Vagabonding field report: Finding the best-kept secrets in Busan, South Korea
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
After haggling over a hat with a friendly saleswoman, I stumbled upon an alley where old women sat in plastic chairs, clutching their purses and negotiating currency exchange with passing foreigners.
Black market? Perhaps, but I don’t think even the police could rouse these women from their territory. They seemed cemented to those chairs.
Describe a typical day:
I take an intercity bus to Busan from my apartment in Changwon on Saturday afternoon. If traffic’s bad, the journey will take about two hours. I’m always armed with an iPod full of podcasts to pass the time.
Nampodong is Busan’s go-to district for gift shopping. Best visited in the day, this area offers everything from knockoff Coach bags to badly translated English shirts.
Shopping usually isn’t my preferred activity of choice, however. Luckily, Busan is dotted with temples and beaches for a change of scenery. Haedong Yonggungsa temple is worth a visit for its prime location on the rocks, overlooking the ocean.
Dinner is barbecued eel. The waitress asks us to pick our dinner from the full fish tank of writhing eels. We turn the pieces on the grill in the middle of our table and dip them in salty, spicy bean sauces.
After dinner, I head to the Kyoungsung University area. This is arguably the best spot for Busan’s nightlife. My favorite place to dance, Almost Famous, is an intimate underground spot pumping out good electronic beats.
If I make it until daylight, Gwangalli Beach wins first prize for sunrise-watching.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
Busan offers so much in the way of foreigner-friendly activities (ahem, brunch, anyone?) while still maintaining the integrity of Korean culture. It’s the second largest city in Korea, and its access to beaches makes it one of my favorite places to visit on the weekend.
My biggest complaint about Busan is its traffic. What’s normally an hour journey took me over three hours one Saturday during the sand festival in Haeundae.
The field of red beach umbrellas at Haeundae beach can be rather unsightly, too.
Describe a challenge you faced:
Directions can be a little tricky. I have a basic grasp of Busan’s geography, but I still navigate most places by the subway lines and directions from friends. Businesses change so frequently in Korea that coming back to an old spot can look completely different from a few months prior.
Sometimes it can be a struggle to communicate with taxi drivers, too. Most speak no English, and I’m sure my Korean pronunciation is horrific. I asked a taxi to take me to Songjeong Beach–one of four beaches in Busan–and he told me he didn’t know what I was talking about.
What new lesson did you learn?
When I signed my teaching contract in Changwon, I knew I would be close to Busan. But I don’t think I anticipated just how often would I visit it on the weekend. I’ve learned to make the most out of my free time in Korea by getting away from the daily grime and grit of my neighborhood.
I’ll take my summer vacation in Bali at the end of July. This will be my second solo trip, and I can’t wait to see the jungle paradise that is Indonesia.