It’s been awhile since my last post and I have a bunch I’ve been wanting to do on teaching, but I just got back from a weekend trip to Busan, in the southern part of the country, and realized I haven’t written much on Korea itself in awhile so I figured I’d start with that.
So. Busan. It’s basically a beach resort, not entirely unlike Ocean City, Md., or some of the beach towns in New Jersey. It very clearly makes a lot of money off of tourists, particularly the Westerners who flock there for Buddha’s Birthday weekend, which is the reason I was there.
Everyone has at least one day off for Buddha’s Birthday, so most foreigners plan trips for the holiday. My original plan was to go somewhere outside of Korea for the weekend, preferably Cambodia or Taiwan. However, it turned out that Cambodia was a bit too pricey and the flight too long for such a short stay, and the other teachers and I waited too long to book flights to Taiwan. As awesome a city as I’m sure Taipei is, I wasn’t exactly in a position to drop $600 on plane tickets at the time, so it will have to wait. So we settled on Busan.
It really did remind me a lot of beach towns at home, not only because of the cluster of hotels and slightly cheesy bars lining the beach, but also because of the somewhat destitute neighborhoods found in the less touristy parts of town.
Megan, Alison and Toriann are the other girls I went with (we all teach at the same school). We stayed in a hostel, which was a first for Megan and me, and it was a really great time. Our roommates were quite entertaining and we spent our first full night in Busan sitting outside of a Family Mart (think 7-11) drinking soju and beer with them. Soju is a notorious Korean drink and it costs the equivalent of $1.50. You can imagine how high quality that is.
The couple who ran the hostel were really nice and they had the most adorable baby. As we were leaving on Sunday, it occurred to me that that didn’t seem to be a bad life. The woman was cleaning up and seeing guests off, the man was reading on the couch and the baby was just being happy and cute. It just seemed like a quiet, pleasant little scene and I kind of envied them for a minute. But anyway, that’s getting off topic.
The hostel was a little removed from the beach, so we got to know the Busan subway and bus systems very well. The subway was decent. The bus…not so much. We were on one for almost an hour before deciding to get off and switch to the subway because it was taking a ridiculous amount of time to get to the beach. But this did give us a chance to see a lot of Busan that we would have missed otherwise.
This is where the dismal side comes in. Korean cities, from what I’ve seen so far, aren’t really beautiful. Most of the buildings look the same with enormous, bright and often tacky signs splashed over them. There are some really cool buildings and neighborhoods in Seoul, but the not-so-glamorous buildings seems to be the norm in most of the smaller towns. The countryside is incredibly beautiful, but the towns are less so. Busan was no different.
In fact, there were sections where it looked pretty sad and desolate, with shops clearly gone out of business, empty storefronts, just sort of dreary all around. Obviously that isn’t a scene that is unique to Korea by any means, but it was sadly interesting to see the contrast between the lively tourist section and the “real” areas of Busan.
One place in the city that was gorgeous was the beach. I’m used to the flat beaches of the East Coast, so this was a pleasantly new experience. There were small islands loosely shrouded in fog off the coast and gorgeous cliffs at the other end of the beach. The water was still a little chilly but Megan convinced me to dive in and it was glorious. I hadn’t actually swam in the ocean in years but it was completely perfect.
I kept telling everyone that this would be part of my dream life: swimming on a perfect, gorgeous day, beer in hand, talking with friends, thinking about good and important things. I spent quite a while just swimming and thinking and it was completely awesome and refreshing.
Unfortunately, the rest of the weekend was rainy, so that was pretty much the end of any sightseeing. On Saturday, we hung out at a restaurant called Fuzzy Navel and played cards all afternoon, which was also relaxing and a lot of fun. I have to say, though, based on the scene in Busan, it would appear that Buddha’s Birthday Weekend is just a good excuse for foreigners to party.
The bars and restaurants were packed with other teachers, which was really fun, but it did also seem like a typical scene you would either see at home or would expect from stereotypical Westerners: loud, slightly obnoxious and for the most part, completely wasted. Not that I wasn’t partaking in plenty drinks of my own, because I was. Just making an observation about the foreign culture in general.
It was a really fun weekend and it’s always nice to see other parts of Korea. Seoul is great, but just being away and recharging is great and helps you keep perspective.
So that’s my update and my sort of excuse for not having stuck to my plan of blogging more frequently. Next up: lots more to say about teaching and kids.