Sunday, August 27, 2006

Busan: Part Two

We arrived in Seomyeon and walked toward the Lotte Department Store. We saw a sign for a yeogwan and walked up. The décor was nice, the wood was dark and there were plants on the stairs, completely different from the last. The room was sumptuous and cool; it even had a water cooler with both hot and cold water available. We paid a much more reasonable price and got two nights, took showers and got ready for our next vacation.

Audrey had planned to get her hair cut at a salon in Busan and maybe even prepped for coloring, so I being the anal traveler that I am decided we should reconnoiter the area so as to make Monday’s trip as painless as possible. Also we wanted to see the Foreigners’ Street as our guidebook said it was an interesting sight. We decided to do that first and set off for the train. The walk to the train also included a practice run of the shopping we would do Monday, or I should say Audrey would do, in the underground arcade.

We got off the train and immediately the station told us something about what to expect. It was dark and quiet with a few stumbling drunk men wandering the dried blood colored brick halls. Outside the light was fading and the area was quiet. We saw a few South Asians walking out of a street, carrying bags of electronics equipment and figured that was the street. It was. I must say that I have been stared at long and hard in Korea before, but I have never felt those stares were anything more than curiosity. On this street I was the most out of place that I have been in Korea and that is saying a lot.

The heat of the day still lingered and prostitutes looked out from dim tearooms lazily fanning themselves, the odd Madam or skinny Russian man sat outside smoking. Few other people were on the street and those that were had the look of people who knew what they wanted and where to get it. We fit neither. Luckily, the street is short, but oddly, it abuts Busan’s Chinatown which while not ‘family-friendly’ is visited by families. And so, immediately upon passing the ill-disguised brothels, we found ourselves surrounded by playing kids. Over all it was an experience on which we felt it was not necessary to linger, and so continued on to the newer, more hip night spot in which Audrey’s hair salon was located.

Our trip to Busan was marked by opposites and Changsun Dong was another complete change from our most recent location. The subway station was crowded and there was music drifting down from the street. The sidewalks were crowded with people of all ages and in all styles of dress; our way was lit by the multi-hued glow of neon. We wandered about this maze for the rest of the evening, scouting the salon and window shopping, drinking coffee and engaging in a culinary event some foreigners had erroneously expressed as quintessentially Korean, shabu shabu, in fact it is a recent import of unclear origins most likely Vietnam by way of Japan. It must here be noted that Korean tastes, as through much of the world, run in fads with the difference from the West being the speed of saturation. Within a few months of a fad taking hold one can see it everywhere, and so shabu shabu can be seen on menus in restaurants specializing in such diverse foods as raw fish, pork ribs, intestines and even vegetarian dishes.

The next day we went back to Changsun Dong to get Audrey’s hair cut, they were not too keen on just bleaching her hair because it was difficult to convey to them the fact that she wanted to dye it herself at home. Audrey has since decided to get another haircut next month and bleach it at home, after which she will become a redhead. Anyway, she got the cut, which makes her look quite sexy as you can see in the recent pictures. My hair on the other hand is long and unkempt, downright shaggy.
After the cut we went shopping, Audrey found a couple of pieces she really enjoyed and bemoaned the lack of adequate shopping in our city. I had expressed an interest the night before in a glass of red wine and some pasta, we therefore set out to discover an Italian restaurant. We quickly happened upon two, the first was fine dining in an Italian Renaissance décor for which we felt underdressed; the second was more rustic Italian, at least from the outside. Inside it was less Tuscan Garden and more Olive Garden, served almost no true Italian dishes and had only wine spritzers. Very unsatisfying. We stopped by another of Korea’s newest fads: Japanese Fusion restaurants. We drank some Sake in wonderfully presentational bowls of crushed ice, and decided the Seomyeon district is where we will stay if we return to Busan. The rest of the trip passed uneventfully, and we returned home in time for our customary weekend meal of Sam Kyup Sal.

Busan: A Vacation in Two Parts

To start with, it is ill advised to begin a trip with a Martin without a hearty breakfast or a good night’s sleep. I suppose the trip started with some bad omens. They continued at the bus station where the nine o’clock bus was sold out and we had to get on the ten twenty, seated separately, luckily the seats were individual so we sat alone. The bus trip also took a little longer than expected because of all the summer weekenders going to the beach, but we got in at a relatively good hour, hot, hungry and tired, and in Audrey’s case developing a stomachache. Also, our guidebook put us closer to the city than we actually arrived, so it took some time to get on the right track (Literally, as we almost got on the wrong train). My sense of direction while traveling is always wrong, but luckily it is consistently 180 degrees off, so Audrey just has to say, “Let’s go the opposite way.” And we usually end up in the right place.

We took a long and uncomfortable ride on three trains to get to our first destination: Haeundae Beach. It was about 3pm when we got to the neighborhood of the beach stepping into the boiling sun, even hotter, hungrier and more tired as well as doubled over with stomach pain. Not a good condition in which to search for a hotel. We wandered around and eventually settled on the place we first saw upon coming out of the subway stop. Audrey had said, “Let’s cut through this parking lot.” I on the other hand thought it would be better to walk around the corner. While it was possible to get to both ways, the alleyway that led to the access was hard to miss if we had gone her way, and since we went mine, we missed it entirely. The hotel was lacking in air conditioning, though it had a machine for it, dirty, small and too expensive. We decided on one night in the place, and tomorrow we would continue looking. The rest of the day passed uneventfully if a little testily.

In the evening we decided to try and have some fun at a familiar chain of bars: WA Bar. We drank a number of tall drafts and headed home deciding on a day at the beach and a new hotel the next day. The hour we decided on waking was 8:15.

While I believe we had set an alarm, I remember it was not necessary for me. The lack of air-conditioning and the foolishness of not drinking much water the day before resulted in a very poor night’s sleep and a wicked hangover in the morning. I was up at about eight and started getting ready. I filled a bottle with water from the sink and took a sip before noticing the sign recommending against such practices. I used my finger to brush my teeth, as we had neglected to bring toothbrushes seeing as most places provide them, and splashed some water on my face.

Audrey too was suffering and even though she was not altogether immobile it was tough to get her up (It seems we have a track record of bad hangovers on vacation, see Wando in August 2005). We changed into our swimsuits determined to spend a day at the beach despite everything. In the process of getting ready, the bathing suit Audrey brought broke; Korean women don’t generally have lats or much muscle of which to speak. It did not bode well for our day at the beach.

The Korean beach experience is vastly different from the American one, mainly in the fact that they do not generally prepare anything for the trip; sun umbrellas, beach blankets, food, inner tubes, anything that you need is available, especially fried chicken and beer, draught beer no less carried by delivery men and women up and down the beach all day. We ignored the stares and set up our own sun umbrella, unfolded our beach blanket and promptly fell asleep. The other anomaly in Korean beach going is the lack of swimsuits and towels. Either one wears a Speedo and has a 1x2 ft. sport towel, or one goes in the quick dry shorts and t-shirt that are the standard summer attire. Beaches here are set-up to be visited on the spur of the moment. It is very convenient, but we still like to do it our way. I swam in the ocean for about five minutes and by two we felt rested enough and hot enough to leave the beach. The night before we had gone out for dinner in the Seomyeon district, which seemed like a pretty good place to stay, so we got on the train, covered in sand and looking greasy. Thus ended our first vacation.