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How to be a Korean woman

You’re young, female and Korean. Perhaps you’re a student, a worker, even a mother. You’re slim, stylish, beautiful, have enviably flawless skin, and shiny long dark hair. Just like all your friends.

One night however, you go to bed, and you wake up in the morning as an ‘ajumma’, an auntie, an older woman. You’ve shrunk four inches, your hair is shorter, perhaps even curly. You’ll put on nice comfy trousers and no longer remain silent on bus rides. Most importantly, you’ll wear your badge of office. This is a quite enormous visor, worn to protect your skin from damaging rays from the sun. You won’t go out without one.

There is no half way house that I can see. You’re young. Or you’re an ajumma. That’s it.

You’ve seen post after post showing urban Korea to be home to the high-rise. Often it is. But not always. Gamcheondong in Busan for instance. At the time of the Korean war the little houses clinging to steep hillsides provided safety and refuge. The community was closely-knit over the years, but not prosperous.

In the early years of this century, the area started to become something of an arty community. Murals appeared, galleries, quirky touches of all kinds. Now the narrow streets and winding alleyways are a tourist destination. Today, we joined those tourists.

In which we are VIPs.

Emily came to Korea to teach. She’s at an Elementary school – children up to thirteen. And today, the Principal invited us to look round.

What a day. We were welcomed like royalty with elegantly presented ginseng tea and dainty fruit slices. We looked round the spacious, clean and orderly building where 360 children study.

We saw the classrooms, the well-stocked library, the science labs, the music and art area, the counselling room, the resources area, the sanatorium, the English room, the school broadcasting area, the after-school club rooms, the spacious kindergarten, the staff work rooms … and then the dining room, where we had school dinner, and jolly good it was.

After, we saw the playground, the garden and the sports pitches. We were beyond impressed.

The children were excited to see us, and there were welcome notices greeting us everywhere. My pictures of course are child-free, which is a shame. We had a truly special experience. Koreans clearly value education, and are proud to show off their achievements.

……. are sold almost every day at Korea’s largest fish market at Jagalchi, Busan. Fish so fresh it’s still kept alive in tanks; cured fish; dried fish; seaweeds both fresh and dried; sea foods of every kind.

Two market halls, one with fish restaurants above – they’ll cook the fish you chose in the market below, or serve it raw. Several streets full of vendors. Can there be any fish left in the sea?

We found ourselves rising, slowly and stately, above the city to the forested mountain above Busan.

Once there, we explored the maze of forest trails. For the first time, my hard-won hangul came in handy. Only a few signposts were translated.

I wanted to visit the Buddhist hermitage of Seokbul-sa

If only I’d known how hard it would be, scrambling down stony forest hillside, then up again. Then down again. Then an endless hairpin-bended track.

It was worth it. Commanding views of the distant mountains; intimate, beautifully painted prayer rooms, and best of all, figures from Buddhist legend carved directly into the rock looming above the hermitage.

I was glad to have made the effort. But it was a very tough walk indeed.

The Igidae trail

Wow! Wow! What a trail to find within the boundaries of Busan, a city of some four million people. The crashing waves brought on by the aftershock of the distant typhoon, the bright sunshine, the blue skies and those striking views made this a very special walk.

Spa Land

wp 20160919 16 09 31 pro li

wp 20160919 16 09 31 pro li

Emily was quite clear about it. If we want to do as the Koreans do, we have to spend time at a spa.

Spa Land, she said. That’s biggest and best.

Once we’d arrived, we had to split for the bath house experience. Naked, you see. I got used to this in seconds. Spring water with various health-giving properties, and hot, cool, cold, very hot, bubbling, still, shallow, deep, indoor, outdoor: I relished the lot. Saunas – 60 degrees, 80 degrees. Then scrubbing and pampering with lotions and potions.

Dressed in soft loose shorts and top as issued, I went exploring, though I never found Malcolm. There were rooms, beautifully appointed, with hot steam, warm steam, dry heat, dry cold, changing lights, atmospheric relaxing sounds, as well as various cool relaxing areas. I loved trying them all out and felt no need to pay for extra treats such as a massage.

If this is how Koreans give themselves treats, I thoroughly approve.

No photos though. Not allowed. Instead, here’s a view we saw later in the day – once I’d found Malcolm – of the Gwangandaegyo Bridge, stretching 7.4 km across the ocean, linking two parts of Busan together. It’s quite a sight. And a moody one too, when there are warnings out that a typhoon is on its way.