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Suyeong Park

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Korean History

Before visiting Suyeong Park, we had no idea what to expect. Despite its central location, with Bexco and Shinsegae visible just over the Suyeong River, this ramshackle neighborhood is definitely not on the normal tourist itinerary. But we had a great time in the park, which was filled with historical monuments, sacred trees and people playing chess, exercising and just relaxing.

Double-Gate-Korea

Suyeong Park occupies the former site of the Joseon Empire’s naval base, which was used mostly for operations in the East Sea against Japan (the body of water which separates Japan from the continent is referred to by most of the world as the “Sea of Japan”, but this designation has been aggressively contested by Korea for years, who believe “East Sea” should be the name of record. We’re on Korea’s side by default, at least for this 91 days, so “East Sea” it is!)

There are a number of historical remnants in the park, such as the South Gate of the former citadel: two arched gates which lead into the park, guarded by a pair of stone dogs who watch for Japanese pirates. And there’s the Euiyonjeinbi monument which commemorates the deaths of 25 patriots during the Imjin War with gravestones set in front of a large shrine. But my favorite object in the park wasn’t man-made; it was the 500-year old Pujo tree, which stands out with its sheer size and distinctive shape. According to a sign, locals believe the spirit of an old grandmother resides in the tree, bringing luck to those who remember her.

The park also houses the Suyeong Folk Art Center, with a large circular arena where we read that cultural performances “regularly” take place. I asked the girl working there, and it turns out that “regularly” means twice a year, with the next performance sometime in the fall. That’s an incomprehensible waste; this could be a great outdoor theater for the summer.

The best part of Suyeong Park was the number of people who were there enjoying it. Along with the usual array of gym machines, there was an area for Korean Chess where a bunch of matches were being hotly contested. It’s a game I’d like to learn, and I watched one particularly fast-moving game for awhile. But I had no clue what was going on; it looked to me like they were just randomly shuffling the pieces around in between swigs of soju… which, even if that’s the extent of it, would still be a fun game.

Our day ended with a walk through the surrounding neighborhood. Despite being smack in the middle of the city and so close to ultra-modern structures like Shinsegae, there’s an appealing old-world vibe in Suyeong. No skyscrapers or giant apartment buildings, no Starbucks or western-style shops. Everything looks just a little run-down; the shops are old and cluttered, and the restaurants are cheap, humble neighborhood joints. It’s definitely an interesting corner of Busan.

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June 18, 2012 at 9:30 am Comments (0)

Jungang Park and the Chunghon Tower

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Korea History

Set atop Daecheong Mountain, one of Busan’s most central peaks, Jungang Park offers visitors an unparalleled view over the city and its port. Inaugurated almost twenty years ago, the park and its crowning Chunghon Tower are dedicated to the memories of the service personnel who gave their lives in the Korean War.

Chunghon-Tower

During the war years, the slopes of Daecheong Mountain hosted many of the refugees who had flocked to Busan, fleeing the carnage in the north. The mountain was an ideal shelter for the newcomers, central enough to be practical, but also separated from the city’s regular life by its sheer altitude.

At the center of Jungang Park is the tall, circular Chunghon Tower. A long set of stone stairs leads up to it; around the tower’s base is a series of photographs detailing the atrocities of North Korea and the heroic deeds of the South. More than a bit propagandistic, but I suppose they earned the right. The tower itself is impressive for its size, if a little abstract. A statue, apparently of the policemen and soldiers whom the monument lionizes, was hidden behind a tarp for cleaning when we were there.

KNEX Flame
The, uh, Eternal Flame of Democracy!

Adjacent to Jungang Park is the enchantingly named Democracy Park. We visited on a Sunday and the park was filled with kids playing hide-and-seek, old ladies dancing and singing (for real), and groups of men engaged in games of Korean Chess. A bizarre set of sculptures decorate the park, along with a couple memorials dedicated to great moments in Korean Democracy, such as 1960’s uprising against the country’s corrupt government.

The centerpiece of Democracy Park is a large spiral-shaped building called the Memorial Hall. Out of its center rises the Democracy Flame, which looked to me like a semi-collapsed tower built of K’NEX; as though the kid building it had a moment of clumsiness, then couldn’t muster the energy to repair his creation. A subtle nod to the fragile, time-consuming and frustrating nature of democracy, so often abandoned? I doubt that’s what the artist had in mind, but the metaphor works.

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May 16, 2012 at 10:44 am Comment (1)