Busan, S Korea - People are strange

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November 17th 2018
Published: January 26th 2019
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Our next visit was to the city of Busan. Our train from Suncheon arrived punctually, at 8.50 pm, after a journey in the dark. Our hotel, L'Idea Hotel, was about 100 yards from the train station, chosen by Steve for its proximity (as well as all the usual other things), and we were checking in within ten minutes of getting off the train! And what a lovely room! It was enormous, had its own entrance vestibule(!!) with a shoehorn to help those of us now classed as 'elderly' with our footwear, a wetroom with a Japanese style loo, a jet bath, a king AND a queen sized bed (it was a 'family' room), fluffy duvets, piles of pillows and cushions, slippers and dressing gowns, a separate seating area WITH CHAIRS, a heating system we could figure out and after the confines of the tiny Suncheon room we were in heaven! It's funny how you don't appreciate the things you take for granted until they aren't there.

It was such a lovely room we had a bit of a lie-in the following morning. The day was fine but chilly and we dithered about whether to explore a bit or wallow in the luxury. In the end, we decided to make a move and do the HOHO bus. It was a good job we did because today was Sunday and the buses didn't run on Mondays. Strange, but hey ho.

And the HOHO bus went to places of interest showing us things tourists want to see! The bus departed from the train station and went first to the Yeongdodaegyo Bridge (again, spelling always going to be dodgy), the first bascule bridge in Korea and which opens every day at 2 pm just to delight the tourists, Huinyeoul Village which had lots of murals and a coastal walk, the Sky Observatory, Taejongdae Park (marine cliffs, rocks, stones), the National Maritime Museum, the cruise ship terminal, Orgukdo Islands, the Peace Park (I think that had the UN Memorial Cemetery), Sangdo Beach (the first bathing beach in Korea), Songdo Skywalk Way which is the longest marine walkway in Korea, Film Street, a market for marine products and lots more that I can't remember, there was so much. We also went over the Busan Port Grand Bridge which we could see from our hotel room if I stood on a chair (see how indispensible chairs are!) and the bus driver made it really exciting by speeding up to it on a tilt! It was wonderful.

There were a few more western faces in Busan than the two (ours!) there had been in Suncheon, but still not many. We were very few and far between but there was always an acknowledgement of some sort between us when our paths crossed, be it brief eye contact or a chin nod, in recognition that we were strangers in a strange land but belonged to the same tribe. I found it reassuring somehow.

We did a lot of walking to explore Busan. The weather was fine but cool at about 5 degrees. We strolled through the Chinatown area where we noticed a lot of signs written in Russian. Didn't get that but Busan is a port so maybe there is a lot of trade with Russia. We got more local currency from an ATM and I felt we were loaded with all these thousands of won, but we weren't really. We discovered an underground market beneath the Lotte department store complex where all your won went much further. We ate in the food hall of the department store and they offered multinational food that we could recognise. There was a definite coffee culture going on, with lots of specialist cafes, and there were more fast food outlets - Paris Baguette, Lotteria burgers, etc. and I discovered a wonderful pastry shop. The place certainly had more about it than Suncheon!

The hotel lift doors opened directly opposite the reception desk in the small foyer. The poor receptionists kept leaping to their feet every time the doors opened but, of course, it was only me on my way outside and there was no need. In the end I started calling 'It's only me' as soon as the doors started opening to save them the effort. I don't know what they thought 'It's only me' means but they got the message and started calling 'It's only me' back at me, but they did it without standing up, with a smile on their faces and a handwave of thanks. Yay - communication, of a sort.

My old man in Busan was the car park attendant. He looked like a bit of a gangster, with a scarf round his face against the cold. He finally approached me after sizing me up for some time. (At that stage I still thought he was a robber so I was keeping my distance!) 'Any coin?' he asked. 'Ah,' I thought, 'a beggar, not a thief.' 'Nope,' said I. 'Merry con?' he asked instead. 'Is this guy a scammer?' I thought. It wasn't till we got to 'Am Rick On' that I realised he wasn't telling me his name but was asking if I was American! Over time, he practised his English with me. I discovered that he had done quite a bit of travelling himself (Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Japan - not bad for a car park attendant!) but had never been to England because it was waaaaay too expensive. His cigarette of choice was a brand called 'Change', a super-slim, long affair made in Korea. We swapped brands and it turned out that the reason his were called 'Change' was that if you pinched the filter half way down it changed into a menthol version! Not sure that is any better for you, but how neat is that? I tried to ask him why all the cars were black or white and mainly either Kias or Hyundai but the English didn't compute. I could kind of guess the answer myself in terms of brand (like his cigarettes, they are both made in Korea) but I wanted to know if this was forced upon the market by restricting imports of other makes and that was too complicated to explain. In terms of lack of colour Google tells me Koreans don't like to stand out from the crowd, and 'take no pleasure in diverse colours', being introvert by nature. So, there you have it then.

I was sorry to leave Busan when it was time to go. The receptionists had obviously been practising what to say and came up with 'You have been super guests and we have enjoyed having you here. Oh, and would you write a good review on Trip Adviser?'!

We returned to Seoul for one night before an early morning flight the next day. Our Korail train back took just less than three hours, and was as punctual and efficient as always. We travelled through lots of tunnels initially, then through a hilly and mountainous region all set in a really pretty landscape. Arriving back at Seoul Station was like being back in familiar territory. The trees in Seoul were still dropping their leaves and people were still trying to beat nature in the pointless task of trying to sweep them all up. No matter, the trees provided a most welcome colourful backdrop to the city. I knew where the smoking area was, we knew where the food hall was (we even recognised a fellow diner from our previous visit but that was only because he was a bit strange and waved at his food the whole time - we called him Wafty Man, of course), we knew where the loos were and we thought we knew how to get onto the platform area (though on this occasion we needed the Airport Railroad Express train and that was from a different part of the station so we were wrong there!).

We'd booked an airport hotel for this overnighter (the Incheon Airportel) and it really had its act together. We were quickly collected from the train station after we rang to say we had arrived, and we were dropped in the basement where the driver gave us a number code to access our room (1105) and agreed a time for pick up the following morning. No reception to check in at, no registration, no copying of passports, nothing. Brilliant. And the room was super, with a full kitchen, a washer, a bathroom with one of those wonderful loos and so big a person could live in it full-time, quite happily. Indeed, many of the apartments appeared to be privately occupied. There was a shopping mall with restaurants on the ground floor and a massive rooftop terrace on the top floor. Lovely. The following morning we were efficiently picked up at 6.40 am and delivered to Terminal One at Incheon Airport. We were on the move again.

Korea had been an interesting but somewhat strange place to visit as we just couldn't connect with the people. Language had been a big obstacle but so had cultural attitudes and social norms. I think I would describe the people as reserved but they seemed happy enough without breaking into belly laughs. The total lack of colour in clothing, cars and buildings left an overall impression of it being somewhat dreary and dull. Overall, though, it is a safe and pleasant country to visit, though I found their flag too much like the Pepsi logo for my liking!

I understand that there is a new phenomenon known as K-Pop which, I'm told, is a South Korean popular music genre rapidly gaining popularity across much of the world. It is characterised by 'sharp dance routines and fashionable, COLOURFUL clothes' (Wiki) (my emphasis). I do wonder what influence this might have on future trends in the country over time. We were certainly pleased to have visited and experienced the country as it is today.

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