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The National Maritime Museum

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Busan is always at work on itself, more so than any other place we’ve lived, erecting new buildings, improving on its image and expanding its cultural offerings. We visited one of the city’s latest achievements just days after it opened: the National Maritime Museum.


The gleaming white building itself is impressive enough to warrant a visit. Found on the northwestern coast of Yeongdo Island, it looks a little like an enormous toilet bowl. Not a very appealing comparison, I suppose, but I don’t mean to be negative — that’s just its shape! Plus, there’s the association with water, and the fact that it’s filled with all sorts of crap.

The museum and the park surrounding it occupy nearly 500,000 square feet. There are eight permanent exhibitions, a special children’s museum, a rooftop observation deck, a massive maritime library, a walk-through aquarium, a 4D theater, an auditorium and a variety of restaurants and cafes. In other words, don’t go expecting to spend just a short amount of time there — even if you’re quick about it, this place will consume hours.

Amazingly, the museum is free. The exhibits are uniformly interesting, detailing both Korea’s relationship to the sea, as well as the global situation of the oceans. The aquarium was small, but there were a few sharks and mantas swimming around in there, which are the only things I ever care about anyway. And the hands-on exhibits were fun, especially for children. Perhaps the best part was the rooftop observation deck, where you have a great view over the harbor and the Oryukdo Islands.

The museum is easy to reach with public transportation; bus #66, leaving from Nampo-dong (exit 6) goes straight there. And it’s definitely worth the effort of visiting.

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July 23, 2012 at 8:36 am Comments (9)

The APEC House and Dongbaek Park

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The Nurimaru House was built for the 2005 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit, which brought together the leaders of its twenty-one member nations. With a striking location in Dongbaekseom Park overlooking Haeundae Beach, the house now serves as a memorial to the meeting.

Apec Building Busan>

Dongbaekseom used to be an island, before a natural accumulation of earth and sand attached it to the mainland. The suffix -seom means island, and the dongbaek is a kind of tree. Today, the park is a beautifully wooded nature preserve, offering a number of trails and unbeatable views of Haeundae Beach. A popular coastal path connects the beach to the APEC House, which is found among amid camellia and pine trees.

Along the coastal trail, the large statue of a forlorn mermaid is unmissable. According to legend, this is the Princess of Topaz from the Kingdom of Naranda, found far beyond the sea. She was married off to the King of Mungungnara, and now sits immobile, crying for her lost country. Her name comes from the topaz bead given to her by her grandmother, which she grips during her endless lamentations for home. It would be hard to imagine that this story isn’t an allegory for the Koreans who left home during the struggles of the Japanese occupation and Korean War.

The Nurimaru APEC House was built for one solitary purpose and, like the Mermaid, now sits frozen in time. During the 2005 APEC Summit, leaders from the countries of the Pacific Rim discussed a number of topics of common interest, such as Copyright Protection and Aviary Flu defenses. Possibly its most notable achievement was to get George W. Bush into a Korean Hanbok. I don’t like the guy, but this isn’t actually a bad look for him.

Touring the APEC House was kind of strange. We got to see the round table at which the various heads of state sat, and were able to admire one of their meals. There was some information about what was discussed, and about each member state. But that was about it. By now, this incredible house, which showcases Korean architecture in a pristine location, should have found new life — it’s not as though the 2005 APEC Summit was a meeting of such historic importance that it needs to be forever memorialized. Put a plaque up or something, and move on!

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July 16, 2012 at 7:57 am Comments (3)

The Busan Cinema Center

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The $150 million dollar Busan Cinema Center is an architectural oddity which opened to the public during the Busan Film Festival in October, 2011. Its cantilever roof is the world’s largest and seems to break the laws of gravity. And at night, it lights up in spectacular color, adding a splash of beauty to Busan’s most modern neighborhood.

Steel Busan

We walked over to the Cinema Center directly after having my protective post-LASIK contact lenses removed at the Sojunghan Nun Ophthalmology Clinic. It had been just 24 hours since my surgery and, with the lenses freshly off, I was really seeing with my new eyes for the very first time. We couldn’t have picked a more impressive visual smorgasbord than the amazing Cinema Center.

The building seems to make no sense, with a curving roof supported only at one end by an inverted cone structure, which acts as the main entrance and houses a cafe. Underneath the massive roof, there’s a screen and open air seating for 4000 people, and spread across its three buildings (the Cine Mountain, BIFF Hill and Double Cone) are three further screens, lecture halls, restaurants and a performance art theater.

The complex most fully lives up to its potential during the Busan Film Festival, but there are daily screenings of classics and current hits during the rest of the year — although the website to check showtimes is Korean-only, there are American films shown often, almost always subtitled. But even if you’re not up for a movie, it’s worth taking a nighttime stroll by the Cinema Center to check out the amazing LED display on the bottom of its 60×160 square meter roof.

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July 6, 2012 at 5:02 am Comments (0)
The National Maritime Museum Busan is always at work on itself, more so than any other place we've lived, erecting new buildings, improving on its image and expanding its cultural offerings. We visited one of the city's latest achievements just days after it opened: the National Maritime Museum.
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