Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate on the day I visited Busan, South Korea, but the dreary gray sky made for a dramatic backdrop to the brightly colored buildings of the Beomeosa Temple as raindrops fell from above. I was grateful that a cultural performance of Korean song and dance that I attended was indoors at the Busan National Gugak Center.
Busan is located on the southeastern tip of the Korean Peninsula. It is the largest port city in South Korea and the world’s fifth busiest seaport by cargo tonnage. With a population of almost four million, it is a huge city similar in size to Los Angeles, California and Sydney, Australia.
Known as Korea’s summer capital for its superb beaches and impressive hot springs, Busan is also noted for its bucolic scenery, brooding mountains and awe-inspiring temples dating back hundreds of centuries. Yet it’s also a city brimming with energy, cultural activities, and beautiful parks.
Following a long history of warfare with its neighbor, Japan defeated the Quing dynasty in 1896 and occupied Korea until the end of World War II followed by a civil war. Hoping to unify Korea under a Communist government, the north launched a surprise attack and quickly gained control of most of the south. The United Nations intervened and sent troops to help South Korea. A tribute to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives can be found at the UN Memorial Park. The 35-acre park contains the bodies of 11,000 soldiers from the 16 countries who died during the Korean War.
The startling beauty of the lush green mountains, exotic architecture and the inviting serenity induces a deep sense of peace and spirituality in Korea’s magnificent temples. Nestled deep in an evergreen forest on top of a mountain with a stream and gentle waterfalls, Beomeosa Temple rests on the slopes of Mt. Geumjeongsan. It’s lofty environment adds to the air of mystery. The day I visited, the road leading up the mountain was decorated with strings of lanterns in anticipation of The Buddha’s upcoming birthday. According to Korean legend, the temple water has magical forces, and the four statues guarding the impressive entrance are believed to keep away bad spirits. Constructed some 1,300 years ago, the temple is designated a national monument.
After visiting the temple, I attended an exciting and colorful performance by the Busan National Gugak Center Art Company at the Busan National Gugak Center. Divided into six pieces, ranging from court music to drumming and from instrumental solos to folk dancing and singing, the performance was enchanting. My favorite pice was the Crane and Lotus Flower Dance, during which dancers in crane costumes begin the performance by expressing the elegant movements of the bird. When the crane pecks the lotus ball placed on the stage, it opens and a young dancer comes out from the flower and begins dancing with the crane dancers. This dance represents a luxurious court banquet performance.
The Fan Dance was also amazing and originates from traditional Korean dance movements. Dressed in luxurious costumes and doing wondrous movements with their brilliant fans, the dancers take part in one of Korea’s most beautiful and traditional performances. The concert ended with a play presenting a variety of folk dances and peasant music. The message of this piece was to liberally enjoy “All Souls Day” while a professional male dancer works the audience into greater amusement with moves resembling American break-dancing, popular in the 1980’s.
For the ultimate shopping experience, the Shinsegae Centum City department store is registered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest shopping complex in the world. In addition to department stores and boutiques, there’s a golf range, ice rink, spa and more. Unfortunately, the day didn’t allow me enough time to visit this site personally, which saved me some money. I was able to purchase a mediation bell at the souvenir shop at the temple, along with some colorful lanterns.