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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!

Location of the APEC House on our Map
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July 16, 2012 at 7:57 am Comments (3)

The Lotus Lantern Parade

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Though Christianity has recently become the dominant religion in South Korea, the country had been a primarily Buddhist land for nearly all of its history. Buddha’s Birthday, which fell on May 28th in 2012, is a major celebration across the peninsula. And the week-long Lotus Lantern Festival which precedes it is an engaging reaffirmation of the country’s traditional faith.

Neon Dragon

The festival kicked off with a host of events in Yongdusan Park, in Nampo-Dong. A collection of floats were on display — automated dragons, Buddhas, fire-breathing peacocks — and the park was packed with both monks and people out looking for a bit of fun. This wasn’t the most somber or conservative of religious festivals; one of the events was a B-Boy break-dancing competition.

A group of tents in the park constituted the Arts & Crafts center and, walking past, we were immediately targeted for participation by an overly-enthusiastic volunteer. She sat us down next to kids, where we created toy lanterns. Then she grabbed our arms and led us the “ink stamping” section, where we pounded out Buddhist designs. Then she pushed us over to the “wishing ribbon” section, where we wrote down our names and our dreams for the future. “My name is Mike, and I wish for a world free from the scourge of Arts & Crafts!”

The festival-closing parade on Sunday night was a colorful event. We were surprised how few onlookers were lined up on Daechung Road to watch it pass, but then… most of the city was in the parade. Group after massive group of waving, lantern-carriers passed by, along with neon-colored float and the occasional marching band. We followed the final group up to Yongdusan Park, where there was a fireworks show followed by a concert of traditional drumming.

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May 26, 2012 at 3:05 am Comments (0)

A Concise History of Busan… or Is it Pusan?

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Busan or Pusan? The name is spelled both ways on signs around the city. Before arriving, I’d have bet that the official name was Pusan, but I would have been wrong. In 2000, a new method of transliterating Korean was implemented and the name changed overnight to “Busan”. The Korean character ㅂ represents both “b” and “p” (which, when you think about it, are nearly the same letter anyway). For the city’s residents, there’s no change at all. 부산 remains 부산.

Busan History

To my ears, “Pusan” sounds more like what people are actually saying, but it’s a close call. Regardless, Busan is a lot easier for Western tongues than the city’s original name, Geochilsanguk! Here’s a quick look at Busan’s long, tumultuous history:

Prehistory The earliest evidence of humanity in Busan dates from around 18000 BC. Pottery and shell middens mostly found along rivers and the coast indicate a fishing-based society.
2nd Century AD The town is organized for the first time as “Geochilsanguk”, under the administration of the Jinhan Confederacy.
757 After being absorbed into the powerful dynasty of Silla, the city’s name is changed to Dongnae, still the name of one of Busan’s neighborhoods. Silla was one of the Three Kingdoms of ancient Korea.
10th Century The Goryeo Dynasty (whose name would evolve into “Korea”) had succeeded in uniting the Three Kingdoms, and renames Dongnae to Busan-po. “Busan-” means “kettle”, referring to the shape of the city’s mountain, and “-po” means “harbor”.
15th Century Busan is designated an official trading post with Japan, leading to the formation of a large Japanese population in the city.
1592 Busan becomes the scene for the opening strike in the Imjin War, during which Japan invades Korea. The Japanese have a new technology in firearms, and overrun the city in two days.
1876 Busan becomes Korea’s first international port, and the city expands rapidly from a fishing village into a major center of commerce.
1910-1945 In 1910, Korea was annexed by an aggressive imperial Japan. Not the finest moment for the country, but Busan flourished under the Japanese administration, and technological innovations not seen in the rest of Korea are introduced here.
1946 Following WWII, Koreans are outraged by the unilateral Allied decision to split the country into two protectorates (American to the south, Soviet to the north). Railroad workers in Busan strike, kicking off the Autumn Uprising, which quickly spreads throughout the country.
Korean War Busan serves as Korea’s provincial capital, after most of the peninsula falls under Communist control. The Battle of the Pusan Perimeter lasts 45 days, sees 120,000 casualties and ends in a successful US-led defense of the city.
N. Korean POWS in Busan
(Dept of Defense)
1995 After a period of steady post-war economic progress and urban development, Busan is promoted to a Metropolitan City, giving it the same status as a province.

And Beyond… Construction continues in Busan at a furious pace, with giant retail stores, housing, and business centers sprouting up all over. It’s hard to imagine Busan sprawling out even further, but we probably shouldn’t underestimate the city’s hard-working, optimistic populace.

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May 9, 2012 at 12:18 am Comments (2)

An-Nyeong Ha-Se-Yo, Busan!

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After an adventurous 91 days in Sri Lanka, we arrived in South Korea’s Incheon airport. Our connecting flight to Busan was leaving from the nearby Gimpo airport, requiring a 40-minute transit bus ride. Accustomed to our cramped and dangerous bus experiences in Sri Lanka, we boarded with weary dread. But what’s this?! Comfortable, individual seats? Seat belts? Air conditioning? Where was the Sinhalese pop blared at ear-splitting decimals? Why weren’t we careening recklessly down gravel roads? As we coasted down the smooth (paved!) highway, I closed my eyes and took a long, cleansing breath. South Korea!

Korean Spy
Busan, South Korea’s second city, doesn’t approach Seoul in terms of size or global influence, but is home to a metropolitan population of 3.6 million, and one of the busiest ports in the world. Busan is found on the south-eastern end of the peninsula, closer to Japan than the capital. An important business center full of suits, concrete and convention halls, Busan also boasts popular beaches, nature reserves and an urban landscape shaped by green mountains that pop up almost randomly amid the skyscrapers.

Our flight from Seoul was with Korean Air, whose wonderful agents managed to squeeze us onto a connection two hours earlier than the one we’d booked. And so, we landed in Busan much earlier than expected. South Korea’s second city doesn’t approach Seoul in terms of size or global influence, but is home to a metropolitan population of 3.6 million, and one of the busiest ports in the world. The city is found on the south-eastern end of the peninsula, closer to Japan than the capital. An important business hub full of suits, concrete and convention halls, Busan also boasts popular beaches, nature reserves and an urban landscape shaped by green mountains that rise up between the skyscrapers.

Usually, we do a lot of prep work before moving to a new city. Reading up on the language and culture, absorbing movies and novels set there, practicing the language. Things like that. But because we were so busy in Sri Lanka, we had been negligent in preparing for Busan. We knew next to nothing about the city, and just the basics about Koreans: that they have great cuisine, and that they’re are big on drinking, baseball and pop music. We recognized Samsung, Hyundai, LG, and exactly one Korean word (“hello”). And that was it!

We were beginners, extremely eager to get started on our 91-day crash course in the country and its culture. It would prove to be an incredible three months. On our first full day in the city, we went to the top of the Busan Tower, where we got a feel for the city’s staggering size. Busan is way too big, with way too many things to do and see in just 91 days, and that’s before considering the surrounding countryside and possible day-trips. We felt overwhelmed before we even began, but by the end of our three month stay, had earned a pretty solid feel for Busan. An incredible and completely overlooked city.

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May 5, 2012 at 10:22 am Comments (5)