Do you remember that one scene in Oldboy? The scene which, after you watched it, you never forgot and needed therapy to recover from? You know, that scene, the one where Oh Dae-Su eats a living octopus? Well, our lunch at the Millak Raw Fish Market brought me as close to the experience of being Oldboy as I ever need to get.
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.
Dumplings, soju, grilled ribs, stews, chicken and lots of kimchi were on the table this week. It took us a few weeks to start to get the hang of Korean food, discover what we love, and what we don't.
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.
The mountains and hills of Busan are easily its best feature, both helping to confine the city's sprawl and offering parks and natural refuges for residents to escape the stress of everyday life. Among Busan's wide range of nature walks, the one spanning Igidae Park is among the most popular. We hiked along its 5.2 kilometer coastal trail on a sunny afternoon.
The Busan National Gugak Center opened in 2008 with the mission of bringing Korea's culture to the masses. We went to an incredible Tuesday night performance which introduced us to some of the peninsula's traditional music, dance and drumming.
Crescent-shaped Gwangalli Beach is one of the most popular hangouts in Busan, offering fine sand, good swimming, and an exorbitant number of cafés, restaurants and bars. We were lucky enough to call it home for three months and spent a lot of time on the its entertaining promenade.
Early on, we started to learn how to pick out some of the Korean words for foods we especially liked. Bibimbap is easy, mostly a lot of "b"s strung together (비빔밥). And we could quickly identify both bulgogi and kalguksu. But we weren't out of the woods yet! On one Saturday night, we sat down a popular place in Seuyoung and only realized at the last minute that they serve strictly intestines. Props to the English-speaking kid at the neighboring table for warning us!
Not far from Eatery Alley, we discovered Bookstore Alley: a tiny road jam-packed with an insane number of used bookshops, cafes and shoppers. With a history going back 50 years, this is one of the coolest corners we found in Busan, and a great place to spend a spare hour... even if you don't read Korean.
From the airplane, while arriving into Busan for the first time, I was afraid that the city might be too dull. But while the blocks of identical gray apartment buildings might dominate the skyline, once you get onto the streets, Busan offers endless variety. Temples, bars, traffic, cute plush toys and drawings, and... chicken crossings? This city has it all!