I know it’s been rather a blue two weeks here in Busan, and you have taken the brunt of it readers, but I have finally blown the homesickness away. Quite literally.
On Saturday evening, after a decidedly unusual meal of chicken soup, which arrived complete with chicken carcass in the bowl, to avoid confusion about the contents, I’m sure (but more on that another time), we headed to the Busan Fireworks Festival on Gwangalli beach. Naturally, with the firework display beginning at 9 we rocked up around 7. This was arguably our second mistake of the day, after the chicken soup.
You see, by the time we arrived 80,000 other inhabitants of Busan, some having camped out all day, had also decided to turn out for the show. So, there we were amidst hundreds of others with similar intentions, debating whether to hike to higher ground to gain a better vantage or to face the reality that we should settle for a beach-side spot and learn our lesson for next year. Ultimately we opted for the latter.
Although our spot was less than ideal, the experience was definitely one of the best so far on my sojourn here in Korea. As you can see from the picture, we were right of center for the show, which gave us some giggles during the “Couples” theme segment when the heart-shaped fireworks looks more phallic than perhaps was intended.
I must admit though, that the atmosphere of the crowd was somewhat subdued, especially given that the population of Busan and it’s brother were there. One girl was even so good as to bring her cat to the festivities. How…kind…of her? Far be it from me to deprive a cat of enjoying nearly an hour of load explosions and flashing lights!
Having left off at the end of my first day in Seoul (in Monday’s extensive entry) I’m not going to go as in-depth with what followed. Needless to say we got up late on Sunday considering we had high hopes for our tourist activities, however, when faced with lying in bed over suffering a headache J opted for the former.
Therefore, when we got up and dressed we decided it would be best to head right to the station to get bus tickets to ensure we actually made it home that day. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived back to the bus terminal, we had missed every single bus until 3AM. Great.
Panic unfurled in my stomach like the Kracken reawakened. What on Earth do we do now??? Jamie on the other hand kept calm, outwardly at least, and suggested we head for the other intercity terminal and try there. Needless to say this was the better of our two responses and we managed to secure tickets on a bus home. Sadly, the time spent getting around the city’s subway system and finding the ticket office in the intercity terminal ate into our tourist time and we were forced to change the itenerary and drop Seoul’s most international neighborhood, Itaewon, and the palace, disappointing but unavoidable.
Instead we spent the intervening hours at the riverside at the CNN cafe on the floating islands. They were rated quite well on Tripadvisor and happend to be close by so we opted for convenience over culture. The cover photo of this post shows the islands from a distance, they weren’t quite what I expected but were quite pleasant to look at. I was, however, rather disappointed with the CNN cafe as Anderson Cooper was nowhere to be seen, nor were any other newscasters from the network. CNN is liars.
Overall, the trip to Seoul will be considered a success, however, I must say I was somewhat underwhelmed by the city, or the small areas of it that I saw. I think the ‘capital city feeling’ is not as full of appeal as I had expected it to be. I know I missed out some of the best parts of Seoul but all in all I think I’m a Busan boy now and shan’t be making the move to Seoul during my time here in Korea. Thus leading to the conclusion that although I’ve been so Seoul, I’m just not a Seouldier.
As a teacher working Monday to Friday, I am now one of the masses who works only to fund my exploits at the weekend, which seems to come around so rapidly but I still cannot believe Friday is here again already because this week has flown by. Most of all because I had to get to the hospital yesterday afternoon because Stephen Spielberg wanted to make a move about my guts, which had me dreading Thursday. However, all was well and I made it through. The resulting movie was a bit shitty though, I slept the whole way through!
But now back to the matter at hand: the weekend.
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I am still in the process of learning to read and speak Korean, albeit a process more akin to glacial migration than serious language acquisition, but I’m a busy man. I mean those jelly beans don’t eat themselves! I digress, however, and return to today’s theme: reading menus.
Usually, when I am in a restaurant I can pick out what is tasty based on the picture which is conveniently located next to each menu item. What happens when those pictures aren’t there and the menu is not provided with convenient English subtitles? Well, let me tell you now.
Guesswork. Lots and lots of guesswork
You know what my life was lacking here in the big city? Open space. I mean, it’s very nice here in Busan, and in my Dong (neighborhood, although that’s some pretty stellar foreshadowing), although there are many parks and some open space, it’s no Ireland, where one is never further than 10Km from the nearest farm.
In order to combat this longing for the countryside, I signed up for the Korean Bus Tour Adventures trip to Samcheok.
Samcheok is about 5 hours bus journey through much of Korea’s arable land as well some pretty lofty, yet completely forested mountains, which is unsurprising given that the World Bank quotes a massive 64.08% of Korea is forested!
Why go 5 hours away to see green land if you are driving through fields and forests the whole way there anyway? Well… Samcheok is very well know for its sculptures as well as it’s parks. As I’m sure you can see below.
First, the footpaths are a crowed place with people headed to a wide variety of places for an even wider variety of reasons. In order to navigate through the masses, I have found it best to square my shoulders, point my elbows, and march as quickly as possible to where I’m going. The pointed elbows are a key point in this method, as without the jab of an elbow to remind folks coming too close you will be overcrowded in seconds.
Secondly, the five Ds: Dip, Dodge, Duck, Dive and…Dodge your way around old people and couples as these meanderers will hold you up for half a week and are guaranteed to step right into your way every time you attempt to overtake. And don’t for one second think that you can step off the footpath and go around wide because the streets are not the place for a pedestrian!
Mostly because a car might decide to park on your leg should it happen to land anywhere off the footpath, and hey that’s the driver’s prerogative.
Now I know this attitude of strolling across the road is possibly uniquely Irish, or perhaps just Galwegian, as our Medieval streets afford crossing in two strides or less throughout almost the entire city. Luckily, I’m a quick learner and have not been foolish enough to wander across the 8 lanes standing between the supermarket and my flat.
Zipping from place to place. Zooming around trying to make good time and be a general menace to society these creatures pose a threat to anyone brave enough to walk to work. What are they? Scooters.
First and foremost, apologies for the long delay in getting this post out there. I’ve had a busy week and a half what with catching up on my sleep and Gaelic tournaments, but more on that later!
I’ve mentioned before how, as a waygook (foreigner), you get some leeway with rules, regulations and the bounds of society in general. In order to take advantage of this a group of us decided to explore an abandoned amusement park in the neighboring city of Gimhae.
Getting a taxi to drop us at the entrance prooved easier than we expected as we had anticipated having to make up some nonsense place we were actually visiting that was definitely not an abandoned amusement park.
However, never baffled by the strange requests of a waygook, the driver obliged and left us right at the gate. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Gayaland.
As you can see there’s still quite a lot of the park standing, if looking a touch run down. What better enticement to trespass and explore (finally I understand the line in the ‘Our Father’, I, at last, have trespasses to be forgiven). As we looked at the entrance we began to wonder if there was a back way we had to sneak in, as going through the gates seemed too bold, even for seasoned explorers such as ourselves.
After a quick reconnaissance mission to scope out entry-ways we notices two things: 1. It’s main entrance or no entrance and 2. There were workmen on the site next-door. It was only then that I thought about any repercussions being found in Gayaland might have seeing as I am a guest in this wonderful country. What if the workmen called the police? And hell we don’t have two trailer park girls to go round the outside to find us another way in.
However, given the lack of interest the workmen showed in the group of 8 foreigners hanging out by the turnstiles, we decided to brave the passage beyond the gates. Did anyone hear them calling us back? No? We’re in!
In the brief time I’ve been here in Korea I’ve begun to notice the picture my friends and family back home have of Korea is that it’s all bright lights, neon signs and temples, lot of temples. For example the one above is the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (해동 용궁사) or the Dragon Gate Temple as I was told it translates roughly to by my bosses husband who showed us around. No, you aren’t wrong about any of those things we have them here in abundance. On my way to school I can take a wrong turn and end up in a neon sign temple… Although that may be a love motel but that’s a story for another time. However, there is so much more to see and do here, even in Busan alone there are more tourist attractions than you can shake a stick at! Not that I’m implying you, dear reader, go around shaking sticks at tourist attractions and the likes. Busan has even made it onto the Huffington Post list of ’15 Places to Go Before They Get Famous’, which if you give such articles credence is a big compliment to the city.
“But Emmet, we’ve seen all this sort of stuff before! Have you sold us the false promise of lesser known attractions of Forn Parts?” And to this I can hold my head high and say: I have not tried to cash in on the usual empty promise of something “unseen” and show you a part of Korea that not only are you unlikely to have seen but are also unlikely to expect.