The Korean Temple of Busan…and Evil Billy

LutherBailey 02 June 2010 3 comments

I have to admit that at first, I was a little nervous about going to Korea. I think it stems from the problems that lie with North Korea…but that has nothing to do with South Korea, so I know it makes no sense. Perhaps it has something to do with knowing there was a smaller amount of tourism than other asian countries which might lead to the same sort of nerve racking problems that I had in Prague (Czechoslovakia) years ago…when no one knew english and everything kept going wrong.  Regardless, my worries about Korea were all in vain.

Monk at the Beomosa Zen Temple

Don’t get me wrong, Busan, Korea was a little confusing and a bit overwhelming. My first impressions of the city of Busan was that it was exploding with color from absolutely millions of signs, advertising god knows what…everywhere.  A bus from our port dropped us off  in the middle of insanity central. There were people everywhere and it was somewhat early. The ONLY thing that looked familiar was a Starbucks that nestled itself in next to a hotel and some other shop. The traffic was worse than a NYC block. However… I loved it, life everywhere. I looked in all directions trying to figure out where to go and what to do.

Busan Korea

After walking a few blocks Billy (my travel partner) and  I managed to find some stairs that led down to where the subway should be. There were some deserted hallways that went off in different directions as we entered the underground system. It was obvious that this part was for underground shops and none of them had opened yet. A nice Korean policeman happened to be down there and realized we were trying to figure out how to get to the train. With an emotionless stare, he motioned with his hand to one specific direction. We marched off down the corridor for a city block or two (underground) until we finally found the subway entrance. I was surprised at how many stores were down below, in addition to the many above ground. Next came the computerized machines where you buy tickets. Thank God there was a button that said “English”. As I was trying to put Korean money into the machine, a nice young man who had been watching us came over and tried to explain in one or two english words, that I would have to get change from another machine to use smaller bills. It’s amazing how the obvious things can elude us at times when we’re in another country. I was impressed with how kind and helpful he was.

Busan, Korea

After all was said and done, we walked further down some stairs and managed to figure out which train to get on. I not entirely sure how. The subway system was clean and organized, but the written language of Korean everywhere was very confusing for us. The many symbols in the various signs and video displays were fun to watch though, almost as if we were in a modern art gallery and didn’t understand what we were seeing, but all the while being intrigued.  All we knew was that we saw a bunch of Korean symbols on the train map showing where we were, and a bunch of Korean symbols showing were we needed to be…which of course was about 20 stops further and way out in the middle of nowhere.

Busan, Korea

So, what I can never figure out is if it’s my fault that Billy and I are always tracking off to ridiculous places to see temples….or if Billy is using some kind of Jedi mind trick on me to make me think that I want to see temples. I like temples, but there are lots of them in Asia and I have to tell you…most of them are built in high up and often seemingly inaccessible places. They don’t EVER seem to build them on flat ground. I suppose that would defeat the purpose of having a quiet, spiritual getaway.

Busan, Korea

We rode for a long…long time on the train. Hundreds of local Koreans at various stops got off and on the train as they eyed us curiously. There were no other tourists. I began thinking that it wasn’t normal for out of towner’s to travel on this particular train. After about 15 train stops, an older man got on and approached us with a smile as said “Hello”  is pretty good English.  However, I am ALWAYS suspicious. I’ve learned my lessons over the years about people trying to take advantage of tourists. The good thing though is that as he began to talk, it became clear that he was a nice man and simply wanted to practice his English. He was a retired professor from the local university, and had been practicing English for years. The three of us had an enjoyable chat for a while. Then came the questions…..lot’s of questions.

Busan, Korea

Perhaps Koreans are comfortable with asking  probing questions of each other or complete strangers, but he wanted more detail than I would even tell my mother, much less say out loud on a crowded train. I was so surprised at his friendly interrogation that I tried hard to laugh from embarrassment. I’m sure he meant no harm since he was being kind enough. In the end, we just answered his questions as best as possible.

Busan, Korea

Now, on the map, it shows that such and such temple is at the end of the subway stairway exit. Very simple…ride the train, get off… see big temple. Unfortunately…not so. After we walked up the stairs and reached the surface, we stopped. we looked up and down the street and it was clear that we had ventured into a suburban outskirt that looked nothing even remotely Zen.  I saw a random car repair shop, a small bakery and a few signs I couldn’t decipher. This was Busan suburbia. We decided to walk up the block a ways to try and find a direction sign for the temple, and a cab driver jumped out…”Take you to temple!!” he exclaimed.  As usual..I say no…I don’t trust anyone…let alone cab drivers. “No thank you”  I nodded. He seemed frustrated, but nodded his head.  I walked on confidently around the next street corner, hoping to see what we had come looking for. There was a sign that said…”such and such temple” with an arrow pointing that way. I shrugged my shoulders and we keep walking….and walking….”There’s no temple here Billy…lets go back to the subway.” Yeah, right…like that ever works. No according to the laws of Billy, we must keep walking., why would I bother pretending otherwise? After getting another few blocks…we see another sign that says “such and such temple….3.5 Km s” Ahhhh!!!! Those disposable tourist maps are so misleading.

Busan, Korea

Okay, so…I’m not a wuss….I can handle a good walk, but I have to explain…the sign pointed uphill…up a mountain road that was covered in trees. Pretty, but steep. I’m going to leave out the endless whining, complaining, arguing and colorful explicits that ensued, but let’s just say that I didn’t get my way and ended walking up the mountain road…ahead of Billy (evil Billy) in a huff and complained the entire way. In my defense, it was hot..humid..mosquitos…no breeze, trees on both sides so that you could not see anything and I had walked for eight hours the day before. We had no water….but Billy HAD to go see the temple.

Busan, Korea

During our walk, I couldn’t help but to find it amusing that every so many minutes, a senior Korean man or woman would be briskly exercising as they walked either up or down the road. Here I am panting, sweating and suffering, while people who had to at least be 75 would put me to shame. Not a drop of sweat on their forehead. I know I saw a few of them suppress a giggle. I have to admit that the nature of the trees and eventually being able to see out through them was quite nice. The occasional lizard scattering through the leaves or a bird mocking us just made it all so real. So….after what seemed like hours of mountain trekking, sweating and plotting Billy’s future demise, we finally reached the top. When I say “Top”, I mean the entrance to more stairs and steep hills. The entrance to the Temple was clearly before us.  Yes, folks, I have to report that there were hundreds of more steps involved in our temple viewing process. The monks feel much, much more at peace at zero oxygen levels. By the way, the photo below is not the main entrance. I could handle these stairs…I’m not that much of a wimp!

Busan, Korea

After we reached the top of first hill, I hear…“Water…one dollar”….those were never sweeter words. There was a little old Korean man speaking in rusty english who was selling various items out of a cart. I had decided that I had actually died on the way up and this was my first reward into heaven. I would have given him 20 dollars for that darn bottle of water.

Busan, Korea

Now, here’s where I eat humble pie. Although Billy (evil Billy) didn’t know what we would end up seeing at the end of our torturous trek up mount ridiculous, the results were worth it. The temples were beautiful. There were mountains surrounding us on three sides, filled with trees turning the color of fall. The fresh air and gentle breeze was incredible. The wonderful smell of incense was floating around the large property.

Busan, Korea

There was such a peaceful nature and reverence to it all, that I instantly felt the need to tip-toe. I’m sure that American tourists with cameras in hand were not always a welcome sight for those wishing to participate in their Buddhist rituals. The good thing is that I’m not one of “Those” kids of Americans. I try to be very, very respectful of other cultures when I travel. After all, I’m a guest in their country.

Busan, Korea

It was interesting watching the people meditate in various temples buildings (including outside on some mats) and watching monks lead a meditation chant along with the incense and chimes. Even though I know some about the history of Buddhism, I wasn’t exactly sure what everyone was doing through the Temple grounds. I was surprised to see that the majority of people who were meditating and praying were female, and older. The chanting and chimes were beautiful. I could have stood there and listened for hours. I’m not Buddhist, but I have great respect for the Buddhist teachings. Anything that teaches such peace and harmony gets and A+ in my book.

Busan, Korea

There was an upper and lower courtyard area to the main compound, but the sounds of chanting and bells were heard everywhere. Since I am a photographer, I couldn’t help but to take photos of this amazing place. There is always a fine line between being invasive or not when it comes to photos, so I’ve learned to keep my distance and use a telephoto lens when I want to take pictures of people. It’s not always easy to know how different cultures will react to having their photo taken.

Busan, Korea

I was very quiet as I snapped a few photos here and there. I thought it was so beautiful the way this lady (below) was praying in the courtyard.

Busan, Korea

These Buddhists (below) were sitting outside in front of a small Temple, and I was a long ways away. I enjoyed watching the Monks walk around the grounds with their rust colored robes. I kept wondering how they could handle all the clothing with such heat and humidity. I suppose you get used to it after a while. There actually were a number of buildings on this mountain that made up the temple compound.  Most of these buildings were hundreds of years old, so rebuilding and maintenance were obviously necessary.

Busan, Korea

There were men who were re-roofing some areas, they would take the time to smile and say hello as we walked by.  It was possible to buy a roof tile from one of the buildings, which would have your name signed on the underside by a temple representative. This would be placed on the roof in the reconstruction process. The grounds were actually quite a bit larger than what I’m showing in these photos. You could easily spend a while up there just walking around.

Busan, Korea

I ended up spending some time talking to an older man who had great fascination with my camera and lenses. I let him practice with it for a while. He wanted to know exactly what I paid, where I bought it, et… again with the many probing questions, but overall it was funny and didn’t bother me in the least.

Busan, Korea

Once you reach the second tier, there were multiple yellow lanterns that lined the pathways. I’m not quite sure if there was any significance to the colors, but it was a visual treat. The funny thing is that after all that hiking, sweating and nitpicking about my hike up the mountain, we found that there was a cheap and easy bus that picked up and dropped off in front of the Temple entrance. For a small fee, we jumped on the bus which took us all the way back down and dropped us off a block from the subway. Oh well, at least I got my exercise for the day.

Busan, Korea

What I really liked were the multiple colored lamps that were strung along the lower pathways of the main entrance of the Beomosa Zen temple. There were hundreds of them. The Temple drew lots of visitors, most of them were locals and other Asian tourists. I felt very welcome and comfortable as an American tourist and would highly recommend the Beomosa Zen Temple to anyone who happens to make a trip to Busan. If you’re interested in visiting the temple, you can Google “Beomosa Temple Busan” and you will find plenty of information, as well as the subway stop. I will be posting more on my experiences in Korea. If you’d like to read more of my other blog posts on various countries, you can access my blog at “” Thanks!



Multimedia Designer, Photographer and Writer. My Travel Blog is located at

3 Comments For This Post

  1. RJtravels RJtravels Says:

    Great shot of the monk!

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