Sunday, March 06, 2011

Jangsan Hiking, Busan Daytripping

The top of Jangsan rewards those who reach it. The very tippy top of the mountain is chain-link fenced off, a relic of the Korean War, but from where we stand the views are wide. We summited the Haeundae area Jang Mountain after about four and a half hours of hiking, and from here, we can see Haeundae Beach, Centum City, Sajik Stadium, and a small wildfire with a helicopter making a beeline towards it with its load of extinguishing chemicals. A bit unsettling, but it looks under control. 

Shane and I sip red table wine out of plastic Dixie cups along with the rest of the Busan Daytrippers. We found this crew, an ever-changing mashup of folks who get together to hike Busan's thousands of paths, on a local expat forum. They're a fun bunch, the kind of people who think of bringing wine along. 

In the couple hours leading up to this faultless moment on the way up, we had passed by Pokposa, a Buddhist temple. It's Lunar New Year's Day, a traditional day for worship, and it's semi-crowded, yet quiet and peaceful. There's a bowl of fresh fruit and incense on the altar in front of a ten story pagoda, and a grey stone Buddha that faces every direction at once. We hear soft chanting floating out through the temple doors, and we peek into the temple buildings, feeling like voyeurs intruding into a sacred time and space.  

We hike on for a long while, until we reach stop number two. We approach a shack, which our leader Joe tells us is a great little stop for some mountain food. After a few minutes of our searching, an old man crawls out of his sleeping shack (it's now about one in the afternoon), and brings us makkeoli, followed by the freshest tofu I've ever tasted and savory, pungent kimchi. Ten of us laugh and eat and celebrate how good it is to be alive, looking over the mountains and the sea. 

Feeling renewed, we continue the hike, walking for a time along a barbwire edged land mine field, here in the middle of a metropolitan city, another lingering remainder of the Korean War. When we come out of this forested length of the hike, the landscape opens up and we're walking the perimeter of a tall grassed field, the kind I'm used to seeing back in the Midwest. This kind of openness is such a rarity here.

After our wine and photo ops on the top, we head down the opposite slope of the mountain. As we come down through the trees, in the distance I see a golden Buddha contrasting against a pine backdrop. When we arrive to Seongbul Temple ten minutes later, we're greeted with the light sweet smell of incense, stone lanterns, and a ten story pagoda. We watch Koreans bow and meditate and pray in front of the Buddhas, and our hike ends with the beauty of Buddhism.

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