Wow, I’m actually on track with posting this week which is pretty ironic since it is finals week right at Yonsei (and for all the universities in Korea). Since the semester and my time in Korea is now winding down, we took all the chances we could to experience as many things as possible so this past week, not only did I study like crazy, but I also got to visit a temple in the mountains (ooh la la) and FINALLY visit Busan.
Tuesday was the beginning of finals but Wednesday morning, my friends and I woke up super early, not to study, but to head up to a temple on the outskirts of Seoul. But first, being the sad Californians we are, we squealed over a pile of ice on the ground outside the dorms. After arriving at the last bus stop in Bukhansan National Park, we hiked up a short path (in which we continued squealing over the little signs of snow we found). All our childhood fantasies came true when we saw two white jindo dogs waiting for us at the temple entrance. They were like those fairytale spirit guides that we grew up hearing about and watching on television. After our gasps and cuddles, the dogs quite literally led us into Geumsunsa Temple (how?? this is straight up one of the myths) to begin our three hour temple stay (us students got to go take our tests and attend class still). We were greeted by an English speaking guide who led us to a room-with a view yo- and we begin tea ceremony. The most memorable thing about that was the tasty fried mushroom chips we were given because we were starving and they were just so, so good. We were all super awkward at first with the guide staring at the tea in a very concentrated manner but eventually we broke the ice by talking about university. We found our that our guide went to Korea University (our sworn enemy) and he asked us what we were doing at the temple when there were finals (this will not be the last time someone asks us this). After getting introduced to the temple -it was built 600 years ago although most of the buildings are now new due to war- and Buddhism, we went on a little walk around the temple before settling down for lunch. We then made our own prayer beads and were free to wander around the grounds until we wanted to leave.
P.S. do you know why temples in Korea are built in the mountains? Before the Joseon Dynasty, Buddhist monks were in charge of many daily activities, from births to marriages. After the fall of the Goryeo Dynasty which had been heavily Buddhist, the new king of Joseon decided to distance religion from state affairs due to the corruption of an advisor monk in the previous dynasty. The monks too agreed that they wanted to keep a purer form of Buddhism and moved to the mountains surrounding the city.
Since we planned to take the earliest bus to Busan in order to make the most of our time there, my friends and I decided to not sleep Thursday night and we all made our way half-alive to the Seoul Express Terminal at 6AM in the morning on Friday. We all knocked out on the bus so the four hour ride (go early and avoid traffic; in fact this was supposed to be a five hour ride) didn’t even seem that long. So with our four hours of half-sleep, we began our exploration of Busan.
We arrived at our hostel at DPlan Backpackers which was only a five minute walk to Haeundae Beach. The hostel dude (named Lee) was super welcoming and managed to adjust our living plans according to our ever indecisiveness about how many people would be staying a second night (sorry Lee). After bothering Lee for a very long time, we decided to grab lunch since we hadn’t eaten since the previous night. We went to grab some dwaeji gukbap (basically like seollungtang except with pork) which is a Busan specialty. After warming up (okay, it wasn’t that cold) our hearts, we headed out to the beach.
Haeundae water and in general Busan ocean water is so, so beautiful. We were shocked by how clear and crispy blue the water was. Coming from California, where the water is a murky green, we had expected Busan’s water to be like that too since it’s a port city. The seagulls were also nicer than I expected. We walked around the entire beach before we headed for Shinsegae Centum City, the world’s largest department store. There, we lined up for Bake, a famous Japanese cheese tart bakery. So cheesy and fresh, yum. It’s like a warm cheesecake. After the sky darkened, we headed to Gwangalli Beach across from Gwangan Bridge to enjoy the nightscape of Busan before settling down for the night.
The next morning, we headed to the Oryukdo Skywalk (오륙도 스카이워크) and then to the famous Jagalchi Market (자갈치시장). We realized that we did not know how to pick out seafood at all without our parents but we eventually settled on a small restaurant inside the main building of the market-after being pulled left and right by restaurant owners to come into their booths. We finally got to try ‘hue’ which is Korean sashimi and seafood stew. So fresh and good. After the market, we went shopping along the nearby Nampodong-Busan’s version of Myeondong except with less tourists. We didn’t mean to stay there for long, but as the sun began to set and after five hotteoks (씨앗호떡), another Busan specialty, we finally headed to the Gamcheon Culture Village. I got to take pictures with my old favorite group CNBLUE’s little plank in the murals (they were the only group with one), and also got matching rings for my sister and I. I also got some postcards and when I sat down in the shop to write them and after my friends all ditched me for the restroom, the kind shop owner/artist laughed and offered me some herbal tea which was super good in the cold weather.
After a sushi buffet dinner, half of us went back to the hostel while the other half went to a club to see Jay Park (anything for oppa). Since there were six people in our room, we got three new roommates that night. One of them was from Norway, one from Germany (both are studying in Japan), and the third roommate was an old uncle who woke everyone up at five in the morning by turning on all the lights-you could hear the collective gasp when everyone got woken up by the lights HAHA. Since we were going to watch the sunrise anyway, we all got up and made breakfast (breakfast is free woo!) and I got to cook for the first time in six months. When we went out to wait for the bus, light was already shining along the horizon and we were super scared we would miss the sunrise. However, we managed to fast hike to the seaside temple and got to the coast just in time for the sun to rise. It was all our first time watching the sunrise. We’ve all gotten our share of sunsets since California faces the west, but to watch a new day begin, and to be with friends, was the most amazing thing ever.
After a sleepless three days, we headed back to the Busan Express Terminal for Seoul…only to find out that all the cheaper non ‘fancy’ bus tickets back were sold out. We eventually opted for the luxury bus which was 10,000won more and oh my gosh the bus was so nice, we were screaming. Definitely worth the price, 10/10 would recommend.
Busan was an amazing trip and although it’s the second largest city in Korea after Seoul, it’s color is completely different. The city was a lot more relaxed and home-like. People dressed and acted differently-perhaps because of the weather HAHA (you know it’s warmer down here), and the cityscape, not only because of the ocean, but including the styles of houses were all characteristic to Busan. It’s definitely worth a visit to see different yet equally amazing side of Korea. The country is a diverse place and everyone should take the initiative to explore as much of it as you can! What I was sad to see was that a lot of the younger generation were gearing towards the Seoul accent now though it’s understandable since Seoul is the capitol and their accent is the ‘standard’ accent, but still, the Busan ‘satoori’ is another piece of culture and history to note for and understand.
And so that was my week 15! There’s only one week left in Korea and hopefully I’ll be able to get in a lot of stuff before I leave. The only problem right now is trying to fit everything into my luggage case…