Busan State of Mind
After this winter’s week-long vacation, you may remember me having pledged to not stick around Seoul for any more vacations or extended-weekends. I spent a four-day weekend in Tokyo in February, and last weekend I joined 4 coworkers for a 3-day weekend down in Busan, compliments of Budda’s birthday. I figured I needed to visit Busan eventually, and a long weekend was the perfect time to do it. I had heard that it was a go-to location for foreigners on this weekend, especially the Haeundae Beach. I did not realize that those few blocks are pretty much Korea’s alternative to a college spring break. That’s certainly the first time in almost 9 months that I’ve been around so many foreigners.
Though it took time to adjust to this little culture shock, once I changed my state of mind I realized it was a nice change of pace. At home I typically eat Korean food, hang out with Koreans, and slowly translate different types of meat on a menu so that I can generally know what I’m ordering. This weekend was a chance to meet a lot of foreigners from English speaking countries all over the world and eat foreign food on a menu with an abundance of English translations. What a treat! I had my second burrito in Korea, and the best pasta since leaving the states. I really enjoy Korean food, but variety is clearly the spice of life… as are spices themselves.
Of course, Busan also has more than just foreign foods and foreign people. It’s chocked full of temples and great hiking trails. Though I have a stubborn knee issue that kept me from my preferred hikes, I still got to see a couple temples decorated in lanterns for the holiday. Our first visit was Samgwangsa on Friday afternoon. We got there a bit before dusk, allowing us to see the temple both before and after the lanterns were lit. Though I had seen pictures, I was still amazed at how many lanterns were actually on the temple. It seems as if every possible surface and railing was used to hang lanterns, and if that wasn’t enough, they put up scaffolds so the whole plaza was under a low roof of neon-colored lanterns. However the highlight was certainly the twin fire-breathing dragons presiding over the stairs up to the shrine.
Our Saturday hike was certainly a step up. My coworker read about a somewhat obscure trail leading from Songjeong beach to Yongungsa temple. Due to its shoreline location, this temple was on my must-see list for the weekend. That was the common opinion of many other travelers, so the place was packed. The line to get into the temple was a ~20 minute wait, but definitely worth it. The temple is partially built on an impressive rock face. Though still saturated in lanterns, it was slightly less than Samgwangsa, which I appreciated, as it lent me a better view of the temple as whole. Just as interesting as the temple was the secluded hike which led to it. After some tentative wondering around, we found a short, solitary trail that brought us along the shore. I was especially interested in seeing the remnants of a more violent time in Korea’s history (I can’t imagine they’re for current use). Along that short stretch, we passed over half a dozen well-preserved machine-gun foxholes surrounded by barbed wire. It made for a nice picnic spot.
Busan is also famous for beaches. Haeundae was a 5-10 minute walk from our hostel, and is the most popular beach in Korea. Unfortunately it was overcast and a bit chilly most of the weekend. I’m not much of a beach guy anyway, so I wasn’t heartbroken to leave that until my next trip. Counting on a stronger knee, I’ll also be hiking around the Geumjeong Fortress and Seokbulsa—my two biggest regrets of this trip. So until my next long weekend, it’s a big “see you later” to Busan, its temples, and its beaches!