01 October 2008

Busan: all over the city

When I came to South Korea for my meditation, my mother decided to join me. However, normally, while she joins my meditations, she doesn't join my sightseeing. Busan, however, is an exception though, and she's joined me for my stay here. Having lived here between ages 3 and 8, my mother has some vague childhood memories of Busan, and played a willing tour guide for me (though in reality, we had to do teamwork, between her memories and my navigation skills).

Entrance to Jagalchi Market. If you can read Korean, you will note that the "Come! See! Buy!" portion of the banner is written in the local dialect, as opposed to standard Korean.

A long subway to the new, posh northeastern resort portion of the city brought me to Centum City, being developed on the site of Suyeong Airport, Busan's first and only airport until 1976. (Gimhae Airport, on the river delta in the far west of the city, handles all flights today.)

Centum City's key attraction is BEXCO (Busan Exposition and Convention Center), handling many events including international conferences, much of the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF), and more. And while foreign performing artists usually do their concerts only in Seoul when visiting South Korea, the few who make it out to Busan perform here; Mariah Carey did her show here for Valentine's Day 2004. (Now, that's something to distract me from the reactionary politics in South Korea and the US, as well as the current Chinese food scare.)

Next to BEXCO is Olympic Park; though Busan never held the Olympics on its own, the yachting events for the 1988 Seoul Games were held here. Busan does hope to be an Olympic host for summer 2020. As seen here, Olympic Park has a drive-in cinema, an endangered species back in the US but a popular novelty here in South Korea.

Although bike rentals are available at the park, I decided to walk. Turned out to be a good decision, as bike trails around the area are not very well marked, and biking elsewhere in Busan's traffic is suicidal.

Busan's rich cinematic tradition, starting in the cinemas of Nampo-Dong and culminating in today's PIFF, is evident here. Here's a movie production studio.

Nearby is the Suyeong Church, one of many Protestant megachurches in South Korea. Eleven out of the world's twelve largest Protestant congregations are in South Korea. It is surrounded by apartment buildings, whose banners are complaining about the church being a bad neighbor (probably through noise, excessive proselytizing, and parking problems).

There are many new, modern apartment buildings in this part of town, extending toward Haeundae Beach Resort. The ambience of this area is a lot like Seoul's Jamsil district of the 1980s, when it too went through massive development in preparation for the Olympics.

Just outside the main marina is this yacht, named Forerunner II. A Korean-American student at UCLA piloted the original Forerunner from Los Angeles, across the Pacific, to Busan, then later set out again from Los Angeles in this yacht, crisscrossing several oceans and calling at many ports all over the world before, again, finishing here in Busan. Note the small Jesus fish next to the boat's name, showing the typical Korean-American Christian tradition. At the bow is the title "Republic of Korea," in Korean and English.

The marina holds some administrative offices of PIFF. Kia Motors is the automotive sponsor of PIFF, and here are some Kia-provided vehicles for PIFF, from front to back: a Lotze (Optima in the US, Magentis in a few other countries), a Sorento SUV, and a Pride (second-generation Rio in the US).

A better look at the marina, which serves the affluent residents of this area, and is the finest example in South Korea. Notice the new skyscrapers of Centum City in the background.

Some fishermen are enjoying themselves on the breakwater nearby. Water looks pretty good here. And Busan, thanks to the mixing of the warm waters of East China Sea with the cooler waters of Sea of Japan, has good fishing - a lesser version of Mexico's Los Cabos, in a way.

In the distance are Ohryuk (Five or Six) Islands, a well-known landmark to local sailors. I took this photo from my lunch table.

Walking further, I was greeted by this sight. This is Dongbaek Island (Camellia Island), a longtime famous landmark in this area.

In the 1970s, South Korean pop singer Cho Yong-pil, who can be compared to Elton John due to his wealth of hits and his longevity, had a huge hit called "Come back to Busan Port." The very first line of the lyrics describe the spring coming to this island in the form of flowers blooming. Due to Cho's popularity in Japan, the song had both a Korean version and a Japanese version; the Korean version wished for the narrator's brothers to return to Busan, while the Japanese version was a love song.

More recently, this island hosted the 2005 Asia-Pacific Economic Council (APEC) summit, attended by 21 heads of state.

A camellia-lined trail on Dongbaek Island, leading to the APEC House. Even the street lights look like camellias here.

The APEC House. Today, there are exhibits open to the public.

These are the twenty-one member states of APEC. All sent their heads of state to Busan for the 2005 summit.

This is the conference room, used on November 19, 2005. The framed photo shows the conference in session. There are traditional Korean motifs throughout.

W sat here that day. If Karl Rove didn't pull his tricks, and if the Democrats knew how to campaign, a far-better qualified man, John Kerry, would've sat here instead.

This is the seat of the host, then-President Roh Moo-hyun. As the host, Roh had a PC at his seat.

This is where another undeserving bastard, then-Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, sat.

This seat belonged to Junichiro Koizumi, the then-Prime Minister of Japan, who drove Japanese-South Korean ties to new lows, by his repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine and by encouraging right-wing nationalism (which included strengthening Japan's territorial claims to South Korean-administered Dokdo Island). Today, Japan's newest Prime Minister, Taro Aso, is worsening things even more.

These plaques immortalize the 21 attendees of the 2005 summit here. Roh is the top center; W is the bottom right corner.

After the November 19th conference, the 21 attendees came to this platform, dressed in traditional Korean coats, for a group photo. The positions of each nation's head of state are still clearly marked.

I am standing on the platform, in the position of President Roh, looking at Busan's newest landmark - the Gwangan Bridge, South Korea's first double-decker bridge. (Although Seoul also has a double-decker bridge, the two levels are completely separate structures, built decades apart, so it doesn't count.) It was built to provide a quick detour around the congestion of the Gwangalli Beach Resort, visible below the bridge.

Behind my left shoulder is where W stood. I refused to stand in his footsteps. If I ever need reminders of famous Americans coming this way, I would rather be reminded of Mariah Carey at BEXCO than of W here.

The APEC House is at the far end of Dongbaek Island. I am now walking back toward the shore, and here's an overview of Haeundae Beach Resort, often referred to as South Korea's Waikiki.

These new apartments stand near Dongbaek Island. The right building is appropriately named Camellia Haute. The other towers also have nice names - Golden Suites on the left, Hyperion in the middle. Dongbaek Island itself has a Westin hotel.

A better look at the sand of Haeundae Beach Resort and its modern hotels and buildings.

On the left: the old one-story stores that used to be the mainstay of Haeundae.

On the right: a modern-day highrise with trendy new restaurants and stores, the new face of Haeundae. Lots of foreign tourists here.

I moved on to the UN Cemetery, the only one of its kind in the world, where some foreign dead of the Korean War are interred. As I got out of the subway, I saw these flags for sale. After all, I am supposed to display the national flag at home for the next nine days.

This is it. The UN Cemetery. Sixteen nations sent troops to South Korea as part of a UN-led effort; the Soviets, North Korea's chief ally, would've normally vetoed the motion, but abstained instead. The US and the UK provided the bulk of the troops and equipment. While most of the UN participants gathered their war dead and returned them home after the war, some have kept them here. And a few token South Koreans are also buried here; the vast majority are buried in South Korea's own national cemetery system.

One of the participating nations was Turkey, memorialized here.

The US took its war dead home. But some US Korean War veterans, who went home alive but died later, asked to be buried here. This US Army sergeant is one such example.

On the other hand, this Dutch sergeant died here in 1951.

This memorial lists the names of the soldiers from British Commonwealth nations (UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) who died in the Korean War, and have no known graves.

The undecorated, plain-looking soldier, with two Korean children as his friends, forms the Canadian memorial.

The Australians put up this memorial in 2000.

This is Daunt Waterway, where koi and goldfish are raised. It is named after a 17-year-old Australian private, who was killed in action in 1951, and is the youngest person to be buried here. Such a short, sad life - given in defense of a land he barely knew.

I've left the cemetery to move on to my next destination. Just outside the cemetery is the UN Sculpture Park, consisting of sculptures from South Korea and the participating UN nations. This one is named "Conflict for Unification," and was done by Antonis Myrodias of Greece. Greece did field a small contingent in the Korean War.

Next destination: Beomeosa, in the far north of the city, and the finest Buddhist temple in Busan. As I arrived, I saw some tents doing various festivals and demonstration. This tent has wooden Maitreya Buddhas for sale; these are, of course, of the Chinese "Happy Buddha" variety.

A tombstone on top of a turtle, with a dragon balloon in the back.

Courtyard of the temple, after a long climb from the entrance. The stone pagoda on the right is quite typical of South Korean temples, as is the Daeungjeon (Hall of Great Hero), the main hall of any South Korean Buddhist temple, on top of the staircase. The Daeungjeon has three Buddhas: Amidabha, Sakyamuni, and Medicine Buddha.

A side hall has this Maitreya Buddha, though he's not of the Happy Buddha variety.

In the same room: thousands of lighted Maitreya Buddhas. I was not supposed to photograph this room, but got away with it, because nobody was praying inside.

Gwaneumjeon (Hall of Kwan Yin). That's a golden statue of my transgender matron saint, Kwan Yin. Along the sides are thousands of lighted Kwan Yins, just like the lighted Maitreyas of the previous photo.

Near Daeungjeon, there was an exhibition of paintings with the temple and its surrounding objects as subjects. These were painted by the resident monks.

A boulder with a carved message on it. As it is in Chinese and quite worn out, I couldn't read it.

Some figurines under that rock. They include the Harubang (shaman volcanic rock statue from Jeju Island), baby monks, and a few stone Buddhas.

These flowers are known as the cosmos, and are very common in South Korea around this time of the year. They bloom in pink, as shown here, or in white. Also present here: a pair of bees in the middle of a passionate moment.

Human visitors won't get away with this kind of behavior, however. No "revealing clothing" (including my trademark Ally McLesbian miniskirts) are allowed. And while there are plenty of hiking trails crisscrossing this mountaineous terrain, cooking and alcohol are not allowed on them, as the temple owns much of the mountain, home to many grottos, retreats, and more.

These stones are stacked together for good luck.

I returned to the center of the city. This is the Seomyeon area, a very trendy, posh area much like Nampo-Dong. After a dinner at the city's best department store - Lotte - I emerged to find this sight. Every building in this area has plastic surgeons; plastic surgery is a necessary evil in South Korea, where being deemed "unattractive" will mean denial of the basics of life, like a job or a marriage. (It is usually required to submit a photo with one's resume or job application. It's also common practice to put down one's national ID number, sex, age, birthday, marital status and number of children on the resume.) Just about every woman has had some work done on her face here.

Nice street name here; it's called "Second New Millennium Street."

In a previous post, I described the two addressing systems in South Korea: the bureaucratic system of districts and subdistricts similar to Japanese addresses, and the newer street name based system similar to American and European addresses. I learned one more thing today here in Busan; the new street-based addresses became legal in 2007, and while it's acceptable to use both systems for now, only street-based addresses are acceptable starting in 2012.

And from here on, my mother and I did some serious teamwork. As it turns out, her Busan home was very close to the Seomyeon district, so we decided to locate it. There is a set of train tracks running northwest of Seomyeon, heading northeast to Haeundae then north from there to Gyeongju, connecting to the Jungang (Central) Line there to eastern Seoul; she crossed those tracks to get to school, and occasionally balanced herself on the rail. It's been at least 50 years since she left for Seoul, and she's never come back to the neighborhood until tonight. It's proven very difficult to locate her old home, as the neighborhood has many new buildings, including the new terminal station for the Gyeongju-bound trains that she recalls never seeing. (The train line itself is no longer single-track, but multi-track, so the trademark rail overpasses she remembers have been completely rebuilt in a different style.) I think I nailed the house down to within a 100-foot stretch of the exact alley, though I will have to double-check with my mother's various older siblings who have better memories of the area. It was a very interesting experience to walk through a very old shantytown full of old shacks and beat-up local eateries, however.

I was knocked out by the time I returned to Nampo-Dong and its PIFF Square, before walking back to the hotel. PIFF starts tomorrow, so the pre-festival show was taking place at PIFF Square tonight. Various performances from local citizens were showcased, including a number of belly dancing troupes, one of which is seen here.

I was immediately thinking of my writing mentor Gayle Brandeis, who, as I previously mentioned multiple times, is a belly dancer herself. And in regards to her novel The Book of Dead Birds, this belly dance takes a special significance. In that book, the protagonist, Hye-yang Song (later Helen Sing Lo), leaves her home on Jeju Island in 1968 for a better life on the mainland. She lands here in Busan, and would've arrived at the passenger ferry terminal, just a kilometer northeast of this stage. The book says that Helen then took a bus to Suwon, just south of Seoul, to find work at the Korean Folk Village; however, in reality, the train would've been a more likely mode of transport, as the bus stations are far away from here, but the train station is a short walk north of the ferry terminal, with direct services to Suwon and Seoul. The trip to Suwon would've probably taken 10 1/2 hours, on a non-air conditioned local steam-powered train. By contrast, my trip back to Seoul should take well under 3 hours tomorrow. It also bears mentioning that the Korean Folk Village didn't even open until 1974, though Gayle previously told me that she was aware of that, but took liberty with the dates anyway for the purposes of the novel.

Glad to share a long, exhausting, yet productive day with my mother today, and also to have Gayle and Helen join me in spirit to wrap up the day.