"A good traveler has no fixed plans and it not intent in arriving." Lao Tzu
10.26.12 - 10.28.12
So far my personal travels away from Ilsan have centered around Seoul because it is fairly painless to reach by bus or subway. I have been to other parts of Korea (Andong and Pocheon) but they were trips planned and executed by either Hands Korea or the Korean Cultural Society so I didn't have much to do with anything except showing up and enjoying myself. But this past weekend I went to Busan with two fellow native teachers and friends, KL and KB. I still didn't have to do much planning because KL booked our tickets and hostel but it was still very nice to get out of town and not have a specific agenda and schedule to keep to.
Busan is a coastal city in the south east corner of Korea. We decided to take a bus to Busan Friday night because KB works until 730 we figured we would just sleep on the bus. We departed Ilsan at 1020 pm and one very long and bumpy ride later we arrived in Busan. And by long I mean we got to our hostel at 4 in the morning. Traffic. Gotta love it. I have never stayed in a hostel before and I was pleasantly surprised. It was clean and had all the necessary conveniences at our disposal (ranging from clean towels, shampoo, to hair dryers and computer access). There was a bit of a mishap with what room we were actually supposed to be in but that was all sorted out eventually.
We decided to sleep in a bit Saturday morning and didn't emerge from the hostel until close to 11. We had planned to go to Busan because it was the International Fireworks Festival and it was supposed to be amazing, and I saw was because we didn't get to see it, thank you random lightning storm... The entire day Saturday was pouring rain and as the afternoon got on it became more and more stormy until it was so windy that umbrellas were rendered useless and thunder and lightening were very loud and close. We ate lunch at this lovely BBQ place that specialized in pork and then we had to have a caffeine fix. We actually spent quite a while just sitting in the cafe by the ocean and talking while it rained outside. It was probably the most relaxing part of the whole weekend. Afterwards we went to the beach and took some pictures and kind of just basked in the glory of being at the beach even though it was pouring rain.
We then made our way to the Busan Aquarium. That was quite fun. There were a lot of different types of fish and they had displays for different parts of the world. I saw live penguins!! This aquarium also boasts the largest walk-through tunnel thing where you can see all the fish and sorts (I think in Korea...) needless to say I took a lot of pictures. We didn't know how but we saw people in wet suits with what looked like a guide inside the shark tank. As in they paid money and were walking with sharks. I so want to do that. And you could tell they were not workers because they had cameras and were obviously not Korean (red hair, pale skin, tall). I was definitely jealous. That's ok I got pictures. Totally the same thing... right?
After we emerged from the aquarium we decided we needed to go inside somewhere so we took the subway to the Shinsegae Mall. This mall puts all other malls to shame. The sheer size dictates you will not be able to visit the entire thing in one day. It is huge. Just to give you a little feel for what this place is like I shall tell of just a few of the things one can do while at this wonderful mecca of shopping delights. There are the basics of shopping like H&M and department stores along with pretty much every other kind of shop you could want or need. There were two floors dedicated just to food. One floor had a grocery store feel to it but it was mostly specialty items and such. The second had a food court feel to it. All standard things one expects to encounter while at a shopping mall, no? Well Shinsegae also has a spa (somewhat more random but still within the expected range), a movie theater (again most malls do now), an ice skating rink and the top three floors is a golf range. Yup. Ice skating rink and golf range. In a mall. Year round. We spent entirely too much time here but it was amazing. We meandered around the shops and then ate dinner went to Kyobo (the most amazing book store known to mankind) and then decided we were going to watch a movie. We saw OO7 Skyfall (with Korean subtitles) and clearly humor doesn't translate well or we really thought the movie was a lot funnier than everyone else because practically none of the Koreans laughed at the right moments... it was a little awkward. But it was my first time experiencing the seats that move and shake with the movie. That was exciting. I always wanted to try one but they were too expensive back home. At this theater all the seats were like that and the tickets were only 10,000 won (less than 10 bucks for those with currency exchange woes).
After the movie we headed back to the hostel and got some much needed sleep. Before the movie had started though I finally took it upon myself to learn the Korean alphabet so I can actually read signs and such. It is the easiest alphabet to learn. There are 14 consonants and 10 vowels. It can pretty much be memorized in an hour. I am really excited. It took me two months to finally commit to learning it but I can read Korean now! That doesn't do much for understanding it but I can read it nonetheless! Although a lot of the words here are English words so if you read it you can understand it when you say it out loud. I still sound like an idiot when I'm trying to read things because it takes me forever to read just one word but it will come in time I have no doubt. The next step is understanding what I am reading. Something tells me that is going to take a lot longer than an hour though.
Sunday dawned bright and the sun was shining. Busan was kind of slapping us in the face while laughing because we had to leave. The fireworks had been cancelled the night before and they moved them to Sunday night. If only we didn't have to travel to so long and work so early Monday morning... we might have stayed to watch them. As it was we missed out train back to Ilsan by a hair because the lines were so long to get our actual tickets (even though we had already bought them). It was almost disastrous because they only had standing tickets available until 1010pm. Standing for three hours on a bullet train? Yeah... no. What happened next rendered the best and most memorable quote from the weekend though. We pretty much panicked when the guy behind the counter informed us of the situation and he performed some amazing magic with the keyboard and found us seats on the train leaving at 110. If I could have jumped the counter and hugged the man I would have. In no time at all we were on the train and headed back to Seoul. Once back in Seoul we boarded a bus to get back to Ilsan.
It was a great weekend and I look forward to going back to Busan sometime, hopefully when it is not so rainy. I am glad I am seeing more of this country though. We are going to go to Jeju (an island off the coast of Korea) for my birthday. That I am excited for as well! So much to see and so much to do and so little time to do it all in! I can't believe as of last Saturday I have been in Korea for two months. Time sure is flying!
Until the next time!