Day 18 - Korea - one fabulous stop

Trip Start Feb 04, 2012
Trip End Mar 01, 2012

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Flag of Korea Rep.  ,
Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The ship’s Captain set a northerly course as we left Nagasaki, enroute to the southeast coast of South Korea.  As in most ports the ship boards a local pilot to assure the cruise ship’s safe entry into the designated booth.  A small craft brings the pilot from land and he/she boards at the 4th deck level. 
Busan is the second largest city in South Korea.  Its land mass is slightly larger than the state of Indiana, with a population of just under 50 million people.  During the past 100 years, Korea has survived four major wars, 40 years of Japanese occupation (1905-1945) and a current national division.    Busan was the scene of bitter fighting during the Korean War.  And through all this, the people of Korea have somehow maintained their distinct cultural and linguistic identification.  Guides say that there never has been any danger that Korea would be mistaken for or absorbed by, any of its larger, more dominant neighbors

Busan is a large and expanding tourist center.  The country has hot springs, beautiful beaches, and many public parks.  More than eight million tourists come to Busan annually.

Our tour guide in Busan was not our best by a long shot.  He had a very thick accent which we couldn’t understand.  He also kept disappearing from our site, leaving folks a bit frustrated.  It was a bit disorienting; there were times we didn’t know where to go!  He did point out some of the buildings and landmarks as we rode the bus from the ship into the city itself, including a United Nations Cemetery.  It is the only one of its kind in the world where the dead of 16 Korean War allies rest in honored peace.  There are 36 from the United States buried there, but the numbers keep rising, because US military are allowed to be buried there. So as veterans of the Korean War die, they have the option to be buried at the cemetery, and occasionally such a burial does take place. 

An hour’s bus ride brought us to the amazing Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, a very striking landmark, especially so because of its location by the sea.  It is dedicated to the great Buddha Goddess of Mercy.  We climbed about 100 steps to the entrance, past statues of Buddha, calming waterfalls and along a dramatic rocky backdrop.  Many people were making pilgrimages to the temple, so it was quite crowded.  Often I stopped walking to wait for someone bowing in front of a statue, out of respect to them.  Some brought incense and others placed coins in little crevices of statues as an offering to Buddha.  Still others brought food offerings to place on the altar. 

The buildings on the temple grounds are quite ornate with intricate carvings and colorful paintings.  At various place along the pathway people placed small ceramic Buddhas on rocks. It was almost comical, though I don’t want to sound sac religious here.  We took our shoes off to enter several buildings, which is a requirement for anyone entering a holy space.  I was peering into a shrine from an open doorway at one of the shrines, and wasn’t planning to go inside, but a woman saw me and assuming I was going into the shrine without taking off my shoes, scolded me harshly (in Korean)  while shaking her finger at me. 
Perhaps the seacoast location made it very charming; the views of the sea were very beautiful from several different angles and perspectives.  Perhaps the next most striking thing for me was to climb 89 very uneven, rocky stairs to the large, golden figure of a laughing Buddha.  The story has it that at each of the steps, the visitor leaves one of his/her worries behind; technically speaking, one may leave 89 different worries behind upon climbing the stairway.
Returning down the steps, we met vendors who set up shops of food and souvenirs.  The scent of the foods was alluring, I must say, though I didn’t try anything.  (If I’d have had Korean currency, I think I would have been tempted to indulge, however.) 

We visited the APEC House (Asia Pacific Economic Conference) so named because it was built for the 2005 APEC Economic Leader’s Meeting.  The land has many beautiful pine trees, and a walkway along the ocean front.  The rooms were unremarkable, really – a small amount of Korean culture built into the interior design, but not a whole lot to comment on.  President Bush attended this conference.     
Busan is developing into major tourist center with a variety of attractions.  

One major attraction stands out, and that is the Ja-Gal-Ch’I Fish Market, which is sprawled along the fishing boat docks.  This market was created by women peddlers during the Korean War and is called “Aunties Market”.  The spectacle is colorful, with more than a thousand booths where fish are artistically displayed.  Crabs are piled on display tables into small pyramids, and live octopus and squid and starfish struggle to escape their colorful plastic bins. Passing along the crowded passageway along the fish stands, one can see vendors cleaning their fish, or tending to their children, or quickly eating a meal with their chopsticks.  Haggling is going on between the vendors and customers, creating a scene of chaos and intrigue. 

Our return to the ship took us over the impressive 24,000-foot Gwangan Grand Bridge, which was completed in 2003, and is the longest suspension bridge in Korea. 

After our return to the ship and evening meal, we went to Showtime, featuring award winning singer, Lovena B. Fox.  She had an amazing voice and an exciting performance of many songs from a wide range  of genres.  She has sung and danced on Broadway, has received the Canadian awards equivalent to the Grammys, and has had an illustrious career. 

Another great day in another great city of the world.

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