Thursday, 8 July 2010

Korea - The first fish market

Hello everyone!

So we're now into July, and I'm into my eighth month as an English teacher in Korea. My weekends are packed up until the end of August now, so expect plenty of fun in the next few blogs. The first of these action-packed weekends was a trip to Busan, Korea's second city.

Busan is on the south-east coast of the Korean peninsula, so pretty much as far away from us as possible. It has been a must-do on my Korean bucket list for some time now, though. As it is on the coast, it has something that we don't have in the immediate Seoul area - a BEACH! Thus we were very excited to be going.

I headed down with Tom, who was going to meet a friend from home who currently lives down south. We set off on a gloomy, overcast Saturday morning, with an impending threat of a heavy downpour. The quickest route to Busan is on the KTX, the high-speed train, but we were leaving from Suwon instead of Seoul, so weren't able to use it. Instead, we had a four-and-a-half hour train ride ahead of us. We passed the time by drinking, playing squares, being told to quieten our voices by the attractive stewardess, and then napping. In no time at all we were rolling into Busan station.

Aftermeeting Joe, our first job was to find somewhere to stay, so we headed over to the Haeundue Beach area on the subway. Busan is very, very different to Seoul, and this journey was a case in point: no pushing and shoving, people waiting for others to leave the train before boarding, a bit of chatter on the train itself. All different to Seoul. The sun was threatening to break through the gloom as we searched around for a motel.

We found a few which were charging extortionate amounts of money. We also found a quite bizarre love motel which had statues of teddy bears outside. We eventually settled on a location, dropped our bags and headed over to the beach at around 6pm. It was still exceptionally cloudy, and there was little chance of us getting some serious sun, but Haeundae Beach is one of the most famous beaches in Korea, so had to be checked out.

The atmosphere at the beach proved something that we had been told before going - that Busan is very, very different from Seoul. It may be something in the air, the quality of which seems better down there, but it just has a more relaxed vibe to it. I saw a Korean couple piggybacking along the beach - you just wouldn't get that on the streets of the capital. The beach itself seemed nice enough, in spite of the grey skies.

Soon enough, hunger struck, and we ventured away to find a restaurant. The place we found had a waiting list, so I had to give my phone number. I did this, successfully, in Korean, which took the woman by surprise. Good ego boost, that. We had galbi, which was very good if a little on the expensive side. But we were on a vacation of sorts, and it was 30,000W for a ridiculous amount of meat, so still good value relative to the Western world.

We finished up at around 10, which gave us an hour to find a bar in which to watch the Germany-Argentina game. After briefly going to a foreigner bar, we settled on a place close to the beach called the Fuzzy Navel. We got in just in time - we got the last free table, and the heavens opened as soon as we got inside. We were treated to a fire show in the bar before the game started. They need practice - one guy almost set the place alight, but literally, as opposed to doing so with his skills. Still, very entertaining.

The night gets a bit fuzzy after we go to our next location. It was a club inside a hotel. It was also a place that sold tequila, which explains why the night becomes a drunken blur. The next morning I found a lack of money and numerous receipts for tequila shots. I hate tequila. I spent most of my time in there chatting to a Korean woman. I'm not going into details here. All I will say is that I managed to escape before I did anything that I would really, really, really regret. Damned tequila. Tom and Joe had left long before, so I headed back to the room and passed out. No idea what time.

Sunday started with a hungover catch-up session in KFC. Aside from the Korean meal on Saturday night, this was a shocking weekend for our health. Fast food in Lotteria, KFC and Burger King, coupled with the beer and tequila, is not going to lengthen my life span. Joe had a ferry to catch at 2pm, so we got in a taxi to the ferry terminal. The taxi driver, appreciating our need for speed, put the pedal to the metal. He didn't need to accelerate over the speed bumps though, that added hours to our hangovers.

Joe left, so Tom and I headed over to one of Busan's famous attractions - the Jagalchi Fish Market. I'd heard that it is the biggest fish market in Asia, so was excited to see it. Well, as excited as one can be in my state. The sun had come out as well - cruel, as we were nowhere near the beach and not intending to head back.

The smell was predictable, but still very formidable. The market consists of lots of outside stalls and two large buildings which house the majority of the Nemo wannabes. We headed into the first one. I started asking about 'san-nak-chi' - live octopus. We weren't going to partake in this condition, but I wanted to see how they did it. The first guy fished out an octopus from his tank and started dangling it in front of us; a strange sight.

It got weirder as we progressed along each stall. There were some very strange-looking fish, both dead and alive. We got to the end of the row we were walking down and spotted a fish that had fallen out of its tank onto the floor. We pointed this out to the seller, and he duly grabbed a net. Then put the net by the fish. Then flicked the fish into the net. With his FOOT. Then flipped the fish elegantly...back into the tank. At this point we decided that we were 1000000000% not going to get any fish, and turned down a different row to head out.

Whilst walking down this row, an irritating noise was getting louder and louder. No, it wasn't a vuvuzela. It seemed to be coming from a bucket. I'll let the video explain the rest...

The fish market was quite an experience. Busan itself was quite an experience. I had high expectations when I came down, and it didn't disappoint. Sure, some things could have been better - the weather, my choice of woman, the choice of drink - but everything could be better. I'm typing this having just watched the World Cup final. That helps to put things in perspective. I'm asuming the octopi in Busan aren't psychic, otherwise they would have told me not to bother waking up for it. Busan was great fun, and I would be more than happy to go back. Though the KTX would be a better option next time, as it took us over 5 hours to get back to Suwon. With no seat. Good practice for China, anyway, as was the crazy taxi driver who drove us a ridiculous route home on toll roads and expected us to stump up the cash. But on the whole, great success of a weekend.

Love you all


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