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A Day in Buk-Gu, Northern Busan

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Buk-Gu, whose name translates to “Northern District”, is one of the fifteen administrative zones which make up Busan. We spent a morning wandering around the area and checking out some of its touristic sights: the Fishing Village Folk Museum, a riverside park, and the Gupowaeseong Japanese Fortress.

Busan-Fishing-Village-Folk-Museum

The Busan Fishing Village Folk Museum, our first stop in Buk-Gu, was exactly as boring as its name suggests. We went on a whim, and I would bet that we were the first and only foreign tourists to ever step foot inside. The guide was clearly stunned to see us, and stammered out a memorized welcome speech, in English. It was clearly an agonizing couple minutes for the poor guy, and I felt like congratulating him when he finished.

The exhibits weren’t really all that bad, but nothing was in English. We spent a few seconds at the dioramas of fishing scenes, put together a puzzle, and looked at fish in the first-floor aquarium. In and out in ten minutes. But the price was right (free) and if you’re already in the neighborhood or have an interest in the folk traditions of Korean river people, by all means, enjoy.

Nakdong-Bridge

Leaving the museum, we went to the nearby Hwamyeong Riverside Park: a long stretch of sports facilities and nature walks with good view of the Nakdong Bridge. We passed through fields of high grass, perfect for hiding a corpse, and a couple of fitness stations. Busan has an absolute abundance of these community workout areas and the equipment is always top-notch. Clean, fully-functional. Some even have benchpresses with actual weights. It’s a testament to the respect with which Koreans treat their community. Equipment like this wouldn’t last twelve hours in an American city.

Gupowaeseong-Fortress

Eventually we made it to Deokcheon Park, a hill near the Gupo Bridge. Searching for a way up the hill to see the Gupowaeseong Fortress, we entered a small and colorful Buddhist Temple where a monk showed us to a clandestine staircase leading into the woods behind the main altar. On the way up, we passed a few people tending to small vegetable gardens, all of whom grunted “hello” at us. The remains of the fortress weren’t wonderfully upheld, but given its origin, that’s understandable. Gupowaeseong dates from the Imjin War against Japan, but was built by the Japanese and not the Koreans.

On the other side of the hill, we found a field with a towering Buddha statue and an altar where offerings had recently been made. Our next stop, the nearby Guryongsa Temple, was buzzing with activity. Little women were darting furiously about, apparently in last-minute preparations for some sort of festival. But although we were clearly in their way, they were gracious and encouraged us to kick our shoes off so that we could enter the temple buildings. There, we admired wonderfully carved wooden walls, strange paintings from Buddha’s life, and ancient statues.

Location of the Busan Fishing Village Folk Museum
Location of Gupowaeseong Fortress
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May 31, 2012 at 5:38 am Comment (1)

Samgwangsa Under a Blanket of Lanterns

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Set at the foot of the Baegyangsan Mountain in central Busan, Samgwangsa is a massive temple with enough room for 10,000 worshipers. And there were approximately that many present when we visited on a balmy May evening shortly before Buddha’s birthday.

Korea Blog

We had initially toured Samgwangsa a few weeks earlier, while the lanterns were still being set up. It was the first Buddhist temple we’d been to in Korea and impressed us with both its size and location. As was the case in Sri Lanka, Korean temples seem to be set in places of extreme natural beauty. Samgwangsa boasts an incredible view over Busan, and hiking trails can be found in the mountain forest behind it.

Built in 1969, Samgwangsa is not the most ancient or traditional of temples, but that doesn’t make it any less inspiring. The main prayer hall is stunning; large and intricately decorated with hundreds of small Buddha statues lining the walls. There’s a nine-story pagoda dedicated to the future reunification of Korea, and a giant bell in the courtyard. Within the complex’s various buildings, men and women were either worshiping or working. I’m not sure if this is true, but Samgwangsa seems to house a large number of senior citizens; we passed a few rooms with older women sitting cross-legged on the floor watching TV.

I’m glad we had the initial visit, because the temple was unrecognizable when we returned during the lantern festival, buried under a blanket of light. The lanterns, strung up in unbroken lines throughout the complex are each paid for by a family, who get to write their names and wishes on them. This practice dates back centuries; in Korea, lighting a lantern symbolizes a dedication to committing good deeds, and shining a light on the world’s darkness. Whatever the reasoning, the glow emitted from thousands of colorful lanterns is majestic.

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May 29, 2012 at 6:44 am Comments (4)

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

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Haedong Yonggungsa (해동용궁사) is unique among Busan’s Buddhist temples in that it lies not in the mountains, but on the seafront. It was founded in 1376, during the Goryeo Dynasty, and completely destroyed during the Japanese invasions. Though the current construction only dates from the 1970s, the temple is a beautiful and much-beloved center of worship. In fact, I can’t imagine it being any more popular.

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple

Of course, we were visiting on the day before Buddha’s birthday, when legions of the faithful had shown up. This was definitely the only time in my life I’ve waited in a 45-minute line to enter a temple or church. But it was a sunny morning, and the queue gave us time to take in the beauty of the temple from afar. Haedong Yonggungsa looks out over the sea, with tall dagobas erected on the rock above, and has as its centerpiece a three-story pagoda protected by four lions. Inside the pagoda are bone relics brought to Korea by a Sri Lankan monk… a neat connection to our previous home.

According to the temple’s website, its motto is “At least one of your wishes will be answered here through your heartful prayers.” That’s hopeful, and at least more optimistic than the Christian slogans I grew up with like, “Repent, ye sinner”. The Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, thought to reside in the sea, is the main deity at Haedong Yonggungsa. Apparently, she’s appeared to people here, and saying her name over and over will result in good fortune.

It was a little hard to appreciate all the details of the temple, due to the celebrations underway. Lanterns were strung up everywhere, hiding from view anything higher than a couple meters, including a statue of the mercy goddess. And man, do Koreans love taking photographs. You couldn’t move an inch without accidentally intruding in someone else’s frame. It was a little amusing to hear Jürgen — who never stops taking pictures — complain about other people doing the same.

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May 28, 2012 at 5:47 am Comment (1)