Pulling into Busan port
The ferry from Fukuoka was nothing like I had anticipated. When I hear "ferry" I think ferry. You know, big boat, walk around, check out the view from different angles, transports people and cars -- ferry. The Fukuoka/Busan ferry is no such thing. It's a hydrofoil. And for those of you like me, who are going "qua?," hydrofoil means really, really fast. Like, I'm not sure the hull was actually touching the water. Apparently whoever is in charge of building these things has shinkansen envy and this was his (let's be serious, only dudes think this way) attempt to match that kind of speed and power.
The stewardesses (ferry attendants?) walk around barking at you to fasten your seat belts. And these aren't seat belts like you're used to seeing on planes, that you can loosen so it's just sitting on your lap comfortably, more for show than anything.
These are seat belts that have an auto-tighten contraption that really strap you down to that seat. I mean, you're wrestling with the thing to extend enough just to click, and then it clamps down even tighter. Kinda makes you wish you hadn't eaten breakfast.
Also, there is no walking around admiring the views on this ferry. It looks more like an airplane on the inside, and you're free to get up to stagger to the bathroom should you need to, but otherwise you're strapped in. The whole sea breeze in my hair while watching Fukuoka disappear wasn't on the menu.
That being said, it was a pleasant enough ride. The sea between Japan and Korea is the most gorgeous deep blue hue you can imagine. Like a vibrant indigo.
Beautiful. And there are announcements before you take off saying the boat may swerve from time to time to avoid smacking into whales (apparently this happened a few years back, hence the jaws of life seat belts), so the handful of times the boat took a little dip to the right or the left of its otherwise straight as an arrow trajectory, you better believe I was squirming in my seat looking out as far as I could trying to spot a whale. How cool would that be? Unfortunately, there were no whale sightings. Damn Prudential commercials. Always flaunting those spectacular beasts splashing about in the water like they were Shamu's inspiration. I did spot a flying fish. A MASSIVE fish. I didn't think fish that big could heave themselves out of the water.
But his little heffer was cruising along like the best of them.
My directions for the guesthouse here were akin to those in Matsumoto: take the subway to this stop and it's a ten minute walk from there. No hint as to which direction you should walk in. And considering this subway stop is THE SUBWAY STOP, the one that is a crossroads for the entire city, some direction would have been nice. Fool me once, sure. Fool me twice, I don't fucking think so. Especially considering the Busan maps they hand out are animated with little cartoon people frolicking throughout the city and mountains and temples. Sure, really cute if you like smiley cartoons. Not so cute if you prefer your maps with oh, say, a city grid and street names and things like this.
Check out all those zeros!
Fortunately, being both armed with the guesthouse's address in Korean and
giddy at just how cheap things are in comparison to Japan, I hailed a cab and was dropped off at the base of a very, very large building. So large it has five different entryways and a CAR DEALERSHIP on the ground floor. And yes, the entryway selection is key, as there are no doormen and somehow you need to get buzzed into the building, and up to the correct floor (except you can't see which floors are admitted through which entryway, unless, of course, you can read Korean). To give you an idea of just how large we're talking, I walked the entire circumference of this nifty little building, and it spans more than three city blocks.
THREE CITY BLOCKS. Need I remind you I travel with a hippopotamus strapped to my back?
Anyway. The guesthouse is fantastic, and the panoramic views of the mountains beyond the city are amazing. The dude who owns this place is out of this world. He's like a Korean tour guru, and is beyond helpful. He knows his country like the back of his hand, and before I was even here for twenty minutes we had gone over my entire Korean itinerary, precisely how many nights at each stop and which hostels I'd be staying at, and before I knew it he was on the phone adjusting/confirming/reserving as needed. (Over the last few days I've been tweaking my Korean itinerary as I come across more travelers and have been molding it to fit recommendations; he agreed with all my new adjustments and even helped tweak it further.
) I was out the door and on the street to wander Busan in under an hour, and had two flights and two hostels booked by this dude. That is SERVICE.
By this time it was already closing in on 4pm, so I opted to spend my daylight hours getting a feel for the layout of the city, just wandering around checking out different areas, trying some street food, no destination whatsoever. I was approached twice by people thinking I was lost. The first was by two dudes who greeted me with "hello," so I promptly started talking to them in English, before I realized they didn't understand a word that I was saying and were pointing to where we were on the map. At which point I tried to explain no I'm fine, I know where I am, I'm not lost, thanks anyway.
(Easier said than done.) The second time was about thirty minutes later by some guy who was probably a couple years younger than me, and knew his English pretty well. He asked if he could help me, I said no thanks, I'm fine. So he takes my map and looks around and I point to where we are on the map (I wasn't even using the map at this point, I knew exactly where I was and could have walked back blindfolded) and he says no I'm wrong and keeps with his assumption that I'm lost. So then he's all "follow me," and walks off with my map. We were mid-block, I'm thinking he's going to walk me to the corner and point and offer some useless advice. So I comply, and we walk, and then we walk some more, and then he's scratching his head and looking around, and I keep trying to assert that I'm fine, really, I know where I am, I HAVE NO DESTINATION DUDE, JUST WANDERING, GIVE ME BACK MY MAP, and we keep walking and walking and walking.
I keep trying to politely ask for the map back and assert that I'm ok, he keeps saying "please follow me" and scurries off looking around like he's more lost than I am. Finally we come to some subway station and down he goes (I don't like how this is going AT ALL), and I follow him underground the whole way back to the main station, where my guesthouse is and where I started out. (Note to those who haven't been to Busan: apparently you can walk the entire length of this city underground, you can walk along underground shopping malls from station to station, you don't need to actually purchase a ticket or ride the subway if you don't want to. It explains why the city is so massive yet the streets don't have as many pedestrians as you'd expect -- they're all underground.
These guys are everywhere. Literally three to a corner.
) At this point it's been a good fifteen minutes and I am THOROUGHLY exasperated. FINALLY he stops in front of tourist information, and is dismayed that it's closed. And I finally erupt, beyond annoyed, I don't need tourist information! I KNOW WHERE I AM! Bloody hell. He STILL does not relent, and INSISTS I follow him upstairs, so I can see where we are (which I already knew, thankyouverymuch), and proceeds to point out all the big buildings around the massive intersection. Uh, gee thanks. Can I have my map back now please? I am going to have to learn how to convey that I'm not lost when I'm not lost. Well meaning locals have approached me and cost me more time and exasperation than I would have thought possible.
And it's happened far too many times. Yes, I realize I'm a tourist and that I stick out like a sore thumb. Yes, I am walking around with no aim and admiring the random buildings and side streets and vendors and such. Yes, there is a map in my possession. NO, I AM NOT LOST. BUGGER OFF.
And then of course when I am lost the English-speaking help is nowhere to be found. Go figure.
As for the food, my first Korean meal was so-so. I went to a place that makes their own handmade noodles (as came recommended by the guesthouse owner), and was greeted by a boy who kept gesturing and shrugging at me like he couldn't speak English. This, before I so much as uttered a syllable (and certainly hadn't assumed that he could).
And since I was about three minutes from ditching the well meaning but thoroughly irritating dude, I was NOT in the mindset to deal with being gestured at like a monkey. Another girl walks up and is all "what seems to be the problem?" except again this is in gestures, and I just gesture to the restaurant and the tables and the food and try to make clear that all I want to do is EAT. She seemed to understand me and things were smooth sailing from there.
I had jajangmyeon
, which is noodles in black bean sauce. Fresh off the boat from Japan's superb culinary delights, together with the words "handmade noodles," and my expectations were high. Which means it was a disappointment. It was ok.
Street snack cake with a whole hard-boiled egg cooked into it.
But only ok. No need to expound further.
A fun note about the money: At the ATM I was dispensed a fistful of cash. We're talking a gangsta wad of mula. It looked like I had robbed a bank. I couldn't even fold the bills over. Seriously. I took a picture of it once I made it to the guesthouse, but by this point I had already handed out, oh, say at least a hundred bills, so the wad was somewhat diminished. It's like play money. Except it's very real. And I need to keep reminding myself that this pretty money that I have GOBS of needs to be spent wisely, lest I start acting like a high roller and blow it all in two days. But fun all the same.