A lot of Busan’s most famous tourist experiences could be had just a stone’s throw from where I was staying at Pukyong National University. Here’s a sampling of some of my favourites…
Lotte Giants baseball game
Surprisingly, this became one of the tourist experiences I enjoyed the most. Now, that’s saying something because I hate sport. Even on a conceptual level. But perhaps the reason I liked going to see Busan’s team – the Lotte Giants – play was because it involved being with the locals while they were doing something they loved. And it was a spectacle. Giants fans are known for giving energetic support from the stands, and to me who has never been a spectator at any sporting event, they did not disappoint. There was cheering and chanting and K-pop dancing. Actually, I thought the K-pop dancers were pre-game entertainment and it took me a while to realise the game was in play! Rain put a dampening on things about halfway through the game, but there was one more curious aspect to this baseball outing that lifted my spirits. Orange plastic bags. Such a humble object, distributed to spectators during the game so they can pack their rubbish away with ease at the end, thus leaving the stadium tidy. Such a good idea. But are Giants fans content to use the bags for just that one purpose? Oh no. Why not fashion the bag into a headdress and wear it for a while before using it for rubbish collection? Okay! And we did.
Gamcheon Culture Village
This was on everyone’s wish list to pay a visit to. It’s a sort of ramshackle, old area of Busan that has been revitalised by artistic endeavours – sculptures, murals, weird stuff – on the buildings and in the street. A group of us got together and made the trip by bus and then by taxi. We got our maps so we could do a scavenger hunt through the maze-like streets and buildings. We had our cameras so we could take shots of the iconic artworks. We were ready for a pleasant Friday afternoon stroll. And then, no more than 15 minutes after our arrival at Gamcheon, it started raining. Absolutely pouring. It was rainy season in Korea at the time so we were quite used to a bit of rain by then. But this was TORRENTIAL. A proper storm. I had wisely brought my umbrella having gotten a feel for Busan’s weather, but it was no use this time. I could practically hear the raindrops laughing at me as they proceeded to soak my shoes. With no sign of the rain drying up, we were forced to abandon our excursion. Sadly, I never did get a chance to go back for another try with Gamcheon – so it’s on the top of my to-do list for the next time I visit Korea!
United Nations Memorial Cemetery
This cemetery memorialises UN soldiers from 16 different countries who died in the Korean War. It’s just a short walk from PKNU and I wandered down there one afternoon alone knowing that it would be a time and space for reflection. The grounds and gardens were immaculately ordered and maintained, and signage informed me of a rule requiring silence from visitors. It was a strangely peaceful place where the bustling city immediately beyond its boundaries seemed to disappear. I spent a good deal of time walking up and down the paths, finding out who/what each monument was dedicated to, and reading some stories of Australian soldiers who served. Whenever I’ve been abroad, I’ve always gotten a little thrill at finding the “Aussie connection” to that foreign place. I guess this was one of the really bittersweet ones.
This is a beautifully scenic spot that was also just a short walk from campus. I read on a tourist information sign that “igidae” is a reference to “two gisaengs” (meaning two female entertainers, or prostitutes) and a story about them being forced to serve Japanese officers who had invaded and occupied Busan at the time. Apparently, the Japanese officers were holding some sort of victory party on top of this seaside outlook and the two Korean women, in an act revenge, grabbed one of the drunk Japanese officers and all three of them plunged from the side of the cliff and into the rocks below. Rather bleak and heavy. But historical tales aside, this actually is a nice place for a walk, a nice place to view Gwangan Bridge from an alternative angle, and a nice place to just sit and stare out to sea.
Bonus tourist experience: McDelivery
I mentioned that these tourist attractions were only a stone’s throw from the PKNU campus, but the whole point of this one is that you stay right where you are. That’s right, in South Korea McDonald’s does deliveries. We had to try it just once and dialled for delivery to the dorm (…even though there was a McDonald’s a quick walk up the street).
My next post will be the final in this series. Time for reminiscing…