Monday, June 05, 2006

Busan: A Full Day

The morning began with a relaxed coffee & sugar pastry at a pastry shop across from Busan train station. Then I headed downtown.

Jagalchi Fish Market is supposed to be the largest seafood market in Korea - Lonely Planet claims you can even buy whale meat there. I did not see any whale meat (as far as I could tell) but I did see some real impressively large octopi, far bigger than the puny little specimens that inhabit the tanks in front of Seoul seafood restaurants.

Full disclosure time: I am not a big seafood fan. I'll eat practically anything that's dead if I have a reasonable expectation of not getting food poisoning. But it all tastes kind of the same to me, and I very rarely seek out seafood if I have other options (exception: I like hui dopbap, which is raw fish mixed with rice and vegetables in a bowl). So perhaps another person would get far more out of a visit to Jagalchi. For lunch I went to a little restaurant a few blocks inland from Jagalchi where I had sundubu with assorted banchan, and it was excellent.

This morning the seaside area was covered with impenetrable fog, which did not seem all that different from the polluted haze you see in Seoul. That ruled out any afternoon activites that involved going to some high point and looking out over the city. Lonely Planet declares the Buddhist temple of Beomeosa to be "perhaps the best sight" in the city. To get there I took the subway to the northern part of the city, and then a bus up a winding mountain road.

I dodged a bullet - just as I reached Beomeosa, about a hundred very loud schoolchildren were leaving. Nothing against children in small quantities, but they are not always conducive to the atmosphere of a Buddhist temple. Beomeosa is, as LP promised, very peaceful and quiet compared to the city of Busan.

After the temple I still had almost all afternoon, so against my initial plan I headed to Haeundae. Haeundae is the most famous beach in the entire country, and I have gotten used to pictures of it as a mass of people and parasols, too crowded seemingly for anyone to enjoy themselves. But apparently those pictures were all taken in the tourist season of July and August, and I arrived in early June, and although the beach was doing a healthy business it was not the crowded morass that I had expected. I walked across the beach for a long ways, and then went inland for seafood noodle soup. And it was very good. I've noticed a kind of inverse relationship between the quality of a Korean restaurant's decor and the quality of its food - although I've gotten some good meals from restaurants that were obviously trying very hard to look rustic.

I have one thing to add about the subway system in Busan. I realize that subway maps are under no obligation to reflect actual geographical relationships, but I wonder what the reason was for putting SOUTH at the top of most subway maps on Busan subway trains. Especially since all subway maps in the stations themselves have NORTH at the top. As I said, I am sure there is a very good reason.

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