Time travelling from my sick-bed

South Korea

I’m pretty fed up.  I was sickening for something down in London, and once I got home, The Virus took a grip.  Goodness it’s malevolent: and it’s not letting go. The only consolation is that I’ve got through an astonishing number of books, including Min Jin Lee‘s Korean family saga Pachinko.

This is the story of several generations of one Korean family with roots near Busan, who emigrate to make a new life in Japan following the repressive occupation of their own country by the Japanese from 1911. It’s a compelling family saga taking us from 1911 to 1989; from poverty to economic stability, with sacrifice and hardship as constant themes.

How could I not be interested, since Emily’s just returned home to Spain from a year in Busan?  And yet the world in which the book begins is not one she or we would recognise.  A time traveller from 1911 or 1930 London, Liverpool or Leeds would find a lot that’s familiar in those same cities today.  A time traveller from Busan?  Not a chance.

The story starts in Yeongdo, which is now part of Busan, but was in 1930 a fishing village on an island set apart from the mainland.

 ‘…..the market ajummas squatting beside spice-filled basins, deep rows of glittering cutlass fish, or plump sea bream caught hours earlier – their wares arrayed attractively on turquoise and red waxed cloths spread on the ground.  The vast market for seafood – one of the largest of its kind in Korea – stretched across the rocky beach carpeted with pebbles and broken bits of stone, and the ajummas hawked as loudly as they could, each from her square patch of tarp.’

Here’s an ajumma, 2016 style, at Jagalchi market.

Well, I doubt if the market is still there – it certainly won’t be on the beach.  Instead, the immense Jagalchi fish market is on the nearby mainland, together with ajummas, certainly, but these days it’s all plate-glass buildings and the ephemera of modern port life.

As for Yeongdo.  No longer is it an island fishing settlement, with small wooden houses surrounded by productive vegetable patches.  I can’t find any pictures, so instead must rely on Min Jin Lee’s word pictures of empty beaches, densely wooded hillsides rich in edible fungi.  Those hillsides still exist – but look down over the settlements and the docksides below. And Yeongdo is linked to the mainland by a bridge.  Sunji and her family  wouldn’t recognise a thing.

 

Apart from my photo of an ajumma selling fish, all other images are from Wikimedia Commons

Snapshot Sunday: Magic at Igidae

South Korea, WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

The view from the Igidae Trail to Busan and Haeundae

Life’s complicated just now.  I don’t need any more challenges.  But here I am, taking on one which is entirely self-imposed. It’ll help me reflect on the good moments in life, or at least on interesting times.

The challenge is one provoked weekly by WordPress, my blogging platform.  Once a week, they provide a word.  Just one. To respond, I and fellow bloggers choose one of our own photos to interpret the theme.  Just one.

This week’s challenge is ‘Magic’.  Other bloggers have published photos of sunsets; a cube magically suspended from a buildinga fairy-tale castle in Schwerinscacciaguai, or benign demons; a butterfly; pebbles; flowers; scenes from distant lands – all magic in their own way.

My own magic moment is from South Korea.

Imagine Busan, the city where Emily’s living just now.  Imagine busy streets, crowded markets, streaming traffic, a high-rise metropolis of three and a half million people.

But it’s a coastal city too, and one day we took the path at Igidae. Here were views across the bay to those high-rise towers at Haeundae, to Gwangan Suspension Bridge, and to a jagged, rocky coastline.

As we walked away from Haeundae, we replaced city bustle with solitude, with crashing foaming waves, salty spray crusting our hair and faces, rugged paths leading us first up craggy cliffs then down again. The busy city was never more than minutes away, but we were at the edge of a primitive, savage untamed world, unchanging since time began.  That was a kind of magic.

The sea crashes to the cliffs of the Igidae Trail

The sea crashes to the cliffs of the Igidae Trail

My challenge posts will appear on Sundays.  Hence ‘Snapshot Sunday.’

Hiking round the subway

South Korea

Why go for a good long walk?  Well, for the pleasures of the countryside of course.  The views, the mulchy paths through woodland and across meadows: all the sights and sounds of  The Great Outdoors.  But for most of us, there’s another reason too.  We want a decent bit of exercise.  Get those legs into gear!

It’s no weather for walking at the moment, so in front of the fire, we fell to reminiscing about walking in South Korea.  Not the mountain walks to hidden temples, secret waterfalls.  No, we remembered walking in the metro systems of those mega-cities of Seoul and Busan.

It was courtesy of the subway that we got from A to B when we were tourists in those cities.  Our command of hangul was so limited that the bus had disappeared round the corner before we’d decoded its destination.

Announcements on the stations were helpfully in Korean and English, and you knew which direction the train was heading in, because as it pulled into the station, a tune would play.  Outward – one tune: inward, another.  One of Busan’s tunes was a few bars from Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’.

Seoul subway. Once in the carriage, we older travellers had a dedicated area where the younger commuter wouldn’t dare to sit, unless disabled or pregnant.

But all that’s for when you’d reached the platform – sorry – ‘tracks’.  First find your platform.  At one station in Busan, I found that once below ground, I still had a whole 750 metres to walk to get to the automatic ticket barrier marking the station entrance.

Here we are. Exit number 13

Here we are. Exit number 13

Some stations were vast, with up to 16 exits spread over a large geographical area.  Leave by the wrong one and you could find yourself clueless, or stranded on the wrong side of an impenetrably busy highway.  Within the station, distances can be so great that they’ve often installed travellators – not to mention three or even four long steep sets  of escalators plunging far into the earth. Or a lift – sorry, elevator – four storeys deep.  But it won’t get you out of walking, walking, walking, along sparklingly clean tunnels, unending platforms. No wonder every station has scrubbed and user-friendly public toilets for the weary traveller.

And who knew that stations can have more than one stop? If, for instance you need to transfer to another line at Eulji-ro in Seoul, you may need to catch a train to get to the line you’re changing to.  And then there’ll still be a route march to get to the right platform.

Seoul metro system.

Seoul metro system. There’s a pre-paid transport card that you can use country-wide, making day-to-day travel super-easy.

If your main interest in walking is to burn off the calories, I can recommend a trip to the metro system in South Korea.  Plan a journey from one station to another, build in a couple of line changes, and you’ve more than got your 10,000 steps a day under your belt.

Here’s a challenge we spotted whilst walking down those the long station corridors. Guess the work of art inspiring this advert. Answers in ‘Comments’ please!

 

 

Gamcheondong – culture village

South Korea

You’ve seen post after post showing urban Korea to be home to the high-rise. Often it is. But not always. Gamcheondong in Busan for instance. At the time of the Korean war the little houses clinging to steep hillsides provided safety and refuge. The community was closely-knit over the years, but not prosperous.

In the early years of this century, the area started to become something of an arty community. Murals appeared, galleries, quirky touches of all kinds. Now the narrow streets and winding alleyways are a tourist destination. Today, we joined those tourists.

In which we are VIPs.

South Korea

Emily came to Korea to teach. She’s at an Elementary school – children up to thirteen. And today, the Principal invited us to look round.

What a day. We were welcomed like royalty with elegantly presented ginseng tea and dainty fruit slices. We looked round the spacious, clean and orderly building where 360 children study.

We saw the classrooms, the well-stocked library, the science labs, the music and art area, the counselling room, the resources area, the sanatorium, the English room, the school broadcasting area, the after-school club rooms, the spacious kindergarten, the staff work rooms … and then the dining room, where we had school dinner, and jolly good it was.

After, we saw the playground, the garden and the sports pitches. We were beyond impressed.

The children were excited to see us, and there were welcome notices greeting us everywhere. My pictures of course are child-free, which is a shame. We had a truly special experience. Koreans clearly value education, and are proud to show off their achievements.

Hundreds of fish, thousands of fish, millions and billions and trillions of fish ……

South Korea

……. are sold almost every day at Korea’s largest fish market at Jagalchi, Busan. Fish so fresh it’s still kept alive in tanks; cured fish; dried fish; seaweeds both fresh and dried; sea foods of every kind.

Two market halls, one with fish restaurants above – they’ll cook the fish you chose in the market below, or serve it raw. Several streets full of vendors. Can there be any fish left in the sea?

Spa Land

South Korea
wp 20160919 16 09 31 pro li

wp 20160919 16 09 31 pro li

Emily was quite clear about it. If we want to do as the Koreans do, we have to spend time at a spa.

Spa Land, she said. That’s biggest and best.

Once we’d arrived, we had to split for the bath house experience. Naked, you see. I got used to this in seconds. Spring water with various health-giving properties, and hot, cool, cold, very hot, bubbling, still, shallow, deep, indoor, outdoor: I relished the lot. Saunas – 60 degrees, 80 degrees. Then scrubbing and pampering with lotions and potions.

Dressed in soft loose shorts and top as issued, I went exploring, though I never found Malcolm. There were rooms, beautifully appointed, with hot steam, warm steam, dry heat, dry cold, changing lights, atmospheric relaxing sounds, as well as various cool relaxing areas. I loved trying them all out and felt no need to pay for extra treats such as a massage.

If this is how Koreans give themselves treats, I thoroughly approve.

No photos though. Not allowed. Instead, here’s a view we saw later in the day – once I’d found Malcolm – of the Gwangandaegyo Bridge, stretching 7.4 km across the ocean, linking two parts of Busan together. It’s quite a sight. And a moody one too, when there are warnings out that a typhoon is on its way.

The cat café

South Korea

From the sublime to the ridiculous. After the temple …. tea break time. Back in town, Emily took us to a …. cat café. We thought it was a Korean thing, but it turns out there’s even one in Manchester. And New York. And Barcelona.

You order your drinks. You sit down. And there are some fifteen or so cats, playing, slumbering, climbing on shelves, cat climbing frames, boxes….

It’s quite relaxing and fun. Emily says there are dog cafés too. But as you’d expect, they’re really rather smelly.

A very special temple – Beomeo-sa

South Korea

Emily took us on a special journey today. On a bus which climbed steadily up increasingly wooded slopes, leaving Busan with its crowds and high-rise buildings far below. We got off at the Buddhist temple, Beomeo-sa

It’s been here since 678. There’s a golden well nearby in which a golden fish from Nirvana lives, so this site was perfect as headquarters for the Dyana sect.

The Japanese destroyed it in 1593. It was rebuilt.

This is a temple, a working monastery, a place of worship and pilgrimage. It shows. Those of us who visited as tourists felt something of what it offers as we absorbed the beauty, peace and serenity of this special site.