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.
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.
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.
Since the end of World War II and the liberation of Korea from the Japanese occupation, the USA has maintained a steady presence in the southern half of the peninsula. Perhaps it comes as no surprise, then, that South Korea has inherited many aspects of American culture, from the world of pop music to its dynamic sporting scene. During our short time here, I've found myself amazed by the similarities between my homeland and our temporary host. And to be brutally honest, a lot of the greatest things about America seem to even better in South Korea...
We ate a lot of interesting new foods during our time in Busan. The city's supermarkets are rather expensive, and eating out was almost as cheap as cooking at home, particularly when you stick to the kinds of local joints which we prefer. This is the first of our recaps on what we ate, and what it's called
Turns out that Busan is the kind of city which can have a giant mountain right in its center, topped by an ancient fortress, accessible by cable car... and it's not a big deal. We were shocked when we learned of the cable car up Mt. Geumjeongsanseong, and Busan was all "Oh yeah, that. I forgot about that." It doesn't even appear in the various "must-do" lists we've read for Busan, while in most other cities it would be the top highlight!
Manga is a Japanese phenomenon, but comics and animated TV shows are also big business in Korea, where they're known as manhwa. During our first weekend in Busan, a manhwa festival called Comic World was being held at the BEXCO convention hall. Wild Korean youth dressed in freaky cosplay? No way we were missing that.
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.
It took us about 91 minutes walking around Busan to come to a definite conclusion. No way would 91 days be enough to thoroughly explore this city! The beaches, temples, disparate neighborhoods, mountains, street markets, parks... let alone the food. Koreans are known for their work ethic, and I think we're going to have to follow suit to have any chance of seeing even a fraction of the things Busan offers.
We hadn't even discussed it with each other, it was just understood. An unspoken contract between me and Jürgen, sealed the very moment we learned of its existence: the first place we would visit in Busan, before any temples or museums or beaches, was going to be Shinsegae Centum City -- the world's largest department store. That title is Guinness-certified and uncontested. Shinsegae is three times the size of Macy's, which was the previous record-holder.