Tuesday, October 31, 2023

No Zombies on This Train to Busan

One of the joys of my style of fieldwork--two weeks or so at a time--is that I have to figure out what to do with the weekends in between.  I can't expect interview subjects to meet with me on the weekend, soooooo I have to find something to do.  During my first trip to South Korea five years ago, I spent one of the weekend days during a DMZ tour--a tour bus took us to various sites along the DMZ including going into one tunnel that the North Koreans had dug.  Very cool!  This time?  I decided to go to Busan.

 Was I inspired by the fun zombie movie Train to Busan?  Only slightly.  Mostly, I wanted to see the other side of the country. I did make a mistake with both train rides taking place at night, so I didn't see much of the stuff in between.  I was trying to max interview time on Friday and then Busan time on Sunday.  My fixer suggested a specific hotel near the Haeundae beach, and she knew what she was advising.  It was not that far from downtown, but it had heaps of restaurants, shops, markets, and, yes, a very nice beach.  This put me closer to the East China Sea and South China Sea than I had been before, and the other side of the Sea of Japan, so heaps of history and international relations on the waters nearby.

The view from Canada's spot
So, for Saturday, I decided, again based on the advice of my fixer, to do the hop on/hop off bus thing.  But before I did that, I walked over to a nearby peninsula where the 2005 APEC summit was held.  It is a pretty spectacular location with views both of the beaches to the north and the city of Pusan and its bridges to the south.  But I have to wonder: they created an entire building for this summit, and now it is just a museum to that summit.  Should a summit, just one meeting, be that big of a deal that it warrants not only creating a building for it but then not using it again for much?  

Once I got on the bus, I got some great views of the city and so much shipping/port stuff.  I reminded me of both season two of The Wire--all the cans!--and my friend Beth DeSombre whose previous project was on ports.  




My first hop off was for the UN Memorial--where some of the soldiers, known and unknown, from the Korean War were laid to rest.  It was very different from the other war cemeteries I have visited: I don't think I have been to one where those from multiple countries have been buried, and I have never seen each gravestone separated by a shrub from the next.  The different contingents had their own spaces and their own memorials--statues or whatever.  

The multiple memorabilia halls didn't have that much, but the memorial hall had a video that documented a few stories including two that, well, got to me.  The first story was about two Canadian brothers, one who went first, the second who followed but never did manage to catch up to his brother.  The first one died during the war, and the second had much guilt about not being with him, ultimately leading to his requesting to buried next to his brother, so they could be together again.  

Canadian memorial
The second story was about a soldier who lost many pals during the war, and since he didn't think anyone else would remember them, he would visit.  And he did, often, as in yearly on his dime.  He lived a long time, but died not that long ago, and, yes, is buried there as well, next to his pals.  





Wall of Remembrance had multiple walls as
the names of the fallen (largely American,
the Korean names are not listed here) required
a fair amount of space.










The Busan Museum is next door so I did that next--it had some interesting history as Busan, being the closest part of Korea to Japan, was central to Korean-Japanese trade and conflict for centuries.  I then caught the bus again and took it to a huge shopping complex--apparently the largest in the world.  The key spot there, of course, was the food market in the basement (just like in Japan).  Heaps and heaps of all kinds of interesting food and a lot of sweets.  I had to control myself since it was too early for dinner so I just had some gelato.  Oh, and I had a plan--there was a place near my hotel that served Indonesian food.  Ok, it had a handful of highly rated dishes and also served Indian and Pakistani food.  And it was terrific.  I rarely can find Indonesian food in the US and Canada, so when I am someplace where it abounds (the Netherlands), I seek it out.

The second day involved trips in opposite directions. I first took a cab a bit to the north as there is an amazing temple complex on a cliff.   I have seen some big Buddhas and big temple complexes, but this one has the best location.  Some random observations while I was there:

  • the icons are more of a mix with many statues and pictures showing laughing figures, much less dour than Catholic icons or Russian orthodox.
  • I don't know much about Buddhism but some of the tenets seem to be on target.  "Be where you are: otherwise you will miss your life."  Nice FOMO prevention!
  • Strange to think that this religion, like any other, begets violent extremists, but, yep, it has.

After the temple, I went downtown and hiked from the train station to book alley to multiple markets to a fish market to a mall to the train station.  Summed up nicely: 

Book alley not only has a heap of
small book stores but each one
is crammed with heaps of books

This all started when Busan was
the home of all of the refugees
as the only pocket that the North
Koreans couldn't conquer (if briefly)
in 1950

More market

Yep, another tower with great views

I couldn't help but notice lots of signs for
shelters.  From what?  Well, you know.

I am glad I made the trip.  I am seeing more neighborhoods in Seoul this time, but getting way out of town really paid off nicely.  And yes, googly eyes make everything better.

Haeundae and I agree: googly eyes
make everything better.


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