I hopped onto the earliest train headed to Busan, having bought the ticket just a few hours before. I was restless, and I was determined to get away from Seoul and clear my head. I had forgotten how to appreciate the still that comes with the holiday, and being comfortable with just being after being preoccupied for so long. Did it work? The clear skies, cooler weather, and just the experience of being somewhere new filled me with a renewed sense of wonder and optimism. Here is my week in Busan, Summer 2017.
Upon arrival, I realized that I was possibly the only person there not travelling with a lover, as they flooded the front with their tripods and selfie sticks, hopping around and daintily lifting their legs as they captured their first kiss in Busan. Hardly disgruntled, I heaved my big duffel bag and made my way out to the other side of the big street ahead of me, for my ritualistic Chinese noodles in the China Town across from there. Yet again, there are places with substantial lines, but I continue to walk down to the tried and tasted place.
This is the Samcheon Jjajangmyeon, which you may know to be black and thick. This particular sauce is made of spicy seafood of the same paste-like consistency. Delish.
I arrived finally at my grandmother’s place wedged up in the hills. I’ve been coming here and is the place most strongly imbued with memories of a childhood spent in Korea before I left for Zimbabwe. Of course being the person that I am, I had forgotten to remind my grandmother that she should be expecting me down sometime. Upon arrival, I found that she was at the temple, and she did not walk around with trivial things like phones. So instead, I trailed my sister to the vet and ended the night with a stroll down Jagalchi market (the most popular and overpriced destination for Korea’s seafood) after a hearty meal. I was amused when my friends visited once and were shocked at the number of side dishes that the average Korean meal has, consisting of every type of vegetable from lotus roots to your average leek.
My uncle tells me that there are two ways you can distinguish whether a person is from Busan or not– by the place he eats his seafood, and whether or not he swims in the sea.
We ended the night watching a small water fountain show held hourly at the Lotte Department store nearby. It was a disappointment compared to the one I saw a few years ago at Dadaepo Beach, and we left before it trickled down once more.
The Second Day
After visiting my grandfather in hospital (a trying and depressing ordeal of its own), I decided to head out to the popular ‘hip and happening’ place for young in’s. First stop? The bookstore.
– I was not heading to this bookstore in particular, but they made a huge sign leading here from the subway so I decided to go give it a shot. It was nice to see an independent bookstore that was not Kyobo, and had books wrapped and in stacks in the corridors.
Later on that day, we headed to Songdo beach which had recently been refurbished with a particularly snazzy cable car and a mountain walk trail. My friend messaged me to complain about ruined shoes due to Seoul’s downpour, but it was just breezy.
We walked from one end, past the camping vans and the water sports center before walking to the other end, crossing the “Cloud Bridge” where you are suspended above water. It was clear that they put a lot of effort into making this place more interesting for its visitors, with cultural motifs found around, and it was good to see that it was popular with tourists as well. The weather was just pleasant enough to walk across the bridge and back, just in time for the next cable car across the vast water we just saw.
We decided to pay 5000 won more to take the cabin with a see through bottom, but hardly needed to look down when we were surrounded with a 360 panorama of the beach and the mountain trail that edged it.
Upon arrival, there was a photo taking zone, and a line of restaurants selling boonshik-or quick foods like tteokboggi and icecream. There was a garden still under renovation lined with cute, motivational messages. On another floor there was a deck overlooking the sea and the mountains, with cute photozones like the above where you could leave a message in a bottle and store it up here (forever?) There was an oyster bar that had 0 customers, guessing it’s overpriced. At the underground layer they had an exhibition on the history of cable cars, if that’s your thing.
After visiting my grandmother who is also hospitalized, I headed to the Busan Museum of Art that is located nearby in Haeundae. Their on-going exhibition, “Vision & Perspective 1999-2017” told the stories and challenges of people, as humans and artists through the ages. They told stories that questioned the role of human aid to developing countries, the role of humans in developing cities and rapid urbanization, of our futile beliefs in capitalism and consumerism, of failed politics and the removal of our autonomous state as machines to the system. Most of all, it spoke of human loneliness, and as I left the museum I felt comforted and at peace. I got the sense that I was not alone in this strangeness I was feeling. I will perhaps write a more detailed blog post about this display as it warrants some more explanation.
On the last day I decided to discover some hip areas around Busan, namely Nampodong, Gugje Shijang (International Market) and Seomyeon, which I gather is the most popular area for college students
. “josh ur out of the band”
Walking around Nampodong, there was a strange mix of everything- from small independent boutiques to shops selling everything at 5000won (approx. 4USD), a temple and Busan Tower (to those familiar with the couple hotspot Namsan Tower in Seoul), a toy figurine shop to a sex shop, and many hole in the wall cafes and eateries to indulge in. I entered the famous Gugje Shijang but did not spend much time there as it was rows and rows of particular categories, for example I entered a row of curtains and curtain rods and by this time, I was too dizzy and full from eating too many tteoks and lattes.
I hopped onto the subway and headed to Seomyeon Station, not so far away, where I met with my uni friend with whom I only seem to be able to meet in Busan. We headed to the Coffee Street nearby, and it was interesting to see that within two years the street had multiplied into many other nooks and crannies. We headed into a cafe that had a cute upstairs section decked in fairy lights, and we finally caught up over everything that had happened in the past semester.
It was good to talk so honestly and openly about everything, without having to calculate the other person’s response or judgment. It was possibly exactly what I needed in that moment.
Finally, it was time for dinner. We headed to a fancy Italian place called Cochelin because my dieting friend craved some heavy steak. Unfortunately, the heat stroke during the day caught up to me and I was too ill to eat my $20 pasta, but had its weight in water instead. The interior was really cute, but it was one of those … I don’t want to say pretentious, but small morcel-sized places that disappeared quickly and sadly. Can’t vouch for the taste, but it wasn’t enough to bring me out of my sickly state. ^_^
My way home
From Seoul to Busan, I tried to save costs by taking the Mugunghwa train which was almost half the price of KTX. It also took almost three hours longer, had no foldable desk, and bumped in rhythm to every stone on the track. I refunded my ticket and changed it to SRT instead, which was just wonderful and incomparable to the horrors of Mugunghwa. Everything felt cleaner and smoother, with ample leg room and fast enough wifi to watch Youtube the whole way. You can also charge your electronics as well. I got home in a breeze.
Even though Busan is my birthplace, every single time I go back I feel like I’ve experienced something new and refreshing. There are still so many places to go and things to discover, like the postcard here with the ever so popular Gamcheon village that I am still yet to go to. Most importantly, I slowly began to rebuild myself up again. The night before, over a drink with my friend, I confessed that I was becoming increasingly introverted to a fault. Ordering coffee or talking to a stranger was a burden that I tried to avoid fully, and the social anxiety was crippling. On this trip, bolstered with the need to do everything myself, as excitement overcame my fears, and encouraged by the idea that I will most likely never meet any of these people again, I slowly began to open up again and learn that it’s okay to just breathe, and just be. With everything that went down this summer, this trip was one of the most memorable things that I did because in little, unnoticeable ways, I did a lot of healing, and that’s the best thing anyone could ask for in a solo trip.
For the past four days, I volunteered to help my mom take a shot at selling her Zimbabwean art collection at the annual Home and Lifestyle Exhibition held in unison with the Gyeongyang Housing Fair. This exhibition, alike many others, are hosted in key cities around the country such as Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, Jeju and others throughout the year. It hosts a variety of creative products, from traditional hand held mirrors embedded with mother of pearl to extravagant tech that guarantees turning all food waste into liquid form. I’ve attended many of these events, but got to understand the behind-the-scenes of running our own booth. I thought this would be interesting for anyone wondering whether this is the step to launch or propel their business in Korea to the next level.
With 30 years of experience, this event boasts an average attendance rate of 180,000 persons. There is an entrance fee of 10,000 won, but they have the option of reserving a ticket for free beforehand. The bigger firms use this as an opportunity to showcase their exhibition design with elaborate and flashy architecture, case in point:
(This particular shop was all about the pictures and promotions of–can you guess what? Shampoo!)
However, there are still a good number of smaller shops that sell their products in a more straight forward and simplistic manner. There are shops selling handmade jewelry to cosmetics and chocolate. Even if you’re not particularly keen to sell, if you are familiar with the fleamarkets and open market styles, this may be an interesting event reminiscent of those days when you can just walk up to the different stalls, have a chat and be hopefully jostled from your everyday surroundings and gain some home decor tips. Speaking of which, they host different seminars and conferences during the course of four days, where you may listen in on talks of brand design, sustainable and eco-friendly living, and other seminars for free. Unfortunately, most of these talks are held in Korean, and have yet to provide English translations due to the fairly limited attendance of foreigners (or perhaps, vice versa).
This particular event is held over four consecutive days, with 2 days extra before and after for setting and wrapping up. They give you the whole day before to construct either your own booth or hire another company to do it for you. Because of this, the day (and air) is filled with dust and people panting heavily as they carry furniture and other goods across the huge hall. The hosting company conveniently failed to provide air conditioning on that day, and we had to move, unpack and organize items in the middle of Korean summer. When you apply to be a participating company, they are literally providing you with a standard 3x3m stall, and come to install lights, plugs, and a white box that you can use for some displays. Luckily, the plastic walls dividing shops are pretty durable and you can mount things onto it with a drill. We ended up drilling a painting, a light and a huge mirror so I’m guessing most other things are good to go.
Most of the preparations must be done beforehand. Bring your own tools and posters and marketing strategies. However, COEX has a lot of handy shops nearby, and you can pick up last minute supplies like tape and plastic chairs from the Daiso on the B1 floor. They will require marketing material a week before the exhibition itself, which they will disperse (though unseen by myself still). Another pro tip is packing a large piece of fabric that you drape over your products once you’re done for the day. It indicates that you have closed, and gives you some privacy when you leave the building.
If you don’t manage to complete everything in the day, it’s okay to do so the following day. However, because you share a wall, drilling it on opening day may not be seen favorably. You may still reorganize and set up your goods as there are not that many customers on a Thursday morning.
Our mini exhibition/shop was wedged between a sink company, a facial exfoliating device company and a handmade arts and crafts store. Overall the neighbors were amiable and you grow a little fond of them by the fourth day, buying each other’s products and breaking bread with one another. However, deciding to partake in this exhibition requires some critical contemplation, especially if you are a relatively small company. While I’ve heard that smaller businesses in the arts pair up to split the booth costs, I am skeptical that many of them were even able to break even during the four days. The bigger companies, like the one above have no problem in fronting ‘advertisements’ as their main priority, even without reaping in the money. On the other hand, many of the smaller shops that were selling towels can hardly sell enough to even fathom covering the 3000,000 won booth fee (very rough approximation of 3000 dollars). Even our booth, which had a higher average price could barely breakeven. On that note, this exhibition, while catering towards companies that offer products as big as beds and storage containers, many of the consumers are within a demographic that are more frugal with their money. This is not the exhibition for you if you are looking for people that are willing to part with their money, even if it is for high quality art. Many are there, including myself in previous occasions, to have a feast for the eyes and have a little chit chat rather than to make an investment. While there is a considerable peak time on Sunday with last minute customers, I just don’t know if there 5~6 days is worth the effort. Through this experience, I felt fully the hardships of entrepreneurs, even with products as brilliant and futuristic as sinks that dissolve food waste into liquid form. They’re just not there for it. On the other hand, we were lucky enough to invite a gallery owner to see our booth and negotiate some business, but this was due to a friend network rather than an amity birthed by the exhibition. It’s really your call, but I strongly recommend that you prioritize your market research and consider what the primary goal of your business/exhibition is. In our case, we definitely chose the wrong market.
However, I had a good experience. I had my very first taste of a small exhibition beyond the confines of my home. I did not realize the time was passing as I shifted products, displayed and rearranged the sculptures here and there. While it was a strenuous process, especially since it was done by the three of us only, unwrapping each of these products and finding an aesthetically pleasing composition took up the whole evening. I felt all the better after it.
While it is advertised that the wrap up time is till the Monday after, we were surprised to see that most of the shops were packed and ready to go by Sunday evening following the exhibition. It dissolves into more chaos than the original set up, with some hoarse screams here and there as peoples’ frustrations go through the roof. This is another frustration that I had with the exhibition hosts–they do not seem to care for the participating companies. I say this because they offered no airconditioning the entire set up day, and immediately switched it off at 6PM when everyone was packing up. Everything had to be done in the excruciating heat and humidity of the Korean summer. This struck me as a disgusting capitalistic ploy, where all the smaller companies paid high sums to participate, slave away for four days everyday as they try to break even (sometimes located in farway and unfortunate areas with little customers) and immediately discarded as soon as they are away from the lime light. This was particularly disheartening to see, as some shop owners looked like they were on the verge of tears by the end of the show.
This is my personal experience and view on the Living and Lifestyle Expo, which transformed into the Home and Lifestyle Expo held in COEX. I felt like this was an interesting insight to the shenanigans, and especially interesting for those who do not have access to such information in Korean. Atleast, you know a little more and can perhaps have a little more sympathy for the sullen faces you may see at one of these exhibitions.
I found myself lying, face drooping into the slopes of my pillow, weighed down by all the things I should probably be doing and the things I wish I was doing. My uneven posture and tense legs strain from clenching and releasing early this morning from when I was taking my driver’s for the second time. Later, I struggled to cover the rose of my frost-bitten cheeks with multiple layers of foundation. It still shone through, a harsh and unapologetic bloom.
I tend to find myself fleeting from one place to the next, eagerly checking off the menial things off my diary for comfort. Put money into the bank. Check the dates for performance. Get some groceries–especially some salad. I should really get into that. I then crash into bed when they are done, feeling strangely unaccomplished and disconnected to my self.
I picked off the pieces of my body, the mangled individuals cast here and there over the bed. Recollected myself, and gathered together a self that can writes. I try to make meaning of the empty space. No matter how many times I try to keep my desk clear of the clutter, my pens and books with stickers and orange peels litter the top, and stay there until someone else enters.
I see a message pop up from my friend. We find solace in each other. There are friends you meet in blurs to pass messy nights with, and others with whom you reach out for in the darkness, meandering the unknown hills and edging around the crevices. I talk again about my feelings. She returns the same. I feel that there are many of us out there tonight–we are not lost, but just waiting for the winter to pass us over.
I wrote a poem. I’m at a crossroads in life, and no doubt overwhelmed. Enjoy.
Clearly, your feet have not dipped past the ivy crusted rims
Feeling the soft tickling of forgotten mosses,
They’ve meandered through the clattering shells clinging
To rounded flowers opening and closing before you.
They have not waded between the fluid roads revealed and at end
In the sky wandering round and straight in their wondrous Milky Way.
Where have you rested your head, those days you believed it was softened moss?
Whose breath did you let caress your face, what purple did you make your shade of nightingale?
They turn round eastward, towards instinctively home
The auburn sky is ablaze and you are there,
But still teeming, seething and afloat.
The chasms spread before, thinly sunk into worn crevices,
Peeling skins off of the age old trees and the heaven dense auras
The valleys and its hidden villages are to be pillaged
Only by those ravenous in the mouth.
A donkey bears the laden fruits of your search
And together you make it to the hole
Where you bury the hatchet, and leave the memories under
The skies fondle a home in the murky waters below.
Your sister is both there and already in the wind,
Faces sunken, but never lost.
Well done, the deed is done.
Whatever you have seen,
The losses you have carried,
The tragedies you have committed in both your name and others,
The slandered will rest easy tonight.
When the night falls, and you offer your soul to the pits,
You are free, and free of burden.
I am a twenty-something, kinda-Asian, kinda-artsy, kinda-lost-and-clueless college student. What a solid introduction, but that is the best summary of my current and more-so on going situation. I am not lazy, I am moderately hard working and moderately willing to take risks. Yet, so often I find myself in bed, crushed under the weight of all the assignments I want to do well in and things I want to discover.
Then I take a brief nap, and blame it on my food coma. I doodle in my journal about avante garde art, and reminisce a century that challenged everyone and everything to art for art’s sake. I sit on my desk, begin rearranging the mess that I’ve made during the peak of my motivation levels, and open my computer to type. I find myself opening Quora and Tumblr and Facebook, and eventually, WordPress. And so I type. And begin to realize that there seems to be a recurring pattern to what I prefer to do in my free time, or rather, things that I pursue despite having none.
The other day I posted a question on Quora, beseeching the Quora greats on how to keep motivated, how to remain inspired and how to continue writing. I’ve never fully considered writing to be a career choice, despite my habitual ramblings that I mindlessly share in all my social media platforms. I don’t want to label myself as a writer and have expectations, judgments and criticism, and stick closely to “snippets” in which my thoughts and its translation into a flow of words, best comes across. The answer was simple. Embrace it fully. Writing and words do not come by without effort, and in most cases, comes as an exorcism of emotions not so much for any other true benefit besides the soul. Art for art’s sake.
I want to though. Desperately.
Ever since I began this private blog site, a miserable teen on Christmas day in a cold, unlit room in Harare, Zimbabwe, I had the simple goal of writing and creating and putting something out there that would not have much significant meaning to anyone really besides myself. Slowly, my number of followers increased, and as I began searching for other like-minded blogs, I tried to do multiple things–house reviews, shopping hauls and the sort. Things that would increase my views and make me feel established.
“I”, the metaphysical ego.
Since then, my writing became even more erratic as it became a chore rather than an open forum where I could sort through my emotions and make meaning of the flashes. Rather than simply reverting this passion into the simple blogger I was 3 years ago, I want to reform, and begin to reveal the raw edges of myself again.