Saturday, October 27, 2007

Darkness Ascending

When we went to Busan Fireworks Festival last November, I couldn't have imagined that almost one year on we'd be still here to wonder about attending this year's event. Well we are due to events beyond our control, but we decided to give it a miss. Even though this year's event was spread over two days, memories of the cold and the crowds were still fresh enough in our memories. But thoughts of Gwangalli Beach and Gwangan Bridge led to a suggestion going up Hwangryeong Mountain at the weekend, where spectacular night views of Gwangan, Haeundae and in fact much of Busan were promised, subject to atmospheric conditions which, it has to be said, are normally less than ideal here, even when China's noxious cloud of double-digit GDP growth isn't surpassing the local pollution. So when Sunday came and the air was crystal clear, it really seemed like we were in luck.

Unlike most mountains in Busan, it's possible to drive up Hwangryeong which is quite convenient if you want a quick fix of cityscape without the effort involved in actual physical exercise to achieve it. Which is not to say there is no effort involved, particularly if you have a compact digital camera rather than a more low-light friendly DSLR. The photos above were taken along the road near the top, and even though they're not very good they hopefully give a sense of what can be seen. On a reasonably clear evening the Fireworks Festival must be an interesting sight from the mountain, and it has the advantage of not having to sit on a cold beach for two hours beforehand.

In fact it's not actually possible to drive all the way to the top, so after parking the car we had to walk for about ten minutes to reach the summit. There is some debate about whether access to the summit is actually allowed, since it involves walking up a road closed with a barrier leading to a communications tower and connected building, beyond which lie some pathways and a raised concreted area with what look like vents at the peak - suggesting it serves some purpose other than a viewing platform, which is what people actually use it for. The lack of lighting also suggests this isn't exactly intended for the public - as darkness fell we found our way up with our friend's mobile phone, which has a built in emergency light.

There were about ten other people at the top. The 360-degree views in almost complete darkness really are something to see, but since developing Meniere's heights often make me sick, and I guess anyone with a fear of heights might want to give the experience a miss.

It's not only very dark at the summit, but also on parts of the road on the way down. So there are cars parked suspiciously every thirty meters or so along the edge, with seats down, steamed up or covered back windows, and the occasional light on inside. It's cheaper than a love hotel but I would have thought ripe for blackmail in this Internet-based society - camera, licence-plate, and a 'is this your husband's car?' page on Daum. Actually, I'm sure the TV channel that endlessly re-enacts Korean affairs and portrays their discovery as really happening live in front of the cameras would buy the idea.

We needed coffee and ended up at Starbucks on the beachfront opposite Gwangan Bridge. Three floors means a good chance of a decent view, but as it turns out is no guarantee of a decent photo, so it looks like this, more or less. Free wi-fi means a number of students were immersed in their small laptops and assignments at the tables.

It seemed as though local council workers or the tide had done a good job of clearing the beach, as there was little evidence that thousands of people had spent several hours encamped here the day before. Mysteriously, a light on a nearby building scrolled messages along the beach, such as the two above approximately translate as:

A wind does not leave a noise afterwards.', and the eerily more appropriate:
'To climb a mountain you must endure a slope.' and I certainly did.

Over in Haeundae near the forest of apartment blocks named Centum City, which sounds like a place which should be inhabited by 1950s comic-book superheroes rather than conspicuously affluent Koreans, blackened silhouettes stood at the water's edge fishing in the darkness. I don't know much about fishing but it seems to be quite a popular activity at night here. I've never seen anyone do this back home but the risk of getting mugged is probably too great. Maybe if I were a fish living along the coast of seafood-obsessed Busan I'd only come out at night - better to take my chances with the occasional fisherman than the fleet of ships trawling around during the daytime.

On to Songjeong Beach, where a circle of candles and a small gathering on the beach suggested an event of some sort transpiring. They could have been Korean Christians but we nevertheless risked our immortal souls to satisfy our curiosity. In fact it was a heart-shaped arrangement of candles along with someone who looked too young to be doing so proposing to his shocked girlfriend, as acquaintances circled with video cameras and mobile phones to capture the moment. After rounding off his proposal speech with some singing she said yes, at which point apparently short-range tactical fireworks were lit and the whole event threatened to rapidly turn into some kind of First World War re-enactment. Suffice to say that it could have easily become the shortest engagement on record. I must remember to keep away from Koreans with explosive devices in future. The crowd recovered their composure and chanted 'get a room' and I chanted a four-letter expletive which was not intended as advice for the happy couple although with Busan's depopulation problem being what it is it probably wasn't a bad idea.

We finally finished up at Haewol Pavilion which is cultural property number whatever and is believed to date back to 1997, making it a pre-Naver period construction, but sadly we missed out on the nearby Dalmaji Eoul Madang (Moon Viewing Unity Forum), which is a pity as nothing brings people together like a good moon.

Korean tags: , 구경, , 바닷가, 황령산

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