Monday, April 22, 2013

Pusan Diaries

Busan, also called Pusan was my destination next in my pilgrimage of humanity. The last time I had heard of this city was when the Asian games were held here in the year 2002. Prior reaching this country, I had tried out all avenues on the internet to find more about the Korean culture but like other places of Far East, this one too seemed disconnected from the English speaking world. The cause, as I was to discover later, was the advanced levels of computing and sciences that the Korean have developed in native language. Korea as a nation has been at the forefront of Computer technology and internet from the beginning. It achieved broadband connectivity in 50 percent homes back in 2000; well before Europe and America. In the last decade or so, it has also emerged as a technological giant with the home-grown companies viz. Samsung, LG and Hyundai becoming truly global brands. Everything from tiny household appliances to something as large as Ships and Apartment buildings is made by one of the global Korean brands such as Hyundai, Samsung, Daewoo and LG. These are family owned enterprises and have pretty much built the Korea that we know today. The pride Koreans take in using indigenous products could be gauged from the total absence of Japanese brands on the road. Koreans have a huge American influence in their lifestyles but the English language is not among them. They have a reasonable sized film industry and a unique genre of music called K-Pop, which has fan following all the way across till Malaysia and Singapore. Everyone including the formally attired cab drivers carry digital gadgets most notable being the unwieldy large screened digital pads, which were being used for texting and translation and rather amusingly for photograph. The streets are replete with Automatic vending machines for things ranging from Hot coffee to chilled beer. The weather was the biggest winner as the Korean summer had thawed the conditions for us. The temperature for most of the day hovered around the 22°C mark, with a stiff Northerly breeze making it really difficult with two layers of clothes. I observed the Koreans break into sweat when the midday temperatures touched 25°C. The Koreans haven’t just emerged to rule the Business world for nothing. An Indian expatriate student I met there explained to me the strict work ethics with timings laid down by the Government that promulgates 12 Hrs of work every day in a five day week. The party in Pusan starts on Friday evening and doesn’t end till Sunday morning. On the weekdays, the sea front is replete with sparsely occupied eateries and the inner areas with under populated clubs. Korea is one of the safest places to be around, with homicide rates amongst the lowest in the world. Carrying a knife is a punishable offence here. The people of Korea are friendly and warm. A group of students were very pleased to host us in the University street and happy to be spending time with us despite the language barrier. The most interesting places to visit in Busan are the UN War memorial, the Yongdusan park with 120 metre tall Busan tower, the Haidong Yonggungsa Buddha temple, a passage thought Diamond Bridge, an old market called the Jagalchi fish market, and two pristine beaches within the city premises called the Haeundae and Gwangalli. The Asian games village overlooks the Gwangalli beach. Major landscaping of the city of Pusan is underway, which would accommodate more artificial beaches, harbours and promenades. The city presents a picture of regulated growth and a disciplined society. A three hour trip to Seoul (pronounced Soul), in the fast train would cost equivalent of Rs 2500/- and would have been money well spent as the 38th parallel is located in the suburbs nearby. But I was to spend that time window shopping in what was supposedly the largest and in my view one of the most expensive Departmental store in the world. In the end, Busan left me with lasting images of a populace that’s progressive and hardworking, a weather that’s unlike any we’d encounter in the sub continent, and a culture that has imbibed well the positives of west and retained Korean as the lingua franca.

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