October 31, 2017
After our long and exasperating first day at Yonggungsa and Gamcheon Cultural Village, Joy and I decided to explore Taejongdae Park. Our friends who have been there two weeks earlier did recommend it to us. Before proceeding there, we had to pack our things and prepare for yet another journey. After Busan, we are going to Jeonju, the last stop of our Korean Odyssey. Oh, I still can’t believe it! In a matter of days, I am going back to the reality I escaped from the last 11 days. Omoooo!
After checking out, we proceeded to Seomyeon station. As it is the intersection of Busan lines 1 and 2, we decided to leave our things in the lockers located in the station; it could be burdensome carrying them around as we explore the city. From Seomyeon subway station, we transferred to line 1 and alighted at Nampo Station. We exited through exit number 6 and waited for the correct bus number. From Nampo Station, there are three bus numbers going to the park – buses 8, 30, 113. Those who alighted at Busan Station, they can take either bus 88 or 101.
We reached Taejongdae an after departing from Nampodong. Located on the edge of Yeongdo Island, it is quite isolated from the rest of the city. It gave the same atmosphere as Seoul’s Jingwansa; perhaps because of its distance from the city center. The first thing that I have noticed about the park is the mountain thickly blanketed by green pine trees. What we didn’t expect is the summer like climate, the sun was unusually shining brightly today; we didn’t even encounter such brilliant display in Seoul. It was named after King Taejong Mu-yeol (604-661 AD), 29th king of the Silla dynasty. A peripatetic monarch, he travelled to many places but his favorite place is the location of the present-day Taejongdae Park.
From the bus stop, we still had to walk up the hill for a couple of minutes to reach the park. Thankfully, admission to the park is free of charge. The park is open from 4 AM to 12 midnight from March to October and from 5 AM to 12 midnight from November to February. Due to its size, there are numerous ways to explore the park. The easiest way to navigate the park is through the Danubi Train Ride. Danubi is the Korean word for “admiring the scenery”. A ticket to the “train ride” costs 3,000 won for adults, 2,000 won for youth and 1,500 won for children. Because the park is huge, Joy and I took the Danubi Train Course. Take note that the train rides open only at 9:20 AM and closes at 6 PM.
As has been the case in our previous excursions, we are going to tour around the park together with a group of elderly locals. Other than the wrinkles on their faces, one can barely glean any signs of senility. Their vitality, enthusiasm and zest for life is truly astounding. What is even more amazing is that in spite of the language barriers and the palpable physical differences, they actively greeted us with their wide smiles and treated us as though we were locals.
After a ten-minute ride through the winding roads of the park, we alighted at the Observatory which is located on a cliff. It provides a great vantage point for viewing the Korea Strait. On a good day, Japan’s Tsushima Island can be seen over the horizon. A coin-operated telescope can be used to view the island. Due to the pleasant weather, the blue waters reflected the cerulean skies. If you are hungry, there are cafés and restaurants in the lighthouse as well.
Taejongdae Tale Number 1 (This is more of a reality though): “Suicide Rock”
Beneath the observatory is a broad rock which was used to be called the Suicide Rock. An estimated 30 people committed suicide there annually, stirring a social problem in the city. “Do Not Commit Suicide” signs were installed to deter those who want to take their lives but it was ignored. Inspired by a different perspective, a statue sculpted by Jeon Roe Jin called “Mojasang” was installed in 1976. The artwork of a mother holding two children was meant to resonate the message of “appreciating lives by being reminded of the mother’s love”1. After the sculpture was installed, the suicide rate gradually declined until it totally stopped.
South Korea Travel Tip # 17: Take note that after departing from the entrance, you are free to hop on and off any train if you have your tickets. However, expect waiting times which can stretch from 15 minutes to an hour.
Our next stop was Yeongdo Lighthouse. As an alternative, you can walk around. The lighthouse is located on a cliff and to get there, we had to walk down a tree covered pathway. On the way down is a series of sculptures (the park is teeming with sculptures and different art installations). Collectively, these sculptures are called “The Seaman’s Hall of Fame.” The centerpiece is the Spirit of the Ocean which symbolizes the “guardian who looks over protects the Korean nation and its people.”1 The “Hall of Fame” also features busts of prominent Korean seafarers and figures.
Further down is yet another prominent sculpture called the Light Beyond Limitation. It is perhaps the most recognizable artwork in the entire park. The artwork takes on the shape of a circle “breaking through from inside of the cliff, the totality of the relationship between nature and the model.”1 This balance between the blue and red colors “signifies the concept of a gateway in which people can progress together in the spirit of harmony and friendliness.”1
Finally, we reached the lighthouse where there are shops as well. We just cooled down at the lighthouse before going further down to the coast where there are numerous prominent rock formations, the most prominent of which is Sinseon. The view at the rock formations is refreshing. It is closer to the sea and the brilliant blue colors are even more beautiful up close. There is also an open-air restaurant serving freshly caught seafood. Please note that the seafood is served raw. I can’t remember if they provide vinegar though (I didn’t even try because I am not much of a seafood enthusiast.)
Taejongdae Tale Number 2: “A Break from Godly Duties”
Nearly every country has its own set of mythologies. South Korea is no stranger to such as it has its own traditional myths and deities. Even if you we were only restricted to the more famous Greek, Roman, Egyptian or Norse mythologies, we know that godly duties are very taxing. To relieve their stress and to escape from their godly duties even just for a while, the Korean mythological gods and goddesses descend on the Sinseon rock formations.
Taejongdae Tale Number 3: “The Faithful Wife”
Directly below the Light Beyond Limitation sculpture is yet another prominent figure which locals popularly refer to as Mangbuseok. But it is no ordinary rock. According to popular Korean Folk literature, the figure is that of a woman who devotedly waited for her husband’s return. Her husband was sent out to sea on a ship and the wife was left to wait on him. Years passed and yet no sign of her husband’s return. However, this did not deter her or her resolution. On the hill she waited for him. Years passed she started turning into a stone, Mangbuseok.
Just like any place, Taejongdae is filled with fascinating tales, myths, and stories which make the place all the more interesting and special. More than that, it is a victory for the human imagination because who would have thought that from simple things, amazing and incredible stories can be conjured. Yes, the human mind is playful in a good-literary kind of way.
After we have been refreshed by the view, we made our way back to the main road. While going around the rock formations, please always observe caution. Some portions do not have any railings for support. It could pose a challenge for the elderly. From the lighthouse, our last stop was Taejongsa which was shrouded by the thick pine tree forest. We didn’t get to explore much of the temple though as we were already a bit exhausted so after a while, we decided to wrap up our tour and went back to the entrance. There is a bus terminal below the park where we rode the bus going back to Nampo-dong. To reiterate, confirm with the driver if the bus is going to pass by your prospective location.
For now, annyeong!
1 These descriptions were all taken on the tablets which are located near the respective art installation/sculpture.