South Korea – Busan

Monday June 25 We landed in Busan, and had a quick chat with a young Korean seaman before we disembarked the ferry. He asked us where we were from and if we felt ok during the voyage (there were ~2 m swells on the ocean, and a few people were not doing so well). We both did ok, although it is as bit rougher on the water in a jet boat than it is on something that moves a bit more with the waves!

We were the last to get through immigration and customs, and once we were through we asked for a map and the location of the nearest bank machine that takes foreign cards, as we were going to have to pay for the balance of our hostel booking in full upon arrival. Getting money turned out to be a bit harder than in Japan, but after visiting a few banks we finally found one that worked! We took our ~10 minute walk over to the hostel, which was tucked away on a side street next to a big market and got our room squared away. We shared with a fellow from Hong Kong named Bob, and someone else we didn’t meet until later on.

It was pretty late, so we headed out to the market to get a quick dinner of green onion pancake (pajeon) and some sweet potato strips. We headed back to our hostel, the Nampo branch of the SUM hostels for the social beer hour they hold, where we chatted a while with two guys from Finland. We went to bed a little after midnight, and about four hours later we met our other roommate, who snored a whole lot. Next time I’ll have my ear plugs closer at hand!

Tuesday June 26 Feeling a bit rough after a restless night, we got up, had breakfast, and then returned to browse through our maps and decide what to do for the day. The fellow we met in the ferry waiting room suggested we visit Taejongdae – a park with great views of the sea and Busan as well as a pebble beach and a lighthouse to visit. It is a bit out of the way, so we decided to take the city tour bus. We spent a few hours walking the circuit at Taejongdae, enjoying the scenery and stretching our legs. We were in the minority though, as most of the other visitors opted to take the “Danubi Train”, which is kind of like the Toronto Zoo’s Zoomobile. After Taejongdae, we hopped on the bus which took us on a huge bridge (Namhang Bridge), past a nice beach (Songdo – although it was a bit cold and nobody was there), and finally dropped us off near BIFF (Busan International Film Festival) Square and the Jagalchi fish market.

We started in that area with the Jagalchi fish market – endless aisles of thousands of fish and stalls to eat it fresh! We only recognized a small fraction of what was on display, and Mike took a lot of pictures. One thing we saw there that we didn’t in Japan was hagfish being skinned alive! That pretty much did my appetite in, but I would have liked to buy some fish to take home and cook for dinner if we were set up with a kitchen. After we were finished at the market, we walked through BIFF Square, and back through the shopping streets we were in the night before to get back to our hotel. After some rest, we headed out again for dinner. We chose to eat at Self Bar for some K-BBQ. Mike as always was grill master, and we ate until we were stuffed! Yum!

Wednesday June 27 We had only part of the day to sightsee, as we had made arrangements with Jay, a cool employee at the hostel, to see a Korean baseball game! He said tickets sell out fast, and rather than trying to get to the stadium early to buy tickets, he offered to buy them for us in advance. We decided to visit Gamcheon Culture Village, and left the hostel with some instructions from Jay in hand for getting there. The trip involved taking the subway a couple of stops and then getting on a bus to go up one of the hills in the area. A bunch of large (TTC-style) buses passed us by, and when ours arrived, I was surprised to see it was a minibus! The reason why rapidly became clear as we zoomed up winding streets that got narrower and narrower. Finally the bus driver dropped us off and we wandered down a street that looked promising.

The culture village was created by refugees of the Korean War, and consists of odd shaped buildings crammed together on a steep hillside. The original buildings were wood, and have since been rebuilt with concrete. The buildings are painted bright colours which reminded us a bit of Cuba and a bit of St. John’s. Since 2009, it has been home to art exhibitions – first the 10 piece Dreaming of Machi Picchu in Busan project, and then in 2010, 12 more were added all tying into the theme “miro”, meaning “maze” in Korean. The second project included the development of path markers throughout the village. We came across one installation (Constellation) early on, and when we went to stick our heads through the door, a couple of villagers asked us where our map was. We were confused, and they emphatically said to us “Map! Stamp! Where stamp?” while we stood there looking confused. Finally one of them directed us to the Art Shop close by where we purchased a map. The village has a sort of scavenger hunt set up, where you get stamps on your map at some of the installations, and when you complete the course and collect all the stamps you end up at an observatory where you get a stamp and two commemorative post cards. Not a bad deal for $1000 won! I had read something about this online, and had originally thought we might just wander around at our own pace. However, since the artwork is intimately intertwined with the village houses, I think the map course gives locals some much appreciated privacy, and following the arrows painted in the alleyways was a lot of fun!

For lunch we stopped in a restaurant that was absolutely packed! We figured there had to be something good in there. The place served almost exclusively a soup called Sollongtang – a soup with rice, noodles and beef (served, of course, with kimchi). It was a decent meal, but I must admit I found it to be quite bland. There was a pot of MSG sitting on the table, but I wasn’t too sure about adding any, and nobody else seemed to need it. Oh well. We wrapped up the afternoon with some sandal shopping, as I have no footwear good for the beach, but had no luck. Then we headed back to meet Jay for the ball game.

When we met Jay at the hostel, he told us some sad news – we were going to go with him and his friend, but there was another visitor who wanted to see the game, and therefor Jay was going to give up his ticket. However, he had jerseys for us to borrow, and was going to take us all the way to the stadium! On the way, we stopped off at a local store to buy beer and snacks for the game. You see, in Korea, you can bring as much food and drink into the stadium as you want – as long as you don’t bring in glass bottles. With a couple of six packs and some bags of peanut-flavoured dried squid (the Korean version of ballpark peanuts), we were ready to go. Then we headed to the stadium where Jay picked up our tickets and bought some in a nearby section for him and another friend. Finally, we met up with the other travelers – a fellow Canadian named Brayden and Sae Mi from Seoul. Mike wrote a post with some pictures about the game, which you can read here. To sum it up: Korean baseball is AWESOME!

After the game we carried on the festivities at the hostel, with more beers, a taste of soju (a drink similar to vodka), and some games. It was a very nice way to spend our last night in Busan!