Thursday, October 03, 2013

Thursday, 10/03/13 Busan, Korea

Thursday, 10/03/13 Busan, Korea

As the ship slowly made its way into Busan harbor, the view for miles was of a forest of high rise apartment buildings. Busan (formerly Pusan) is South Korea’s second largest city. The population of Busan is now 3.5 million, and that is a decline from a former population of 5 million. It seems that the corporations and the jobs are moving north in
South Korea, to the area near Seoul, where labor is more plentiful and cheaper than in the Busan area. Still, the forest of high rise apartment buildings stretched for miles.

Korea was divided in 1945, after World War II, and the division was confirmed by the Korean War 1950-1953. After the Korean War, all of Korea was desperately poor, and many thousands of people died of starvation. The poverty continued until the early 1970s, when the United States pressed South Korea to support the Vietnam war. South Korea had no military, and no money to support the United States in the Vietnam War; however, the United States offered to give South Korea the rights to all construction projects in the war if they would support the war. For the first time, South Korea had an opportunity to improve its economic situation, and they took it. As the war went on, South Korea gained knowledge and experience in construction projects, and they are still now called upon for construction projects around the world. That was the beginning of the economic turnaround in South Korea, and the country has continued its economic growth since then. It is now one of the economic powerhouses in the world. Busan is one of the top five ports in the world as measured by the number of containers processed there, and the port is very impressive. A new bridge crosses the harbor, adding beauty to the port.

Because the Korean people suffered deep poverty for so long, they now want only new products. There are very few cars on the roads that are not new, as well as the roads, the apartment buildings, the appliances and everything else. In addition, they have kept few historic sites, although they now recognize the value of historic sites in tourism, and they now are reconstructing some historic sites.

The tour included several historic sites designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The first site was Tumuli Park, the home of 20 royal tombs dating back to the Silla Dynasty, including Chonmachong, or “Flying Horse” tomb, that was excavated in 1973. The tombs of Tumuli Park are located in Tumuli Village, which is part of the UNESCO designation, and is filled with historic houses and buildings that are occupied and in use. No external changes can be made in these buildings. This site is about 1.5 hour’s drive from the port. Although the tour stopped at the tombs, one sad aspect of the tour was it did not include a photo stop at the village, and there was no opportunity to take photos of the interesting buildings there.

After this visit, the tour stopped for a large buffet lunch at a local hotel. This lunch was not the greatest; it was definitely a “tourist” luncheon. One of the items at the buffet was Kimchi, the national dish of Korea; this is a cabbage dish that is fermented and very spicy. This dish is so important in Korea that many households have two refrigerators, one used solely for Kimchi. The luncheon included a very beautiful folk dance.

After lunch, the tour went to the Bulguska Temple, a very impressive Buddhist temple that was constructed about 750 AD, and also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tour guide discussed Buddhism, which has been the national religion of Korea since around 700 AD. Buddhism originated in India, traveled to China, and then on to Korea and Japan. The basic tenet of Buddhism is that desire is the cause of all pain in life, and the path to peace is letting of all desire.

One interesting tidbit that the tour guide pointed out concerns the appearance of Korean women. She said that it is often very difficult to tell the age of a Korean woman who is between the ages of 25 and 60. As an example, she asked the people on the bus to guess her age. She appeared to be 25-30, but she said that she was in fact 46. Everyone was shocked; she certainly did not appear to be 46. She was asked if she was married, and she said “no”, that she was never wanted by any man. She was very well educated, including graduate studies in America, and in Asia, many educated women are not wanted as wives because they outshine their husbands.

Busan is a very interesting city, and the tour barely touched on the interesting aspects of the city. It would be very interesting to return and spend some time there. Busan stretches for miles along a valley, and almost all of the city is in that long valley, with high rise apartment buildings rising up along the sides of the valley.


No comments: