Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cherry Blossoms Next Door

These photos were taken at Oncheonjang Stream, a stretching park running just outside our door. As the cold winter faded to spring, we waited while the cherry trees prepared themselves for the blossom filled spectacle that would stick around for nearly two weeks. What a gift.

The blossoms hug each side of the park. Makes the wide space feel cozy. 

You can't see all the letters in the picture, but the bushes spell out
Yeonje-gu, the name of our neighborhood.

The air was fragrant, and reminded me of lilacs bushes back stateside.

The blossoms called for a giant festival, of course. Festivities included throwing sticks in buckets,
advertising models spinning prize wheels, opera recitals, and dozens of food carts all
selling the same deep fried but now cold food. It was much more fun than it sounds. Really.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Good Day, Igidae

Our eyes scan the rocks under our feet, looking for the footprints of the long extinct Ultrasaurus. It’s been awhile since I’ve gone on a dinosaur print hunt. Okay, I’ve never actually tried to find dinosaur prints before, and it doesn’t look like I’ll be successful today. We conclude they the prints must actually be these foot-wide indentations now filled with shallow pools of water. 
Igidae Park (이기대)  in Busan is a perfectly lovely way to spend an afternoon. The waves crashing on the rocks, one and another and another, a consistent white-noise murmur that subdues me into feeling more relaxed than I have in a long while. 
The Igidae coastal walk stretches out on the southwestern shoreline of Busan. Our taxi driver drops us near the middle of the path. We follow it along the shore, pass couples sharing ramen, families sharing picnics, fishermen sharing time with the sea. We run into some former students, twins who were some of my best students. I remember how much I miss having them in class. At places, the way the sun hits the rocks hits the waves and the trees stand tall on the edge of the cliff, I flashback to once upon a time when I was in Portugal. 
Once in awhile, we come across tiny cement bunkers that were at one time manned with soldiers looking for North Korean subs. At one, a couple of men are messing around, posing as if they have guns in the metal prong barrel holders. One agrees to a photo. The war was really not that long ago. 
Later on, we pass a sign that tells us why this place is named Igidae. Like just about every other tourist sign we ever see, this one alludes to the entrenchment of the Japanese in Korean history: 
When the Japanese invaded Joseon in the late 16th century, 
they conquered Suyeongseong Fortress and held a feast 
to celebrate their victory at a high, open spot that 
commanded pleasant scenery. Two Korean gisaeng 
(female professional entertainers) were taken to the feast. 
They seized a drunken Japanese commander 
and jumped into the sea 
as a reprisal against the Japanese invasion of their homeland.  
Thus, the name Igidae, which means two gisaeng, was given to this place.  

The women’s resolve kicks ass.

I try to muster up an ounce of my own resolve as Shane and I cross suspension bridges leading back toward the subway stations. I’ve lately realized it is not heights I am afraid of, but ledges. Back on safe shoreline, we amble down onto some rocks and watch an ajoshi stacking rocks into spires, a ritual we’ve before been told has to do with seeking good luck. Shane stops and constructs a stack of his own.  

I just watch the two of them work without joining in myself. If the universe sends any more good fortune my way, I’ll burst from bogarting too much of it for myself.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Buddhas by the Sea

Sometimes I sit back and wonder when my life took the turn such that it's not out of the realm of everyday possibility to spend a few hours exploring a Buddhist temple next to the sea. How'd I get so damn lucky? 
Crystal and Nick's visit in March prompted Shane and me to do some sightseeing around town that after seven months in Busan, we still hadn't gotten around to. 
Haedong Yongungsa is the most beautiful temple of the small handful I've seen. It sits next to the East Sea on the northeast coast of the city. After entering through a busy marketplace thoroughfare, serene temple grounds. Sweet strong incense. Bamboo stalks. Children touching statues.                                                       
I scan the rundown of Haedong Yongungsa's history. I read: "The most merciful Boddhisattva Avalokitesvara who reincarnated unlimited love and mercy was said to stay at such a lonely shoreside some times with a special presentation of riding on a dragon in a flame." The temple was originally built in the 1300's, but like others, was burned to the ground during the Japanese invasion of 1592. The sign tells me this is the "King's Dragon Palace" temple, a "floating Buddhism sanctuary showing a wonderful view of dark-blue seas and breaking white spilitering [sic] water just like fresh touching on your feet."                          
Apt. Lovely.