Thursday, 4 October 2012

Korea Change - Arriving in Busan

Arriving in early morning Busan.
The ferry from Japan rattled to a stop in the world's fifth busiest port, Busan, at around 8am. I swanned through immigration and customs before finding myself on a warm morning pavement with not a penny in my pocket. My band cards weren't accepted in the ATM in the ferry terminal, so I rooted around in the hidden compartment of my rucksack and fished out a $20 bill, which I exchanged at a counter. I took the bus outside the port and got off at the first subway station, before easily navigating across Korea's second city and arriving at my hostel. My first impressions of Haeundae, the beachside neighbourhood I was staying in were very favourable. The modern, clean and wide streets were lined with shops, bars and restaurants, everything looked convenient and fun. It all seemed accessible and welcoming, like the city had just stripped off and lay down in front of me. The place was busy, I discovered it was Chuseok, a major three day national holiday and most people were off work. 

Haeundae beach, Busan.
It was too early for me to check into my room so I left my bag and went for breakfast and a barefoot walk along the shore. I liked the combination of sand and skyscrapers, it felt exotic and exciting, and made me think of California or Rio; I couldn't recall going to a huge beach city before. I spent the entire day on the beach, wearing nothing but my swimming shorts, as Koreans wearing coats and fleeces walked in huddles up and down. The water was cool but inviting, the sun sparkled off the surface like a million distant flashbulbs and I swam in the spearmint sea until my skin went tight. The rest of the afternoon I read my book and watched girls go by from behind my sunglasses. Jet skis raced up and down, coming in incredibly close to the shore with the riders posing and looking out at the beach hoping the people were looking back. My only thought was how dangerous it was, I'd only been swimming there a few minutes previous. There were lots of young foreigners on the beach in big groups, there weren't many alone like me. I wondered if they were expats, perhaps English teachers down here for the Chuseok holiday, and I wondered where my big group was. The more I observed them the more I resented them, though it was probably tainted by jealousy. Muscular young men with tanned torsos and sculpted hair paraded about, whilst their blond and busty bikini girls sunned themselves and did nothing, as these girls always do. I could hear Americans as they whooped and hollered and screamed their obligatory 'Yeah muthafuckas!', whilst all high-fiving. I hated them all with a sigh. 

Racing jet skis looking for attention.
Back in my hostel room I met a bright eyed Mexican who lived in El Paso, Texas, called Jose. We were on similar types of trip and seemed to have a similar outlook, so I was pleased to have ended the social celibacy. We went out to find food and were joined by Josh, a Canadian San Franciscan, who again was on a similar trip. We'd all quit our jobs to come and travel around Asia. We ate Korean barbecue, which seems to be the national cuisine, and is a really fun and social way of eating dinner. Hot coals are placed in the centre of the table, the meat is served raw and you grill it yourself. It's served with lots of small dishes of spiced and fermented vegetables, bean sprouts, rice and other foods. None of us had done it before, and we were rescued by the waiter when we started to cock it up. The food was great and it was nice to have some good company again, after the backpacking drought in Japan.

After dinner we bought some bottles of Soju, an alcoholic rice drink that tasted like a cross between an off but sweet white wine and a hint of vodka. We drank it neat and were joined by some other foreigners up on the roof terrace, a mixture of North Americans, Swedes, Germans, Russians, and a pretty but Poodle-esque French girl that probably most people wanted a piece of. We finished our drinks and merrily headed to a bar. We had a drink there before deciding to find somewhere a little bigger, and ended up in a nightclub down near the beach. It was reasonably busy when we arrived and was awash with beautiful Korean girls. Almost every one we tried to dance with ran like a sheep from a wolf, it began to become amusing. As I was getting bored and the crowd was thinning, the two North Americans were trying their luck with two remaining girls, so I decided to leave them to it and find some food. I ended up sat on the beach under Orion with a cold chicken burger and a can of beer, and enjoyed the peace of the whispering sea as the city slept behind me.

Korean barbecue.
I woke up with my first Soju hangover, every thought was coated in rust. I went to the beach and the afternoon followed the same pattern as yesterday, swimming, reading and people watching. The Koreans, and all Asians I had observed so far, really love to take pictures of themselves and each other, the photoshoots seem to be never ending. Later on in the afternoon I'd arranged to meet Chris, a friend from university who was living in Korea. He'd first arrived as an English teacher about five years ago, he met a girl named Hyojoo not long after and they've now been married for a couple of years. I met them in another part of the city, and we had a wander and drink on the beach whilst we caught up, before taking a taxi to the university area, where we went for dinner. We had barbecue again and the food was excellent, really delicious and enjoyable, and cheap too. We walked through the busy and vibrant streets for a while afterwards, before going our separate ways. I'd be seeing them again though, they live in Seoul and were just in Busan, Hyojoo's hometown for the public holiday, so we arranged to meet up in the capital at the weekend.

Hyojoo and Chris.
The night time beach lights of Gwangan, Busan. 
Lively side streets.
Psy - Korean pop star and now global sensation with his hit 'Oppa Gangnam Style', is everywhere in Korea.
I needed to get to Seoul to meet James, a guy I used to work with at the Evening Telegraph and had kindly offered to let me stay on his sofa. He had moved to Korea about six weeks ago to begin life as an English teacher. I'd been warned that because of the Chuseok holiday I might struggle to find a train ticket at such late notice, as most people had booked far in advance. I'd looked online and there was no option to reserve, so I headed to the train station to chance it. Once I got to the counter I just explained I'd like to go to Seoul, as soon as possible, and the woman looked at her screen and then apologetically at me, saying there was only standing tickets left. That was fine. I paid about £27 for a ticket and went straight to the platform where I boarded the waiting KTX fast train. I even got a seat; somehow I was one of the first to board so sat on one of the flip down ones in between the main carriages. There was even free wifi on board which kept me entertained for the two and half hour journey, which raced through a patchwork of yellow fields, jungle covered hills, smart looking towns and the sinking October sun showered everything in gold.

Busan train station.
Boarding the KTX fast train. 
I arrived in Seoul by early evening, I grabbed some dinner in the station before winding my way down to the metro. Finding my way was easy and I was soon in James's neighbourhood. He wasn't yet back in town from a camping trip, I was early, so I spent a couple of hours sat relaxing in a coffee shop browsing the internet whilst I waited for him. 

Travellers rush through Seoul's main station.
The Seoul skyline from James's rooftop. 

1 comment:

  1. Keep sharing your blogs Ben. They are ace! I had to fill in a survey at a wedding photography workshop the other day and it asked for a photographer non-wedding who inspired me....I put you! :O) And a link to your blog...