July 27, 2013
By Maggie Deagon and Daniel Kim
On July 18th at six in the morning, our group braved the Seoul drizzle with sunnier visions on our minds. Busan was the destination that thrilled us—a southeastern city known for the friendliness of its people and beauty of its beaches. Little did we know of our coastal adventure’s true magnitude.
We boarded KTX (Korea Train eXpress) to most efficiently arrive at our destination. KTX is famous for its role in Korea’s time revolution. In a word, “balli-balli” sums up the importance Koreans place on efficiency. The faster things can be done, the better! Thus, the creation of KTX helped minimize travel time between Korea’s coasts, increasing productivity. Although the trip is shorter to the southeastern coast than it would be via other methods, our group still had plenty opportunity to catch up on the rest we lacked the previous night.
Rather than continuing on KTX to Busan, we made our first stop in another coastal city, Ulsan.
Shipyards and department stores replaced our imagined beaches and the word “Hyundai” was on nearly every corner. Aptly referred to as “Hyundai City,” Ulsan is known for being one of the largest industrial centers in the world. Within Ulsan, Hyundai operates the world’s largest shipyard and automobile assembly plant. To put the company into context, we explored the story of its founder, Chung Ju-Yung, at the Asan Memorial Hall created in his honor.
Asan Memorial Hall
Chung’s life began humbly in a family of peasants during Japanese occupation. He attempted several times to escape the harshness of life in poverty, working throughout his youth. As the political situation in Korea began to change, Chung jumped at the opportunity to propel himself economically. He started Hyundai after Korea was liberated from the Japanese and multiple government contracts were released in an effort toward reconstruction. Chung expanded his company into one of Korea’s major “chaebol,” a multinational business conglomerate. In class, we learned about how chaebol influenced the Korean economy under Park Chung-hee’s leadership, propelling the nation into economic success.
The fact that Chung wore these shoes for so long impressed many of us. Similarly, the furniture set for his office was used for several decades without change. We consider these choices a reflection of his humility; his success did not come with an extravagant lifestyle.
Pictures adorned the walls of the memorial hall of Chung Ju-yung with various world leaders–from Gorbachev to Reagan. His ever-grinning face conveyed the friendliness that helped to create ties with multiple nations all over the world, and thus, his company expanded smoothly into one of the most successful overall.
Hyundai Heavy Industries
After the Asan Memorial, we were able to appreciate the fruits of Chung’s labor at Hyundai’s shipyard and automobile assembly center. Despite joining the market later than many other industries, Hyundai has a high ranking relative to other world companies–53rd overall. We were able to visit two factories and watch the construction process of the Hyundai Avante, known as the Elantra in the United States.
Something interesting to note about the company is their hiring requirements. Rather than requiring that applicants have degrees from four-year universities, Hyundai pursues workers with a high school education or two-year college degree. This is an effort to increase opportunities for workers of all backgrounds. We learned from the Asan Memorial that Hyundai’s founder lived humbly in order to improve his nation and others’ well-being. His company continues his tradition of thoughtful and diligent work.
Although we were not permitted to take photographs of the vehicles’ assembly, we were given the chance to admire the finished products in a showroom!
Perhaps one of the highlights of our trip to Hyundai Heavy Industries was our Oprah moment at the end of the excursion. We all got free cars! Despite their miniature size, we were satisfied with our Hyundai spoils.
Gyeongju is a coastal city that is located in the North Gyeongsang province and is the second largest city in that province with a population exceeding 260,000. When I first entered the city, I felt very peaceful and calm because there were lot more trees than buildings and less activities among people than Seoul. Between the 7th and 9th century, Gyeongju was the capital of Silla and was booming with beautiful Buddhist culture. Because there are many archaeological sites in Gyeongju, the city is referred as “the museum without walls.” The places that we visited were the Anapji Pond, National Gyeongju Museum, and the Bulguksa Temple.
Anapji Pond was built during the Silla Kingdom and it is mostly made up of lotuses that covered the entire pond. After the fall of Silla Kingdom, the pond was destroyed and left in disarray until 1974. As I walked around the pond I noticed the environment was very tranquil. Moreover, I saw waterway systems around the pond.
We did not spend that much time at the pond and we headed for National Gyeongju Museum.
National Gyeongju Museum
Most of the relics from the Silla Kingdom can be seen at this museum. Most of the relics were comprised of potteries, jewelries, Buddha statues, and weaponry. I was amazed by how detailed each relic was. One of the masterpieces of Silla Kingdom was Emille Bell, which was constructed by King Gyeongdeok. The legend behind it is that the bell at first produced no sound when it was struck. It only started to produce sound when a child was sacrificed by getting cast into the metal.
The crowns were in pure gold and most of the weaponry was in copper.
We spent about an hour looking around the museum and left to go get dinner and a good night’s rest to get ready for more adventures the next day!
In the morning before we left for Busan, we made one more stop at the heart of Buddhism culture, the Bulguksa Temple. The record states that these temples began construction around year 751 under the King Gyeongdeok and finished in year 774.
It is comprised of seven national treasures of South Korea, including Dabotap and Seokgatap. Dabotap is 10.3 meters tall and was built around mid-8th century. There were four stone lions around the platform, but only one remained since the Japanese occupation period. We could not see the Seokgatap because it was closed for renovation.
The temple represents the golden age of Buddhism during Silla Kingdom and the chanting from monks still can be heard today. I noticed many interesting statues and pictures, including Buddha with the thousand hands.
I also saw stacks of rocks but unfortunately, I do not know the reason why it was there.
After this trip we got back in our bus and made our way to Busan!
At long last, we sang Skull and HaHa’s “Busan Vacance” as we journeyed toward our final destination. The city was visually striking as we approached. We learned of Busan’s impressive amount of exported goods that reflect Korea’s economic prowess. Driving through the city, we marveled at the abstractly curved architecture while Korean reggae continued to ring in our ears. Before we could explore Nampodong and Haeundae Beach as mentioned in HaHa and Skull’s song, we took a walk up to Busan Tower in Yongdusan Park.
Having already traveled to Namsan Tower on this Korean adventure, we were unsure of how Busan’s view would compare. Although there seemed to be a shorter distance to the ground than at N Seoul Tower’s top, we were able to take in the coastal skyline in full.
We were given some free time to appreciate the expansive view and reflect on our experiences in Korea thus far. Despite the slight drizzle we left in Seoul, the day in Busan was perfect for viewing the city’s entirety.
After Busan Tower, we headed to the first of HaHa’s suggested destinations–Nampodong. Known for its extensive shopping opportunities from designer brands and imported goods to discount stores and fish markets, this area of Busan offered much to explore. We were given some free time to browse the shops and get a feel for the city, which we soon realized was just as lovely as we had anticipated.
Several of us even ventured into a Lotte department store to browse the K-pop CD selection and marvel at the clothes that we can only dream of being able to afford one day.
After two very hot and exhausting days traveling the southeastern coast, our journey ended with a much needed trip to Haeundae Beach. The water provided a cool reprieve after such extensive adventure. With an inner tube to assist the swimming-challenged–both of this post’s authors above all else–we scoped out the shore and waded in the water until the beach’s closing time.
With that, we bid Busan farewell! As we drove to Gimhae International Airport the following morning, we looked back on the city skyline with new memories and excitement for the next week ahead of us.