Sunday, February 25, 2007


At the invite of Preacher Uncle, we went to Taejongdae during the week, which is a park by the sea, or Scenic Spot No. 17 as the Busan Municiple Authority more poetically call it. The English tourist blurb tells us that:

"Taejongdae is a representative park of Busan, with fantastic rocky cliffs, quiet resting places in thick forests of various evergreen and deciduous trees, and a variety of recreational facilities. It is famous for the fact that the Tsushima islands of Japan can be seen from here."

What they don't tell you is that you'll need a particularly clear day to see those Japanese islands, and that what Taejongdae is really famous for is its 'suicide cliffs', because this is where too many Koreans come to end their lives in a way worthy of a Korean Drama (evidently throwing yourself off one of the many available high-rise apartment buildings in the city is just too dull).

The park itself is beautiful - despite the season which left a good number of the trees bare - and we were fortunate enough to go at a quiet time when we didn't have to fight our way through crowds of locals with the same idea. The tourist buses, disturbingly brightly coloured and a throwback to naff British seaside resorts of the 1970s, were still running around the park, although why anyone would choose to take a very noisy bus rather than appreciating the quiet serenity of the park's grounds is beyond me. The twenty minute uphill walk to the far side of the park with its large cliffs wasn't too bad, but it made me realise just how determined many of the people committing suicide had to be to reach them in the first place. Or maybe they take the bus?

Along the
way there are Buddhist Temples off the path in the forest, chants emanating from loudspeakers which echo round the landscape. Much as I'd love to have visited them though, I've developed the impression that Preacher Uncle has something on an aversion to stepping into competitor territory so I let it pass. I think he's still secretly hoping to convert me from (lapsed) Catholicism to Christianity so I'll let him cling to his faith.

So at the far side, where the lighthouse is, we made our way down the cliffs on increasingly perilous sets of steps. It didn't go unnoticed by my Meniere's condition which started playing the 'which way is upright?' game with me. As we descended further the route lost any pretence of b
eing a proper path and just became a narrow level bit of cliff with a two-rope barrier to discourage you from falling off the edge. Preacher Uncle chose this point to helpfully notice how a bolt was missing from one of the metal poles in the rope barrier. "Abunai!" (dangerous) he added helpfully in Japanese - we were still continuing our strange Korean/English/Japanese method of communication established when we first met, that I've come to dub 'Konglese' as opposed to the 'Konglish' that is encountered here, if anything at all.

On the way down, completely unexpectedly, the path briefly became enclosed and within that space was a wall where visitors were encouraged to neatly graffiti their love messages. Perhaps this was to discourage them from writing their messages all over the other rocks on the cliff, but if it was it failed miserably. It seemed from various signs on the way down that fossilised remains and footprints had been discovered here, and judging by the many layers of spectacular sedimentary deposits visible in the cliff faces it's hardly surprising, but Koreans were more interested in love than history, here at least. Along the way, proving that Koreans can sell anything, anywhere, vendors hawked refreshments in increasingly precarious locations.

At the bottom Preacher Uncle posed dramatically on the edge of the final cliff, I guess that's faith for you, looking for all the world like he could stop an
y Japanese invasion single-handedly. But if there was a naval fleet massing by the Tsushima Islands we couldn't see one; it was too misty. We made our way back up past the lighthouse which is apparently quiet an attraction, but didn't look that much to me, although there was a visitor centre with a dinosaur in the window.

On the way out of the park I wanted to check out something nearby that looked like a war memorial of some kind. I think Preacher Uncle indulged me a little because he didn't seem that keen or he didn't understand why I was curious. It turned out to be a memorial to 'medical assistance units' from the U.N. who served in the Korean war. Italian, Indian, Danish and Swedish flags were on it as well as a couple of others I can't recall. I can't help feeling that unlike Taejongdae, I might have been the first visitor in some time.

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