Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Walk in the Park

After my Korean massage torture, I ventured out for the first time since Wednesday with Korean Mother today who suggested we go to Yongdusan Park in the Nampodong area of Busan. In Korean 'yongdu' means dragon's head and 'san' means mountain so it seems this is Dragon's Head Mountain Park. Apparently the mountain looks like a dragon's head from the sea - I guess I'll take their word for it. Anyway, despite the long road to the top of the park, which is lined with poetry carved into large stones, the actual park itself is very small, the main attractions apparently being a performance area, a large tower, some seats and a couple of forest paths which we didn't go down.

We quickly made our way to the collection of buildings which form the base for the park's tower to escape from the heat. Amongst the usual cafes and shops selling tourist trinkets, were an art gallery which perhaps wasn't too keen on photos being taken, and a small aquarium which while interesting was embarrassingly modest, and the fish looked rather bored - though they had a better life than some of their peers which we'd meet later. Also nearby was an artist who busied himself creating pictures by burning them into pieces of wood, a significant number of which showed some Christian leanings, although the piece we eventually bought for Korean Mother was of a more traditional kind. Many of the signs around the buildings were in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese, and there were certainly a good number of Westerners visible, as well as Japanese, judging from the conversations I overheard. When a Japanese group started talking to the artist I thought we might have to step in to try a three-way translation, but it seemed he spoke Japanese better than I did.

So we went up the Busan Tower, which stands 120m tall from ground level, though by this time that's not where we were starting from, with the rapidly ascending elevator counting off the rise in tens of meters. We stopped at one-hundred to be greeted by a restaurant and viewing area, although to reach the proper observation deck near the top of the tower we have to travel up one more floor via a very narrow staircase. The views were worth the journey and admission cost of 5,000 won, as Busan treated us with one of its rare relatively clear days. That said, it was still hazy from the heat, so we were unable to see the Japanese island that apparently is sometimes visible in the distance.

Back at the bottom, we worked our way towards the Samulnori (사물놀이) performance we'd spotted from the Tower, and this time we were able to see it properly. Buddhist Monks followed this up with a religious ritual called Yeongsanjae (영산재) - designed to lead spirits to heaven. Certainly their colourful clothing in the bright sunshine made for a very vibrant display. We stayed as long as we could but the combination of very strong sun and empty stomachs eventually drove us back down into the city in search of some food and shelter.

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