Jagalchi fish market and Yeongdo Island hike (Busan)

I exit the subway at Jagalchi and start looking for the famous Jagalchi fish markets. Being a visual person I rely heavily on the sense of sight to find my way around. Having taken the wrong exit from the subway station (there are ten distinct exits at Jagalchi, stretching about 500m along the road). I am always a little disoriented when exiting subway stations; we don’t have them at home so I am unused to traveling without seeing where I am. But it doesn’t take me long to realise I shouldn’t be looking for a fish market. Rather, I should follow my nose.
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It works and soon I am walking amongst the multicoloured umbrellas and stalls that line the market street. I had heard the smell here is strong but I don’t mind it too much. Though I imagine it would be strong in the oppressive heat of a summer’s day. I’ve come just before lunch so the market is fairly quiet; probably because most Koreans are at work, rather than lazily wandering the city.
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Most stalls seem to be run by older women. They look bored, as though a lifetime of selling fish has worn them down. Many don’t even bother to call for customers anymore, preferring to nap or, if their stall is near one, watch television.
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The squid sellers seem to have plenty to do though, cleaning their produce to make it easier for purchasers to cook and eat.
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With hats pulled down over their eyes, masks often covering their noses and mouths, and long sleeves and pants covering the rest of their skin, the sales women add to the market’s colourful spectacle. Like the Goat that Wrote said in his blog post about these same markets, there is little concession made here for foreigners with signs and conversation only taking place in Korean. While we come here to gawk, the Koreans come to buy. Gawking doesn’t make anyone money but buying does, so the focus is on those who will buy.
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Fried fish is on display at stalls along one side of the market. It’s after midday and I am hungry but I am not sure how much the fish is or whether this is a sit down meal or walk along snack. But, as often happens in Korea, one restauranteur takes charge, possibly after hearing my stomach growl, and calls me into her shop.
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Ten thousand won ($AU/US10) later I have this massive pile of food in front of me. I was told it would be only seven thousand won but they refuse to give me change for my tenner and I had no exact change. Mental note to self: in future countries I will carry more smaller change and only hand over exact amounts. Mind you, ten dollars for a whole fresh fried fish, soup, rice and small Korean dishes is still a bargain.
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I leave the market at a bridge that will take me to Yeongdo Island. I am going for a hike that was inspired by another of the Goat that Wrote’s blog posts. Just as he did, I am going to hike up Bongnaesan (mountain), which I can see up behind the urban sprawl that lines the island’s coast. I started following the Goat that Wrote’s hiking blog when he was living in Busan and one of the first things I did after I arrived was contact him for tips on where to hike. This was one of his first suggestions.
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I initially struggled to “get” Busan. The city seemed huge and brash. But as I start my second hike here I start to understand it a bit better. Like a stray cat that annoys you with its midnight meowing but endears you with its occassional affection, so too is walking around Busan helping me find the city’s sweeter qualities. We are finding something in common. I love fishing villages and mountains, which is exactly what Busan is beyond the loud urban sprawl. And I am starting to see that perhaps it is these things first and that the city dwellers are intruders on an ancient way of life that will continue despite the city springing up around the villages’ existence.
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Weathered men of the sea maintain battered tug boats in the tug boat harbour. The boats are adorned with truck tyres as padding. I always find it interesting that we humans still use some old technologies despite this being the technology age. The tyres are just one example. Umbrellas are another. Sure, there is no better way to do the jobs these tools do, but still … it’s kind of cool.
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Tiny shops are crammed full of shipping equipment. There’s nets and ropes, anchors and chains. I wonder how anyone can choose what they want but fishermen and sailors probably order in advance and the shop owner just digs it out for them. I see no one in the shops but maybe they are out the back eating lunch, watching television or taking a nap. There’s no room for anyone to stay in the actual shop front anyway due to the volume of stock.
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After crossing the bridge I enter the main streets of Yeongdo Island. Like the rest of Busan, signs shout from all levels of the buildings as businesses compete for attention. I don’t know how to get to the park but just walk uphill because eventually this will lead me closer to the woods and mountain paths.
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Leaving the main roads I twist my way through narrow lanes. At times I am baffled by how scooters or motorbikes get to be parked at the top of flights of steps. Maybe there are secret laneways that only locals know. Or maybe the riders are just hardcore.
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After walking uphill for about half an hour I make it to the park entry. It is hidden down a narrow laneway tucked between an apartment complex and a block of decrepid shops. A woman is sweeping leaves off the ramp next to the steps and an old man paints park benches at the top of the steps. A sign says that I should just go straight up on a pathway to the summit but I manage to take a wrong turn and end up circling the park to the left instead of hiking up. Not that it matters, at some point there will be a path up the mountain for such is the nature of mountain trails: everyone wants to reach the top at some point.
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The woods are lovely for hiking with the leaves just starting to turn yellow. An elderly man is walking in front of me. He must be a local because he’s not wearing hiking clothes. I am so busy enjoying the scenery and watching the man shuffle uphill that I totally miss the temple the path was supposed to pass. Mind you, the woods are dense here and I am focused on finding the summit.
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Having found the trail to the summit I walk more confidently. The views at the top (395m / 1,250 feet) are spectacular. It’s a 360 degree view of Busan’s city, mountain and coasts. The port and fishing harbours dominate the waterfront areas while the concrete jungle is relegated to the gaps between the borders the ports, fishermen and mountains allow.
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I follow a ridge-top trail between the three summits of Bongnaesan. This mountain is sacred to the local people of Yeongdo because it represents a mother protecting her child. It is said that people born on Yeongdo Island never leave because they feel protected by the mountain mother.
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The views west from the ridge are amazing. The midafternoon sun turns the sea silver as clouds create darkened patterns. Cargo ships dot the waters. Later I will see they are all at anchor, perhaps waiting their turn to load a cargo or maybe this is their home port. It’s an impressive sight to behold.
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A beautiful pagoda tops the second peak of Bongnaesan. It would make a good place to rest on a hot summer’s day or take shelter in a downpour. But today the sun is sinking ever lower and I did not bring a torch so I continue along the ridge to the third peak.
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From the third peak I turn back to look at where I have been. The mountain dominates my view and I could be anywhere in the wilderness. Bongnaesan blocks the city from my view and all is quiet around me. Turning south I look down on seaside apartments and villages but to the north I am alone but for the other hikers on the path.
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I follow the trail steeply downhill until I reach the fishing village behind the apartment complex. It feels relaxed in the golden hour. Families cast lines off the wharf, boats bob in the small lock, freighters and fishing boats at anchor are silhouetted against the sun. Men drink soju (vodka) and makgeolli (rice wine) at rough tables around food stalls. Drinking isn’t heavily regulated here like it is in Australia. You can buy a bottle of beer, soju or makgeolli at any corner store for less than the price of a bottle of soda and drink it wherever you like. Most little stores have tables and chairs outside for this very purpose and here in the village the men are shooting the breeze over alcohol, kimchee and cigarettes.
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The beautiful Jeoryong Coastal Trail starts here in this village and will take me back towards the mainland. The path is a mix of metal walkways that hang out over the sea and concrete paths that follow little rocky bays. Like the Igidae Coastal Path this is no place for those with weak knees or struggling lungs because there are many steps. But with mindblowing vistas out to sea it’s possible not to notice the steps as your mind takes in the sights.
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I watch the fisherman standing in silent meditation along the coast. Some have made their way onto the tiny rocky islands that dot the sea. The guy in this photo was picked up by a passing fishing boat shortly after I took this picture. Another on a different island used two ropes to haul himself across the water separating it from a rocky cliff. One thing I have noticed is that the fishermen are almost all wearing personal flotation devices. These life vests aren’t big bulky and ugly like the ones we have at home. No, they are typically Korean: fashionable and comfortable. The fishermen are all quiet. I wonder what they think about as they fish; perhaps they are meditating with clear minds.
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The sun sinks dramatically behind the mountains that line the opposite side of this bay. It’s one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve seen in a long time and I am enthralled by the beauty.
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By the time I cross the bridge back to the mainland it has long gone dark and the city’s lights twinkle around the bays and mountains. Having looked down on the city from Bongnaesan I have a better appreciation for the yellow and neon glow that rises along the vast horizon. In one day I have gone from totally disliking Busan to recognising that, with time, I could come to like this city too. Perhaps, like a stray cat she could adopt me if I let her.

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