In Busan, South Korea, Beomeosa temple climbed up a steep hillside. Legend says that at the temple’s mountain peak, there is a golden well which never dries up, home to a mythical golden fish. Hence the name of the temple, Beomeosa, means “Heavenly Fish.” The temple is home to so many Buddhas—big and small, gold ones, Buddhas painted on walls, tiny Buddhas in niches with lights, Buddhas of stone, of plastic, of wood, of metal.
At night, in the park by Busan tower, traditional drummers and dancers performed.
At Jagalchi Fish Market, Korea’s largest, a myriad of seafood splashed in tubs. I left it to my Japanese friend to choose. I went along with her choices except for one, baby octopus. Although I had tasted it before, I didn’t want to eat octopus, an intelligent species; the little creatures were devising ways to escape from their tub as we spoke. We ordered a round flat fish, a conch-like shellfish, and some large prawns. The first two were nicely sliced but the prawns were still alive; one kept jumping right off the plate! My friend tried to cut the feisty one, but it kept flipping; we looked at each other horrified. Finally, she asked the server to cut them up and they returned in thirds, although some of the heads were still moving.
And as in Seoul, busy street markets were everywhere.
Socially, Koreans seemed more direct, different from the unfailingly courteous Japanese. Sometimes people stared at me, a foreigner, and a few ignored us when asked politely for directions. In Busan, a volunteer at the subway ticket machines offered his assistance, but kept pushing the wrong buttons for my destination; a giver of advice, not a listener. He did help direct me to the gate for Nampodong as opposed to Nopodong, in the opposite direction. This assertive personality seemed to be a trait of the area; we encountered it several times with overly helpful people.
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