Beach & Coastal Walking, Korea, Mountains
Comments 14

The Goat & the Birth Goddess

A Cultural Sensitivity Primer

Hi, all. It’s been too long between posts once again but this time my reasons are happier: I’m on holidays again!

They’re rather optimistically labelling this week of leave my “Spring vacation”, and at first I could almost believe my Winter blues were over with. I had two excellent days of coastal walking and white sandy beaches to the east of Busan, then came home yesterday to bleak skies and even some more fluttering snowflakes.

The dream was over.

It’s holidays though, and it goes against my grain to spend them indoors, so tomorrow I’m heading south again, to Tongyeong and the islands of the marine national park where I had a great adventure, and some much-needed sunshine, a few weeks ago. Got an island in mind there with a pretty amazing-looking little peak on it…

So tonight I’ll conclude the story of my first real exploration of Busan, which ended last post, you’ll recall, with me hiking out of the Jagalchi fish markets and aiming at the island of Yeong-do…

I walked over the Yeong-do Bridge figuring I’d improvise a route to the top of that mountain up ahead:

Back in Brisbane when I was getting ready to leave, I’d seen a shot of Yeong-do taken from Busan Tower, and thought, “I’m going to climb that. I have to climb that.” Only later — this very day in fact — did I learn that its name is Bongnae-san.

I was soon in the maze of backstreets and alleys that are already emblematic of Busan for me.

Some history: This corner of Korea was the only part never held by the North during the Korean War of 1950-53. Seoul is very close to the present border; during the conflict Busan was the provisional capital. There were fewer than a million residents before the war. That rose by half a million or so as refugees poured into the city, forming shantytowns on its fringes. There was one near the fish markets, and favela-like slums squeezed into the foothills of the numerous small mountains enclosing the city.

Post-war, they evolved into suburbs, and the housing improved, but many of these neighbourhoods remained poor, and you can feel it in these fascinating, twisting, and ever-climbing back-alleys. Many of the houses still seem simple and crudely maintained. But each time I climb up through them, I think about how much fun it must be for a kid growing up to have these warrens as a playground…

They’re actually quite easy to navigate: just aim up (or down)! They’re steep though; I’d had a great workout already as I left the alleys and entered the park below the peak:

Near the 395m summit, there’s an old gun emplacement. I’ve come upon dozens of these on ridges above towns. Graves and machine-gun nests, the hills are full of them. I assume they date from the War but perhaps they’re used in manoeuvres — or maybe it’s thought they might be needed again:

The summit. I sat up here a little while. There was a lot of haze over Busan but the scale of this enormous port was clear — and staggering. Couples and families came and went. Few acknowledged me. Let’s call it shyness:

See this rock? I thought, “What a waste of good fruit,” and mentally castigated (yet again) the type of hiker who’d dump food up here. I climbed up on the boulder to get a better vantage point for some photos. A few hikers shot me a glance but nobody said anything:

It was only after I saw several hikers reach the top, panting, and clap their hands together as they bowed at the rock, that I started to put two and two together. Continuing south along the ridge, my suspicions were confirmed on an information board:

Bongnaesan Mountain looms over the Yeongdo area of Busan in the shape of a mother cradling her child in her arms. Samsin Halmae, a birth spirit said to live on Bongnaesan Mountain, is believed to protect the residents of Yeongdo and to worry about people who leave the local area in just the way a mother would. Samsin Halmae Rock, located on the summit…has long been regarded as a sacred place, so people never climb the rock but offer prayers nearby…


Suitably chastened, I trotted south along the ridge…

..till I ran out of ridge:

A group of older hikers emerged, spread out a blanket, and immediately started eating and drinking. Their raucous toasts followed me as I descended, passing this spring…

..till I reached a path and started heading back towards the city along the island’s western side:

Did I mention that Busan is a major port?

Not far from the bridges leading back into Busan…

..I stopped in at this old temple:

It was just about dusk, and a man started swinging the giant log into the bell. I was the only other person there. The booming peel — the peeling boom? — seemed to shake the very island. Any lingering demons fled…

..and so did I, as the bell toll ceased, the man locked the temple gates, said, “Hello!” to get my attention and pointed at another way out. He wasn’t chasing me away, just trying to help — I think.

Back into the rabbit warren. It was a lot more fun going down. Sometimes an old resident would turn a corner, come face to face with the fast-moving foreigner, and duck their head to study the ground:

I found myself among the mighty guests of the shipyards, this one seemingly draped in an enormous shroud:

The darkening waterfront streets were almost deserted… I approached the Busan Bridge, which parallels the Yeong-do Bridge by which I’d arrived…

..and started across, leaving Yeong-do and its benevolent guardian behind:

The offices of the Holy Joy Center near the docks seemed to be unattended:

T’was ever thus.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote



  1. The shantytown with its peeling walls (definitely not walling peels!) gave some great photo opportunities, Goat!

    Loved the illuminated docklands — and that ‘HOLY joy CENTER’ pic. I fancy some of that.

    • Cheers, SW, I could spend hours walking through those areas with my camera — in fact I already have! I have also discovered a couple of parts that have been “beautified” with murals etc, very quirky and fun, coming up in a future post.

      Same with the docks. My camera is very good at low-light stuff, luckily, as those are my favourite conditions for urban walking.

  2. Fascinating stuff; it’s giving me a view of S. Korea I’ve never had before. What a pity work gets in the way of your walking from time to time.

    • Thanks, Nick, glad you’re finding it rewarding. Korea often frustrates — even angers — me, but the good stuff easily outweighs the bad, and I’m really happy I’m here…most of the time. As for work: it’s the curse of the walking man, but it pays for this rather odd lifestyle of mine.

  3. Nice photos again. You’re really getting some nice lowlight shots for sure. I love the tug boats bathed in that warm glow! Pity about the rock faux pas. How is one meant to know that some rocks are holy?

    • Thanks, mate, I’m really enjoying playing with this camera. Still got a lot to learn, though. This is an odd place, religion-wise. On the one hand, there are churches EVERYWHERE and supposedly a quarter of the population is Christian. But there’s superstition/folk religion everywhere you look…

  4. Gabriel says

    Hi. My name is Gabriel Ndhlovu and I’m a pastor at Holy Joy Center (HJC)in Busan. I saw a picture you took of HJC and I like it very much. I want to ask for your permission to use the picture on our facebook group page. Please let me know.

  5. You have convinced me that this is what I will do tomorrow here in Busan. I will catch a bus or metro down to the fish market and then cross the bridge to head yp the mountain. Looks like a fantastic walk. My university assignment can wait … it’s not due until 3 November and I only have 1,500 words left to write. I might only be in Busan once. Thanks for the tip

    • Once in Busan may well be enough. I can’t imagine missing it, though I’m glad I experienced it and have a lot of interesting photos to look back on.

  6. I did this hike today. Somehow I managed to miss all the temples but boy was the walk back along the west coast stunning 🙂 . Thanks for the inspiration – I had a great afternoon

  7. Pingback: Jagalchi fish market and Yeongdo Island hike (Busan) | Looking For 42

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