South Korea's second city

Trip Start May 28, 2006
Trip End May 17, 2007

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Flag of Korea Rep.  ,
Friday, November 10, 2006

Both North and South Korea have been in the international news a lot recently, especially in South East Asia, but aside from the obvious nuclear stories, more immediate concerns have been making the headlines in Japan. The English language Japanese "Daily Yomiuri" newspaper carried an article under the following headline last week ... "South Korea moves to legalize miniskirts". It said hot pants and short skirts could soon be legal after the government revised an indecency law that saw ruler-wielding police officers roaming the streets in the 1970s in search of transgressors.

Armed with such important knowledge of the country's current affairs, we decided to go and see Korea for ourselves - to discover what sort of country could still have such strict indecency laws. We arrived in Busan, South Korea's second city, by hydrofoil just two hours and fifty-five minutes after leaving Fukuoka in Japan. The crossing was quite rough, so we were pleased the hostel we'd booked wasn't too far away from the port.

When we arrived it wasn't immediately apparent where our hostel was - the address led us to a 25 floor tower block. We finally worked out that the Blue Backpackers' Hostel was on the 18th floor and found Jin, our young English-speaking host, waiting for us. The hostel we'd booked, turned out to be her flat - there was one twin room with bunk beds and a second room with 6 beds in it. Not quite what we were expecting, but nice enough.

We've spent the last two days exploring Busan which is South Korea's second most populous city - with about 4 million residents, that said it doesn't really seem to be on the travellers' route - we've seen fewer than half a dozen Westerners here the whole time. This was particularly noticeable when we visited the Beomeosa Buddhist Temple. It was founded in AD 678, but has been rebuilt over time because of various invasions and battles.

Wandering around the complex was really interesting - we were the only non-Koreans around - and were able to witness dozens of female pilgrims prostrating themselves and chanting in harmony to the accompaniment of a monk beating a drum. After admiring the temple and the views of the autumn foliage, we retired to a nearby cafe to eat the most delicious green onion and seafood pancake - not what we thought we'd ordered, but really yummy all the same!

Our next jaunt was to a park in the city where we took a cable car up the hillside to get a fantastic view of Busan. We wandered around the wood for a while, noticing all the Korean ramblers picnicking and eating in the little make-shift cafes under the trees and then we heard something quite amusing - a couple of Koreans shouting "Yaho!" when they reached the summit of the mountain - a tradition apparently. After the amazing views of the city we got some great ones of the port from Busan Tower. The city is home to the world's fourth largest container port - really quite extraordinary and strangely beautiful from that height.

Our highlight of this morning has been visiting the Jagalchi Fish Market - the biggest one in Korea. We didn't make it there for the 5am auction, but we did witness the hundreds of ajumma or married and/or middle aged fish wives selling their wares along the harbourside. Hundreds of different species were for sale - some dried, some gutted and many still very much alive. We saw several octopi, crabs and others unfortunates, escape from their bowls and try and make a break for freedom. After seeing all these delicacies we decided to sample some of our own - turns out Korean sushi is hotter than the Japanese variety!
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