Pusan, which the South Koreans have inexplicably started calling Busan, is the second largest city here and its major port. If you think of all the things we buy from South Korea, you can imagine how busy this port is. Since 70% of Korea is mountainous, the city and container ports have crept along the shore line at an ever increasing pace. Huge apartment complexes go on for mile after mile. I would not like to live in such a place, but they look clean and well maintained and small, green play areas are sprinkled among them.
From the moment we arrived, we were impressed by the hard working people, cleanliness, and all around prosperity of the place. Although Busan makes an effort, hosting some international events such as an annual film festival, it is not a major tourist city. Nevertheless, a huge fleet of Daewoo buses arrived, staffed with white gloved drivers and tour guides eager to share in their heavily accented English.
Our guide's intelligibility was further endangered by the fact that she the mic she used had a heavy reverb on it. When she sang us a Korean folk song, she sounded like a major pop star. She spoke with great optimism about the efforts currently being made to reach out to the north and ultimately reunite the two halves of this rather small country. She also felt optimistic about her country's relationship with China, the big behemoth directly to the north. Both countries have attacked each other repeatedly over the years and she felt that they both have come to their senses and are working together for prosperity for one and all. Lets hope she's right.
She told us that 45% of her people are Christian, a surprise to us. Consequently, they celebrate both the Christian and Buddhist holidays, a great way to unite the country and give these hard working folks a day off here and there. Since the country has few natural resources besides its people, education is the name of the game here. You're a nobody without at least a master's degree and 70% of the people start their own businesses rather than working for someone else. When we think of all the Koreans who have come to the US, the same pattern holds true.
Our tour took us to Haedong-Yunggusa. Temple, an unusual temple because it is located on the sea rather than in the mountains. Its setting hugging the craggy rocks, gave it a special beauty. For western tastes the statues and decore were rather loud and colorful, but that's the Asian way. I especially liked the prayer house, with little pieces of paper containing people's requests hanging from the ceiling. While our guide tried hard to explain Buddhist beliefs to us, the seven bus loads of our fellow tourists crawling around the place, interfered with our hearing and it's all still pretty inscrutable to us.
Then we were taken to APEC House, a flying saucer of a building also perched overlooking the sea. This building hosted a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Community, eighteen countries in all. The photo of our illustrious president wearing a hanbok, the traditional Korean dress, was proudly displayed. The meeting area looked as if this conference had just ended yesterday, although the event took place in 2005. We were left with the conclusion that this small country is trying so very hard to be a player in the world community, and any evidence of this is a big deal. It was a pretty spot overlooking the Grand Busan Bridge, a seven kilometer double decker bridge that efficiently linked Busan to its suburbs.
The tour ended in the downtown shopping area, which bustled with real people buying real things, rather than touristy T-shirt shops and other souvenir venues. We have learned the hard way that anything purchased in a country like this can easily be found at Pier One when we return home, so we amused ourselves observing the food vendors, the slabs of dried squid for sale, and Korean versions of many of the fast food spots we have at home. The juxtaposition of a dried fish vendor and the McDonald's, sharing the same space and equally patronized, was a metaphor for east meets west. That's Pusan.