Field Report:  Dongbaekseom, Busan, South Korea (04 February 2019)

After spending part of the morning at Busan’s Taejongdae forest park, I made my way to one of the city’s other public leisure grounds: an island – or rather, former island – where world leaders enjoyed both Korean hospitality and Korean natural beauty.

First, a reminder of our present whereabouts.

Busan (부산), Korea’s second most populous city and home of its busiest port.

The morning began at Taejongdae – featured in a separate field report – where I savoured the refreshing sight of forested slopes, towering cliffs of weathered rock, and the vast wind-ruffled sea all around. My next stop was also by the coast, easily reached from where I was by bus (with at least one transfer en route)…

…except that for various reasons, I ended up stopping over at Busan Station. From there, I hopped aboard a Busan Metro Line 1 service and transferred to Line 2 at Seomyeon, staying on board until the train called at Dongbaek Station.

Then followed a peaceful stroll through an upscale neighbourhood – a journey that ended when I reached the sea and saw my destination for the first time.

Named after the flowering camellias – dongbaek (동백) in Korean – that grow there in abundance, Dongbaekseom (동백섬) is a thickly forested hill that anchors the western end of Busan’s famous Haeundae Beach. Formerly an island, and indeed still referred to as one (via the suffix “-seom” attached to its name), Dongbaekseom is now joined to the mainland thanks to centuries of natural sedimentation and man-made development.

I followed the waterfront east, then crossed onto the island – well, I suppose it’s technically a peninsula now – by way of a road bridge. The Westin Chosun Hotel served as a useful landmark, guiding me towards the entrance of the walking path that loops around Dongbaekseom.

After following the path down Dongbaekseom’s western side to its southern tip, I caught sight of my main target peeking out from behind a row of trees.

This silver-grey, spaceship-like structure is the Nurimaru APEC House (누리마루 APEC하우스), built to host the 2005 APEC Leaders’ Meeting and subsequently used as a conference centre for high-profile summits. The three-storey building is thoroughly modern, but also reflects elements of traditional Korean architecture in its form and ornamentation.

Part of the building is used as a commemorative gallery, with display cases holding mementos of the 2005 APEC meeting.

One exhibit I found particularly interesting – and mouth-watering – is a recreation of the lavish Korean dinner served to the leaders of APEC’s member states on 18 November 2005.

But the most important exhibit of all is an entire room: the sumptuous conference hall used for the APEC Leaders’ Meeting.

If your country was a member of APEC at the time (as mine was), you’ll probably want to find out which chair your head of state was sitting in – and who the immediate neighbours were.

The elegant lounge space set up for the visiting leaders is fitted with massive plate-glass windows, offering fantastic views of the sea outside and islands far beyond.

Right, let’s head outside.

I stepped out onto an open balcony that runs partway around the building…

…then down a set of stairs to ground level, right next to the rocky shoreline. There are walking paths and even a traditional Korean pavilion here – all designed, perhaps, as a refuge for world leaders and summit delegates when things get too heated up in the conference hall.

Here’s another relic of the APEC summit: the stepped platform on which the 21 attending heads of state posed for their official group photograph (on 19 November 2005). As in the conference room, you’ll probably want to find out – and perhaps even stand on – the assigned spot where your own national representative stood for the commemorative portrait.

There are great close-up views to be had of the Nurimaru APEC House’s façade from down here…

…but I’ll show you an even better vantage point in a moment.

Now you might have observed a small white lighthouse in one of the photographs above. After going back up to the top floor and leaving the building by way of its main entrance, I walked a short distance east and arrived at a wooden platform adjoining the lighthouse.

There are fine views to be enjoyed from here: the sea, the rocks along the shore, the crashing waves and all the rest…

…but the best view of all is towards the west.

The Nurimaru APEC House, with the massive Gwangandaegyo – one of Korea’s longest bridges – just to the left (but far off in the distance), Busan’s soaring skyscrapers peeking out from behind, and further back, the jagged outline of the mountains that form a natural backdrop to this thriving coastal city.

This platform is just one in a series of observation points built along the southern and eastern shores of Dongbaekseom. From another deck near the lighthouse…

…I spied a rock that obviously had some special significance, judging from the small decorative fence built around it.

After zooming in as closely as I could – given the limited range of my mobile phone camera – it became possible to discern a few damaged hanja characters incised deeply into the surface of the stone.

A nearby information board offered this explanation.

The noted ninth-century scholar Choi Chi-won […] of the late Silla Dynasty is said to have been enchanted by the natural scenery here and inscribed the word “Haeundae,” named after his pen-name, on this rock, thus giving the place its name. It is uncertain whether the scholar actually carved the inscription, but according to the poem “Haeundae” by Jeong Po (1309-1345), […] “The platform is dilapidated, but only the name ‘Haeun’ remains.” Judging from this account, it is estimated that the inscription was written before the end of the Goryeo Dynasty.

Now if the view of a rock bearing an inscription of uncertain provenance doesn’t suit, one need only face the other way to see something different.

Busan’s iconic Haeundae Beach, with new skyscrapers rising at its eastern end.

Haeundae Beach itself would have been a logical next stop, given its proximity to Dongbaekseom … except that I don’t like beaches, haha. To illustrate the point: I’ve visited all 47 prefectures of Japan, yet I’ve never visited the world-famous beach island of Boracay and I don’t plan to do so in the future (despite the fact that I live in the Philippines!). Haeundae will probably have its turn someday, if only for a bit of travel photography – blue sky, glittering sea, golden sand and all that – but on this particular visit to Busan, Dongbaekseom was the fitting and quite beautiful final chapter.

I made my way back to the hotel where I’d been staying, collected my luggage, and continued on to nearby Busan Station to catch a Seoul-bound train. (More about that journey in a separate rail report.)

As for what happened in Seoul … well, let’s save that for another day and another post.


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