Korea: Part III

Busy, busy.

Today I joined the 7th graders on a field trip. We planted rice seedlings and potato cuttings.

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of last week, the conference for re-contracting JETs in western Japan was held in Kobe (eastern Japan’s is in Tokyo). The conference is only for first-time re-contractors, not for those going into their third year, but there were still about 900 of us [edit: not 1,800; that’s the national total]. Everyone, including Kobe JETs, was given a room at the hotel where the convention took place. I stayed the first night at the hotel, but one of my two roommates snored unbelievably loudly, so I slept at home on Tuesday. Blessed silence.

Okay. Korea.


After Seoul, I returned my port of entry, Busan, where I stayed for two nights. Busan (“Pusan” is an older Romanization) is Korea’s second largest city (~3.6 million) and its largest port. Here’s a view of the bay.


Busan isn’t exactly the most exciting place in the world, but it does have some interesting spots.

Beomeosa (“buh muh sah”) is a Buddhist temple in the mountains north of Busan. It was founded in 678 and is still an important and active temple today. However, none of the buildings are more than 400 years old, as the temple was burned down during – I’m sure you can guess by now – the Japanese invasion of the 1590s.

Busan Beomeosa Roofs

I appreciated how, although the roofs are patched with concrete in spots, they haven’t been given conspicuous concrete frames like the palaces in Seoul.

I liked this door.

Busan Beomeosa Door

It was the only one I saw that had a picture, but I think it’s just a random decoration and not a sign of any particular significance.

There were a bunch of these monuments leading up to the temple.

Busan Beomeosa Turtle

I have no idea what they are. They were all slightly different from one another, but each had a turtle as its base. The inscriptions are in Chinese.

After Beomeosa, I went to see the ruins of a fort in the western mountains that has a wall stretching several miles. Unfortunately, the part I visited was one of the more boring sections, although still good for a hike. This was about all there was to see.

Busan Wall

I should have been afforded a fantastic view of the city, but the white haze that you can see in the picture obscured everything beyond a certain distance. At first I thought that the haze was fog, but when I actually paid attention to it, it became obvious that it was something else.

As the day progressed the haze grew increasingly thick. Back down in the city, people were covering their mouths and noses with handkerchiefs and some wore surgical masks. Eventually I couldn’t see the end of the block, and when the light breeze blew into my face it stung my eyes. So what was this nastiness? Dust from northern China. Yup.

After six days in Korea, I took the hydrofoil ferry back to Japan. I spent a couple days in in the city of Fukuoka (which is a post in itself) and then took the bullet train back to Kobe.


My trip to Korea was sometimes stressful – I traveled alone and I don’t know the language – but I’m really glad that I went. It was fascinating to experience a different culture, and despite many shared influences, Korea is very different from Japan. There are little things, like how Koreans use metal chopsticks and eat rice with spoons, and then there are significant differences in how people interact. People yell a lot. They don’t have the Japanese’ extreme concern about imposing on others. Once, when I was riding the subway, an umbrella seller made his way through the cars, loudly hawking his wares. For a couple seconds, before I figured out what he was doing, I was worried that he was drunk or mentally ill. On another train, a couple of college students were soliciting donations for some sort of charity, loudly giving their spiel to the whole car before going to each person with their collection box. These intrusions, which would be unimaginable here in Japan, weren’t exactly welcomed by the locals, but they were clearly regarded as being perfectly ordinary.

Well, I could keep rambling, but I’m tired and its getting harder to arrange my thoughts into anything coherent, so I’ll end this here. Next time, Fukuoka.


Ah, but one more thing: Congratulations Susie and Ronald! May you have health and happiness in abundance.


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6 Responses to “Korea: Part III”

  1. Doug Says:

    Terrific post, Kevin. Your observations of the cultural differences are especially interesting. Did you get any photos of your field trip with your 7th graders?

  2. kevinjames Says:

    Nope, I didn’t take my camera. But since I joined in the planting, my hands were busy and covered with mud anyway.

  3. Nicole Says:

    kudos for your adventuresomeness!! so, did you give to the charity? what’s the hydrofoil ferry like? and then back with your 7th graders, how does it get picked where you all plant stuff? (or, put another way, who is the beneficiary of your labor!)

  4. kevinjames Says:

    I gave a bit of money to the charity, but just pocket change. I can’t remember what the cause was.

    The hydrofoil is a little like riding in an airplane. You have to be seated unless you’re going to the restroom and you can’t go outside. But three hours really beats fourteen hours on a conventional boat. And there is no rocking.

    As for the field trip, I’d say that *we* were the beneficiaries of the farmer’s generosity, because the kids didn’t do a very good job (to answer your question, I don’t know how arrangements were made). I think we will harvest the same fields in the autumn, which would be cool, but the potatoes might need to be replanted.

  5. mysoul Says:

    Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed this read. I dont know much about Korean culture but I do know that Turtles signify longevity in most south-east asian cultures.

  6. kevinjames Says:

    Thanks. I’ve looked into the origin of the monuments and the basic style apparently comes from ancient China, but turtles for pedestals don’t become common until around the 6th century AD. Turtles signify longevity in East Asia as well, so maybe they idea is that the monuments are meant to withstand the passage of time.

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