Maestro’s South Korean Adventures – Part 3

Saturday, June 16

We spent a slower morning, same choices for breakfast, although my Korean meal had seaweed soup as the centerpiece on this AM. Choi met us again at the Starbuck’s late morning and we headed off to the Busan again to a shopping mecca down by the waterfront and the famous fish market.

If you want to learn something intrinsic about a culture, the open air markets are the way to go. Walking into the four story building one is immediately faced with the bustle of sellers of live wholesale seafood in a diverse set of tanks. It would be easy to spend hours just perusing the aisles to see the variety of fish, octopi, squid, sea slugs, anemones, eels, snails, and so much more. And, any of it can be fresh at your table (raw or cooked) in a matter of minutes.

Choi took us up an elevator to the top floor looking for stall 29, the proprietor recommended by his mother. Along the way down the aisle, a young woman used forceful persuasion to convince us that her place was THE place to eat (at least we believe that’s what she was shouting at Choi in Korean). Another 25 yards down the row we found the our destination. We sat down at a table overlooking the harbor and was served a seafood feast, the culmination being a square platter with four rows of a multiple kinds of raw fish. The Kimchee, chili-sauce, bean sprouts, shaved green onion, and other sides could be wrapped up in sesame leaves with these delicacies to create a sandwich of sorts all downed with copious amounts of the light tasting lager that is a also a staple of tables throughout this region. Choi was amazed at our adventuresome palettes, willing to try anything.

After lunch we headed down stairs and into the markets that lined the streets nearby. We were looking for a few items (Zantac being a must for the spicy foods consumed) as well as some colored pencils for my score marking (this IS a business trip) and some gifts for the grandchildren. Much of the shopping is low key and bargains can be had if you are willing to haggle a bit. E-business might be taking over much of the world, but here you see crowded streets and people hunting for just about anything in live time and place.

After an hour or so we had our purchases and headed back to the car for a drive to a Buddhist temple out in the area where Choi lives. Traffic was still heavy even on Saturday so it was close to 4 PM by the time we arrived. Such shrines dot the region and they are an oasis to hubbub found in the cities. Tongdosa Temple, is located at the base of Yeongchuk mountain just outside to the city of Chonglim. There are multiple buildings including a museum and a 1000 year old temple. One can start at the front entrance and enjoy a considerable uphill walk along the Nokdonggang river or drive to a closer parking lot. We opted for the latter, passing through several temple gates to the inner sanctum of the compound. Missionaries are present at work amongst the Zen chamber, precepts chamber, and lecture chamber. It is an idyllic and relaxing setting in stark contrast to the scenes experienced earlier in the day.

After about an hour we headed back to the car and a restaurant where we would meet Choi’s in-laws for dinner along with his wife and young son Dustin. The restaurant was a family buffet along with a cook your own meat style BBQ. Choi’s father-in-law showed us how to put everything together. A disk of rice paper is set into warm water to soak briefly, that is then put on a small but wide bowl and filled with meat and other sides, wrapped together and then eaten. His motions were clear and elegant all the way to his mouth, while I spent the evening trying to figure out how to not let the construction fall apart while picking it up with chopsticks. Still it all tasted great and we had a good evening learning more about Choi’s family–his father-in-law was a chemical engineer and his wife a school teacher. They are both retired now and help Choi and his wife with the new addition to the family. It was clear that 9 month old Dustin was the star of the evening with the attention lavished on him.

At the end of the meal, we said our good-byes and headed back to Changwon ready to collapse from the multiple hours of activity. Another day filled with new experiences provided by this magical country.