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.