BUSAN, SOUTH KOREA, February 24 , 2018 — Perhaps one of the most surprising things for inexperienced travelers to Asia is the contemporary 21st century atmosphere of the region.
No longer is this a land of Asian rice hats and human-powered rickshaws. Rather Asia is a region of modern skyscrapers surrounded by traditional historical temples that make it a cultural wonderland for visitors.
PyeongChang invited the world to visit for the Winter Olympics and South Korea put on a dazzling show for the international community.
South Korea – More than ski slopes and ice rinks
The capital city of Seoul, for example, boasts a population of 25-million residents.
That is not to say, that South Korea has lost its cultural identity. Perhaps nowhere is that better defined than in calculating your Korean age. When you are born there are two age categories; birthday age and Korean age.
Because Confucianism is such a central part of Korean society, age is extremely important and often dictates the nature of a relationship between people.
Unlike many cultures where it is impolite to ask someone their age, in Korea age is frequently the first question asked.
So important is age in Korean society that during an introduction people often refer to others by age related titles rather than by name.
To better understand Korean age, suffice it to say that for some people it is actually possible to be two years old in Korean years before you are actually one month old in real time.
From the moment you are born in Korea, you are automatically one-year old. However, the other odd aspect of Korean age is that everyone celebrates their next birthday on January 1st. It’s almost like a national birthday party.
So, if you are born on December 15th, for example, you will be two in Korean age before you are even a month old.
Strange as it may seem, it’s one of those little cultural quirks that define a nation, giving it charm and keeping its traditions unique in a cookie-cutter world filled with McDonald’s, television and the internet.
South Korea is a showcase of traditional cultural treasures filled with countless temples, some of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and diverse museums.
With more hot spring resorts and spas than any other metropolis in Korea, Busan, formerly known as Pusan, is the second largest city behind Seoul.
Despite being only one-sixth the size of Seoul, Busan is the economic, cultural and educational center of southeastern Korea thanks, in large part, to the country’s most active port.
The port of Busan is the 9th busiest in the world and is situated only 120 miles from the Japanese islands of Kyushu and Honshu.
The Nakdong River, Korea’s longest, also flows through the city and Haeundae Beach is the largest and most popular in the country.
Not to be missed is Beomeosa Temple, which is considered one of the three major temples in southeast Korea along with Haeinsa Temple and Tongdosa Temple. Beomeosa is regarded as the “Great Headquarters Temple of Seon Buddhism.”
Established in 678 on Mt. Geumjeongsan, legend says that a golden fish descended from heaven and swam in a well on the mountaintop, thereby providing its name which literally means “Golden Well Mountain.”
The Beomeosa Temple was built on the site, with Beomeosa translating to mean “Spiritual Fish Temple.”
Speaking of fish, another must-see site is the Jagaichi Fish Market in the Nampo-dong neighborhood. The market, one of the most visited sites in Busan, derives its name from the gravel, jagal, because the marketplace is surrounded by small stones.
Originally known as Bomun Temple when it was built in 1376 by a teacher known as Naong, the Haedong Yonggung Temple was renamed in 1974. It had been destroyed during the Japanese invasions at the close of the 16th century but was eventually rebuilt in the 1930s.
The unique aspect of this vast Buddhist complex is that it is one of only a few temples set on the seaside. With its close proximity to Haeundae Beach, arguably the favorite beach area in South Korea, this temple is very popular with sightseers, especially during Buddha’s birthday celebrations.
Yeongdo-gu in Busan is the home of the Korea Maritime and Ocean University. Considered South Korea’s most prestigious national university for maritime study, transportation science and engineering, it is a testament to the high standards of education throughout Asia.
Though you won’t find any icebergs in South Korea, Busan is just the tip of a vast new world of things to see and do in Asia.
Long after the Olympics have gone and are just a memory, there is something in South Korea for people of all ages, including those who are two years older in South Korean years.
Korea is proof positive that “age is only a number.”
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
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