It is hard for me to believe that 3 weeks ago today I was getting off the Windstar ship in Osaka. In many ways it feels like months ago. In my last random thoughts post, I focused mostly on Japan. For this one I will describe the time we had in Busan, South Korea (with one follow up item from Japan at the end).
We had one port stop in Busan. Due to a typhoon in the area, we had to readjust our itinerary and cancel two port stops in Japan. We docked in Busan for 3 days instead of the original one. That gave us more time to explore. South Korea isn't far from Japan geographically, but culturally, Koreans are quite different. The atmosphere was different, as well as things like food, fashion and architecture.
Day 1 my husband and I headed to the fish market. It is the largest in Korea and they are known for on-site preparation of whatever it is you would like to eat. The fish and seafood are kept alive in small tanks and the expectation is you point to fish #1 and say I'd like to have that for lunch. The fish is killed and prepared in a restaurant upstairs. As someone who is mostly vegetarian and believes that all creatures should live and thrive in their environment, this market made me uncomfortable. The holding tanks were small and crowded. My husband, on the other hand, was thinking of eating one of the local delicacies....baby octopus....which is served alive. Even after hearing stories about how some people nearly choke because the tentacles stick to your throat as you eat it...the cost is ultimately what made him change his mind (thankfully!!).
This fish market also extended outside and continued along several streets. The fish part slowly turned into more of a general market with kimchi, vegetables and spices. The outside section of the fish market did not have as much live fish---most were on ice or dried or salted.
Day 2 was with a private guide and I think we literally saw every inch of Busan. Frank did an excellent job of showing us everything we wanted to see. Our first stop was at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple---supposedly the most beautiful temple in Korea (I've only seen two, so I probably shouldn't chime in on the issue). It is built along the ocean into the cliffside. The views are amazing and the architecture is gorgeous. As you enter, there is a walkway with stone tablets symbolizing each of the Chinese Zodiac animals (each representing specific years of birth). For example, I was born in 1976 and that was the year of the dragon. Once you complete that path, you start down a series of stairs down to the main temples. The area is forested and if you didn't know you were heading towards the ocean, the view around the bend would be surprising.
Next we headed back towards the city. Busan is a beautiful city---there are several bridges with jaw dropping views and it is an interesting juxtaposition with all of the tall skyscrapers.
We visited the United Nations cemetery in Busan. The remains of soldiers of all nationalities are interred here. I knew some about the Korean War, but after hearing the presentation at this cemetery, it was clear I only knew a small part of the equation. I learned that Turkey sent a large contingency to Korea during the war as they are considered brother countries---with ancestors going back hundreds of years sharing the same (or similar?) lineage. I only know enough now to know that I don't know enough. The cemetery itself is immaculate and well maintained. There are memorial plaques from many of the counties involved in the war and there is a large wall of names with a reflecting pool and eternal flame for all of the lives of Americans that were lost in the war.
The last stop of the day was at Beomeosa Temple. This temple is outside of the city in the mountains (takes about 45 minutes to get there). We arrived later in the day and there were only a few other visitors. It gave the experience a surreal feel. There were lanterns with wishes attached at the bottom that are burned once all of the slots are full--bringing the wishes (or perhaps better to say prayers) to the heavens.
In response to a comment from my last blog post, I will end with TOTO. When I visited Japan for the first time more than 20 years ago, it was a are sight to see a Western toilet. On this trip, nearly every restroom had not only a Western style toilet, but one with bells and whistles. I of course should have taken a photo of a TOTO toilet and all of its functions (to be clear TOTO is a brand of toilet, but there are other manufacturers of electric toilet seats) to help illustrate this point....but I guess I was so excited to use all of the buttons I forgot :) In all seriousness, I was a little scared of the options at first. Nearly all of the toilet seats had a heated feature and that one was usually turned on automatically, but others you had to choose. You could have water spray on your front side, back side, both sides at once. You could choose the water temperature (from cool to warm) as well as the strength of the spray (high-medium-low). There was an option to play music on some models as well as a button to have a flushing type sound play if you were embarrassed by the sounds your body was making. There were buttons that I had no idea what they did....even with the helpful pictogram shown on the button (some things just can't be explained with a stick figure person!). Once I got over my fear, I was hooked. It became part of my routine and now back in the States, it seems boring to only have a the option to flush. Japanese ingenuity at play again. There are still Japanese squat toilets available in restrooms (somehow I did take a photo of this) and it seemed to be a 50/50 split in most restrooms. It would be fascinating to know which demographic prefers the fancy toilet vs the squat toilet, but I imagine that is a conversation for another day :)
Tracey is the owner of Unraveled Travel and has traveled to every continent except Antarctica.