselves are colorfully decorated with detailed paintings and carvings everywhere to be seen
The Buddha statue is the focus of prayer and offerings and there were many people busy with their devotions so we were encouraged not to take photos and disturb them.
I got into the meditative spirit of the thing among the greenery and was caught in this spiritual Kodak moment.
The temporal side must not be neglected for the spiritual however and they did have a souvenir shop (with a ‘great buy’ or two) and individual entrepreneurs – such as this lady roasting chestnuts.
We then drove to dockside and visited a remarkable fish market – the ‘Aunt’s Market’ established by women peddlers during the Korean War to make ends meet. The Fishing boats tie up alongside and discharge their catch and the market is busiest at 4am or so when the serious buyers bid at the auction.
We came along for the show, really and it was amazing. You could see literally anything that clung, crawled slithered or swam in the sea at the various stalls. According to local usage (I am sure) many of the aforesaid were alive and crawling, clinging, slithering etc in containers of fresh seawater;
Others were dried, salted remnants
And yet others were there for lunch; prepared to your taste in the market aisles.
At the same time the veggies and side dishes to be were being wheeled around for the full one-stop-shopping experience.
Fun day in Busan, South Korea ends and we head for the Yellow Sea and China!