Transforming a neighborhood.

Did we save the best for last? Well Mummy enjoyed this place the most. Never say it can’t be done. Because Gamcheong is an example of how art can transform a poor slumlike area into an edgy colourful suburb that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year (and growing).

 

My little brain reckons it’s genius to change this district made up of a labyrinth of twisting alleys and hilly streets into what it is today. So in 2009, the government launched the project “Dreaming of Machu Picchu in Busan”.

 

If you were a local, I guess you would have been horrified at first if someone wanted to paint your house orange with a blue roof. But I guess artists can be very persuasive.

 

At least, the government in money also by buying empty houses and making them into galleries and cafes.

 

And wouldn’t you want to live in an area where you are surrounded by art? So, then artists started moving here to live and work amongst other artists.

 

Ten years later, it has become the Gamcheon Culture Village with lots to see and do. Not bad for a poor village that did not have Electricity till 1965.

 

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What is it like to walk on water? . . . In Busan.

How do you make a walk along the sea shore better? This question must have been brainstormed with many people with flip charts. I am guessing so because out of that, in 2016, Korea’s longest over-the-water walking bridge was born!

This bridge is in Songdo beach and is 365 metres long with a half of the floor made of glass so you can see the waves beneath your feet. Ok, so it is not really walking on water. But you can imagine it . . . .

Instead of looking down below at your feet the whole time, there are other sights as well. Some of it colourful and others I wonder if you get a better view from the cable car.

At one section, there is also a scultpure of a man and a woman. (See behind me in the photo?) It is apparently about a legend of Geobukseom Island about a fisherman lad and the dragon king of the sea’s princess daughter.

The sea princess though looks like a mermaid. But what the story is . . .  I have not been able to find out!

And what about this grumpy looking turtle? I wonder what the story is here. Perhaps something about turtle island? Surely it can’t be because I am sunbaking on it? Maybe Mummy should have learnt a few more Korean words.

* first photo courtesy of Korea’s Tourism Organization

Taejongdae Park in Busan

Now we are at the Taejongdae Park. Another must see sight in Busan, This place is all about rocky seaside cliffs looking out to the ocean and ahem, lots and lots of stairs.

It is about an hour by subway from Busan which is lots of time to rest those legs. Then here, one can do a variety of things to get around including taking the Danubi Train! Which really is the best way to get around.

 The highlight though is the Yeongdo Lighthouse station.

Mummy said she almost died climbing up and down this hill and then the lighthouse!

The Most Beautiful Temple In Korea – Haedong Yonggung Temple

As one would have it, the most beautiful temple in Korea is the oceanside buddhist temple of Haedong Yonggung Temple in Busan. If you don’t believe me, just see the sign below!

 

This temple dates back to 1376 when Naong, a royal teacher was visited by a sea god in a dream. At that time, Korea was in drought and famine. The sea god told Naong that if he built a temple on the fringes of Bongrae Mountain, happiness will return to the people.

 

As Naong traveled to the area, he chose the site between the mountain and the sea and he called the temple Bomun.

 

It was however damaged during the Imjin War in 1590’s and fell into disrepair. Then a monk in the 1930’s decided to reconstruct it.

Following that, a head monk in the 70’s had a vision of a Goddess of Mercy riding on the back of a dragon. This was after he had spent days in prayers.

As a result of his vision, it was then that the temple was renamed Haedong Yonggungsa, meaning Korean Dragon Palace Temple.

 

By the way, there are lots and lots of steps in this temple. So I have to thank Mummy carrying me up and down all the steps (yet again!)

Gold Statue of Bodhidharma in Haedong Yonggungs

A Bear in Busan, Korea

Annyeong!” (Hello) from South Korea! I am in the city of Busan, the second largest city in South Korea. Everyone knows Seoul (but like a lot of other bears) I knew next to nothing about Busan. So, I guess I am about to find out….

For one there is a big building with very large BBQ skewers on the front facade of the building. Straight away, you must be interested already because Korean BBQ is very very yummy.

 

Then there is also the little known fact that the LARGEST departmental store in the WORLD is right here! Shinsegae Centum City Department Store beats Macy’s in New York to the title by a million square feet. Amongst just plain vanilla shopping, they also have a multiplex theatre, ice skating rink and a golf driving range.

 

And to the locals, Busan is simply the summer capital of South Korea. It has the largest beach in the country which is Haeundae beach.

It is 1.5km long and considered the most beautiful in Korea. Which also means it is jam packed in summer and real estate here is sky high.

 

Fortunately for a bear like me, I can just visit and enjoy the view. By the way, if you are wondering what happened to all the crowds? It is actually very very windy today and freezing! Brrrrr! Mummy . . . where’s my beanie?

Cojimar’s little castle and their lasting tribute to Mr. Hemingway

So this is my last post on Cuba and we are at a fort in Cojimar. It is called El Torreón or Castillito which means small castle. This was built many, many, many years ago (1649) and like a lot of things that are very, very old, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today, it is used by the Cuban Coast Guard but some have been asking for it to be turned into a Museum. That is good idea don’t you think. For now they won’t like it if you wander in and ask for a Bobo photo!

Nearby is a bust of Ernest Hemingway. The locals of Cojimar put it up in 1962. You can see it in the photo above surrounded by blue columns. It was erected one year after his death. Using metal pieces collected from boats such as anchors, chains and propellers, Cuban sculptor Fernando Boada Martin created it. Here is a closer look!

What a nice tribute! So, at the end of the week, it has been quite an experience to visit to Cuba. One word. It is quite an enigma, this country. (Now that I have used that word, I should go find out what it means!). Bye!

The Cuban cigar dream

They take their cigars seriously here. Very seriously. Definitely more seriously than I take myself. So, it would have been criminal if we passed up a visit. To cap off our Cuban experience, it was off to Pinar del Río for us, a two hour drive outside of Havana.

This lush countryside is not just any old farmland. It is like Bordeaux in France. This is like visiting the Mecca of cigars. The terroir means they grow the best tobacco here, definitely in Cuba, possibly even the world! My Bobo brain is trying to process that. Tobacco country.  

By the way, in the Viñales valley of Pinar del Río, a UNESCO World Heritage site and said to be Fidel’s favourite place in Cuba, you can also visit caves . . . . Caves?? Hmm . . . . I don’t know what I think of them.

But back to the tobacco, there are of course plenty of farms here. These tobacco plants can grow up to five foot high in the rich soils. It takes about nine months. These look like they are still growing.

Then the tree is ready to picked clean of its leaves. Of course, it is all done by hand and only 16-18 leaves per tree is a typical yield. In some ‘organic’ farms, they even remove the insects by hand!

These tobacco leaves are then all carted to the casas de tabaco or curing sheds where they will be dried out, fermented and prepared.

To me they just look like a lot of dried leaves we have lying around on the road in autumn. Who would have thought “Hey, I’ll gather these dry brown leaves, set it on fire and inhale the smoke by putting the bonfire to my mouth!”

Then comes the most interesting part (to me anyway) where a cigar is then made or rolled. We all watched intently as the man (a cigar roller?) went into detail as to how it is done, what makes a good rolled cigar (all the leaves are wrapped in the same direction) and what they use as glue (honey).

And then voila, a Cuban cigar materializes in his hand!

And voila, no cigar in my hands because I really don’t fancy cigars and it might burn my furry coat!