Monday, July 6, 2009

Travelogue Lite

My last blog left me on my Fulbright trip to South Korea in Gyeongju, the capital of Silla, one of the three ancient kingdoms that formed on the Korean peninsula, the Buddhist center of Korea, and once the center of fabulous wealth. We visited a serene mountain Buddha, a temple complex at Bulguksa, huge burial mounds, museums and institutes in a muggy heat. Another rain cooled our visit to two universities in Daegu, Keimyung University and Kyungpook National University, and then we were off to visit the world’s largest auto plant, the Hyundai factories at Ulsan.On to Busan and the beach (AKA 'Pusan'—there have been two major transcription methods from Korean’s Hangul alphabet to our Roman one and I understand yet another may be adopted)! Korea’s second largest city has grown from a sleepy fishing village to about 4 million people. Stretched along the beach and bays with skyscrapers poking through the mountains Busan reminds me of Hong Kong. Not that I’ve ever been to Hong Kong but after years of National Geographic and who knows how many films I seem to have a strong mental picture of it anyway. It was great to stroll along the waterfront near the APEC building, get sunset views of the magnificent bay bridge, and feel the cool sea breezes. I thought that Cal State LA students would love to visit, study, or teach in our sister city. And speaking of teaching, we met one of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistants and visited his school (Namsan High School) as well as Pukyong National University.
Busan is also famous for its fish market. While we didn’t buy anything at the market (it’s not easy to cook flounder on a field trip), we did have a great restaurant seafood lunch hosted by the kind people at Pukyong including spicy soft shell crab and varieties of fish I did not know. Keimyung University also had fed us very well the day before in their university restaurant, wonderfully fresh Korean fusion.
Last time I promised to speak of food (and shopping), so here are a few quick rules:
  • 1) if it’s red sauce, it’s spicy;
  • 2) don’t resist MOST unknown fish—they may look as strong as pickled herring but they might be (mostly) mild and delicious;
  • 3) but Do ask if the fish has been fermented and then be prepared to inhale ammonia;
  • 4) I’m used to crispy calamari; prepare for chewy squid;
  • 5) if at a traditional restaurant eat slowly and judiciously—they keep bringing more dishes and then more, finally ending with rice as the last savory dish before the dessert, usually fruit, arrives. I could go on and on about food but my last advice is this—Korean food is much more than just BBQ!
Heading back towards Seoul we crossed the persimmon capital of Korea (dried persimmon duly bought and consumed) and stayed two nights in Daejeon, visiting Daejeon University (in a spectacular wooded setting) and its downtown College of Oriental Medicine. Then very near Seoul, in Ansan, we visited the specialized Seoul Institute of the Arts, which is quickly becoming the Cal Arts of Korea collaborating in multimedia projects throughout the world and turning out many of Korea’s finest actors.
You’ll have to watch for the next iteration of “The Dancing Dean” to hear more about shopping, saunas, Cal State LA students’ arrival in Seoul, and Korean karaoke, including my own hit song and dance numbers. It will be worth the wait!

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