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The Fishmongers of Jagalchi (& Other Formidable Marine Creatures)

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I enjoyed some sunshine and nice hiking last  weekend, closing in on walk #20 for my six weeks here. I went to bed tired and content on Sunday night; when I woke a light snow was falling and a far heavier gloom seemed to be rolling down onto Jangyu from the hills.

My school a few mornings ago

This was my first snow around here, and it didn’t amount to much. Last winter, I’m told, there was a fall heavy enough to cancel school for the day. No such luck this time: the light dusting of the foothills of Bulmo-San had melted away before I got the chance to hike up there for a look.

But I was glad, actually.

There’s this amiable fellow in the staff room with that appalling aversion to nose-blowing and cough-covering so common in this part of the world.

For a fortnight he gurgled and spluttered, splurgled and gluttered like a demented percolator; I soon had a respectable cold. It didn’t stop me hiking but it removed all interest in blogging…

Time for a trip to the sunny seaside.

In this post, I mean — the photos you see here were taken a couple of weekends ago. This was my first real venture into Busan after hiking the fortress-crowned hills behind the city and its outer suburbs a week earlier.

Busan is Korea’s second city and is one of the world’s biggest ports.

Simon Winchester, in Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles, describes (this was the eighties) his astonishment, while visiting the shipyards down here, at the efficiency that enabled the Koreans to churn out supertankers and cargo vessels in a few months, an assembly line of oceangoing shipping, while the industry in his native northern England was going belly up.

This only seemed to enhance his fondness for the country…

I wasn’t going into the shipyards — although I must look into that. No, it was the fish markets of Jagalchi I wanted to see, where an earthy efficiency of its own prevails.

Learning how to use the buses to Gimhae, the light rail into Busan and the surprisingly straightforward subway system criss-crossing the city has opened up a world of exploratory possibilities.

I exited the subway in Nampo-Dong and ducked into a “Tourist Information Center” where a row of cute-but-mute attendants stared, their apprehension palpable. I grabbed a tourist map and bailed.

A quick latte at the anachronistically located Paris Baguette bakery, and I strode with renewed purpose into the increasingly fishy-smelling streets at the waterfront.

This was a constantly fascinating amble. I love the excitement and history, the salty air of adventure lingering over bustling waterfronts and their backstreets. I just had to avoid eye contact with the sometimes rather pushy vendors — most of whom are women who’ve obviously been doing this for a long time and have no time for tourists seeking a few shots of authentic Busan.

I used the pancake lens, kept the camera cupped in one palm, and with the tilted LCD was able to sneak off some shots while pretending to contemplate just which slew of quivering tentacles would make the best lunch…

I should add that Jagalchi was fascinating despite the array of edible marine fauna on offer.

I wish I could be an “adventurous eater”, but the last thing I want when I sit down to eat is the possibility of adventure breaking out. Just last week, for example, as I was dragged to another traditional restaurant for lunch, the vice-principal said something that sent a cold, clammy jolt of fear through my bowels.

“Can you eat oyster soup?”

I had to break my “eat everything offered” rule on that occasion.

I mean, see that red bowl of what look like innards in the shot above? Those ungodly things, whatever they were, were squirming.

Things in shells, things with antennae, segmented torsos or carapaces — no, thanks.

In all my time in Tokyo, I had sushi about twice. I ate the same sandwich almost every night for three years.

It was a big sandwich.

I loved the lack of concessions for foreign tourists at these markets. The few obvious tourists were Koreans, but most of the visitors were actually shopping here — or dining at crude benches. There was much competition between merchants, and a lot of haggling and squeezing of produce.

Even here in bustling Busan I only saw three or four western faces all day.

The locals were eating these enormous lunches right there in their stalls, often sitting on the ground.

Tough-looking women, these. I suppose their menfolk work on the boats. A co-teacher at work claims that these women are “rich”.

This kind of commerce has thrived here for centuries.

Notice how the women all wear virtually identical outfits?

Fascinating as these markets are (this was my second; after fleeing freezing Jeju I had a couple of warmer days in the thriving southern port town of Tongyeong), they depress me too. All that biodiversity stripped from the waters daily — doesn’t bear thinking about…

I left the market behind to venture cautiously along the waterfront. Like Tongyeong, it’s vibrant, hectic and great entertainment. No sanitised, bloodless Fisherman’s Wharf or Darling Harbour, this place:

Dream-walkers like me have to watch out, though — get yourself run over by a truck if you’re not careful.

This man spends his days repairing boxes to load with the day’s catch:

I joined a throng of absorbed spectators watching the greatest show in town: the unloading of a huge boatload of squid.

Thousands upon thousands of squid…every day… A wealth of squid…

How many squid can there possibly be out there?

Time to leave the squid and the squid-shovellers behind. See that mountain on the right? That’s the island of Yeong-do, connected to Busan by a few bridges. Jagalchi was great fun, but I needed some elevation and solitude.

I decided to walk over and climb it…

..right away.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oh my goodness—what beautiful photos. Thanks for the post.

    February 16, 2012
  2. Thanks for sharing all your beautiful momnets in Korea.. You make me miss my countury!

    February 17, 2012
    • Thanks a lot! I think Italy would help me forget any country!

      February 17, 2012
  3. Are you sure the those wriggly things in the red bowl aren’t lampreys? And check the basket next to the abalone – it looks like sea cucumbers!

    I’m guessing that a lot of that squid will be the basis of some kimchi (I don’t like the squid or fish-based stuff myself). Pity – it should be calamari rings!!

    February 17, 2012
    • Can people eat lampreys? No, stop — don’t tell me…

      February 17, 2012
      • A quick search on Wikipedia indicates that in the middle ages they were a popular dish among the upper class. It also mentions them being popular in Korea.
        I also found a reference to Korean hagfish dishes.
        Lampreys are distantly related to eels and congers… maybe the taste isn’t that much different…

        February 18, 2012
      • Thank God for Lotteria.

        February 18, 2012
  4. Great post although I’m feeling a little queasy now…

    February 17, 2012
  5. Jesus, Goat, you’ve just put me off my (immobile) Friday night spaghetti bolognese…

    Fabulous photographs.

    ‘Dream-walkers’ — lovely…

    February 18, 2012
    • Thank you, sir. Glad to hear it wasn’t marinara.

      February 18, 2012
  6. do, taehee #

    Thank you for great photos~! when I visited your blog I feel very interesting. i have been reading your every new stories.
    i am missing Busan.. have a good day in Korea ^^ just to let you know I want to tell you many things about you visited places. only english is difficult… take care 감기 ^^

    February 18, 2012
    • Thanks for reading, Taehee. I know it’s not easy in your second language. Busan is a fascinating city!

      February 18, 2012

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