Borges once said of Buenos Aires—“It smacks of fiction that Buenos Aires was ever founded. I judge her to be as eternal as the sea and the wind”—but there is nothing fictitious or eternal about the founding of Busan, which was discovered by a single Paleolithic man about forty thousand years ago, a time that is incomprehensibly distant to us but certainly not so infinite as it could be.
He hiked to the top of the mountain that would later give the city its name, had a good look at the endless forests, the octopus-shaped coastline and the richness of a blue sea that went on forever, and decided that he wanted to mark this wide territory of sky, water, and land, as his own, and did what any normal man would do, that is, he planted a flag—or tried to. His flag was not a flag, nor even a totem, but a spear, and he raised this spear into the air and slammed it down into the earth, thinking to plant it there, when in fact he only managed to impale his own foot and, in effect, nail himself to the earth, where he soon died of blood loss.
Therefore the first words spoken in Busan were not even words but human screams which wandered here and there through the mountains and over the forests like a flock of chattering birds, eventually reaching the ears of a different band of hunters far off on the bank of the Nakdong River, who thought it sounded like BU! 부! 釜! Thus the etymology of the city’s name is here enumerated and the mystery put to rest.
The Hanja for the city’s name, 釜山, was only a later appellation; it appears to mean Kettle Mountain, or Giant Kettle Mountain, referring to a sort of giant ancient Chinese teamaking apparatus for which there is no approximate word in English—the word is Bu—and a Korean here told me that the world also means riches, or wealth, but because there is no Bu Mountain in Busan and because the city is pretty lacking by any standard the name simply must have originated in the bleeding throat of a wailing, dying, man.