Location: Busan, South Korea
Weather: 48 F and still freaking raining!!
I can’t believe it’s only been a few days, I have so much to share with you! As was mentioned above, it’s been raining here. It really doesn’t pose any major problems, just some inconveniences really. But thankfully I have a great umbrella and a lot of determination. I haven’t had to wait in a line all week. Apparently the rain keeps people at home, which is just fine with me!
So at the end of the last episode, I had just returned from a busy weekend in Seoul. Kathleen has had to work all week, so I have been on my own during the day. I met a friend at the hostel on Tuesday named Zoe. She was visiting from London and was checking out Busan to see if she wanted to teach English here next year. I told her about an art exhibit that Candice had mentioned to me and she decided to join me for a bit.
So this “art exhibit” was extremely unique, it was entitled “Trick Art”. It was a museum of paintings made to trick your eyes. There were 3D pictures, perspective tricks, and many interactive pictures. I was really thankful that Zoe came with me because I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun here on my own! I had so many funny pictures, I had a hard time deciding which to share, but here’s a few for you!
It was a lot of fun and I took a ton of pictures. Zoe commented about how this type of exhibit is not something that she would ever go to if it was going on at home, but because we’re on holiday, it’s a perfectly acceptable thing to do!! I have to agree, it was silly, but made for a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon.
We popped over to Shinsegae and watched the ice skaters for a bit. The funniest thing about it was that it was a very closely orchestrated ice rink. In the inner circle of the ice rink there were about 10 little girls between 8 and 12 learned how to do jumps and high speed turns. They were actually really good and fun to watch. The outer most circle was just your everyday mall goers skating around. You would see people falling, holding hands, and everything typical of a skating rink, nothing too remarkable. It was the middle circle that made me laugh. There was a girl about 8 being trained on speed skating in full gear. Her coach was timing each lap and gruffly barking at her after each one.
I wasn’t ready to go home yet so I decided to head over to the Busan Aquarium for the afternoon. Zoe had just come from Australia and had visited the aquarium in Sydney, and said, “There are only so many fish you can see.” so we hopped on the subway in opposite directions.
I had heard mixed reviews on the Aquarium, but I remained optimistic! I was not disappointed at all. There were the typical fish and tropical life, lots of crab, jellyfish, and even otters, but most of it were things I had seen before. Then, just as I was ready to concede that there was nothing special about this aquarium, I turned the corner and discovered that they had penguins! They were waddling around and jumping in and out of the water.
I knew they were not Emperor penguins, but they looked vaguely familar, so I looked around for the English identification plaque. I discovered that they were…wait…what?! “Jackass Penguins”?? That’s not a very nice thing to say! What did they ever do to you?
I later discovered that this was not a case of mis-translation, just a nickname for an African Penguin. Crap! I had already come up with a story in my mind about the sign maker, Minjun, being the only person in the aquarium that spoke English, and he was holding a grudge against the little bastards because one of them pooped on his shoe. I hate it when reality crushes my imagination. They are actually named because of the braying sound they make, but I am going to blame Minjun.
Moving on…Christmas wasn’t long ago. That’s not just another one of my random thoughts, I have a point in reminding you of that. Many places here in Korea still have Christmas decorations up and the aquarium was no exception. But they had a unique spin on things. The built a cute little Christmas village. The only problem is that they built it in the bottom of the shark tank. No really, check this out:
Hee hee, I think that would have really freaked me out to see Santa eaten by a shark.
I met up with the rest of the crew (Kathleen, Candice, Kim, Taehoon, Miru) and we headed over to Kim’s Mom’s restaurant for Korean hot pot. Veggies, thinly sliced beef, and fish cake (I didn’t ask and don’t want to know) were cooked in the broth. After that course was served, the hot pot was filled with noodles and then it was served. Then rice and veggies were added to the now very flavorful broth and cooked into a porridge. Everything was delicious and I was very thankful to experience a very authentic Korean meal at a family restaurant. Dinner was finished with a slightly sweet cinnamon tea served cold. It was amazing and I will be making it when I get home!
I went home with a warm full belly and slept like the dead! It was POURING on Wednesday, so I opted to stay close to the hostel and wandered down to the beach and spent some time watching the world go by and reading at a coffee shop.
Later that night I met up with Kathleen and Candice after they got off work to go to a place called Spaland. Sounds great! I love the Spa and this was a whole “land” dedicated to it! And by now I have learned that Koreans don’t do anything halfway. When they set their mind to building something, they build it bigger, better, and brighter then anyone else could or ever has! You have to appreciate their competitive spirit.
Spaland did not dissappoint. Spa Land consists of 22 spas fed by two different kinds of all-natural spring water pumped up from 1000m underground, 13 distinctively themed ‘Jjimjilbangs’ and saunas, and an open-air foot spa.
So what is a Korean traditional ‘Jjimjilbang’ you ask? Well, to rip something off from wikipedia: A Jjimjilbang (찜질방) is a large, gender-segregated public bathhouse in Korea, furnished with hot tubs, showers, Finnish-style saunas, and massage tables, similar to a Korean sauna or mogyoktang. Jjimjil is derived from the words meaning heated bath. However, in other areas of the building or on other floors there are unisex areas and traditional saunas from all over the world.
Seriously, this place was crazy big and the “gender-segregated” areas were chock full of naked people. Prior to this experience, I thought of Korea as somewhat conservative, but the locker room alone was enough to make any nudist colony blush.
But let’s talk about “good naked” and “bad naked” for a minute. Here is what I learned on that subject: Operating a vending machine naked…bad naked. 75 year old women walking around…bad naked. Well let’s be honest, there was a whole lot of “bad naked” going on in there. But the harsh reality is that my American conservativeness towards nudity has trained me to see it as “bad”, not that it actually was. On the contrary, I left there appreciating their lack of shame. I will go to great lengths to avoid being seen in a swim suit in certain company, so I could use some of that. For obvious reasons, I did not take pictures in that area, but I did snap one in the common areas to show you how freaking HOT these rooms were.
The next day, I went over to the Busan Museum. It had to be one of the nicest museums I have been in and the admission was free! Bonus! I learned about the ancient history here which has been filled with conquest and wars over the strategic positioning of Korea. The most poignant parts for me were the last 100 years or so. Let me give you the cliff notes version:
1. Korea was under Japanese rule as part of Japan’s 35-year imperialist expansion (29 August 1910 to 15 August 1945).
2. Japanese rule ended in 1945 shortly after the Japanese defeat in World War II.
3. War is over, Korea is liberated, but American administrators divided the peninsula along the 38th parallel, with United States troops occupying the southern part and Soviet troops occupying the northern part.
4. The North established a communist government, while the South established a capitalist one. Cross-border skirmishes and raids at the 38th Parallel persisted despite reunification negotiations
5. The situation escalated into open warfare when North Korean forces invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950.
6. The United Nations, particularly the United States, came to the aid of South Korea in repelling the invasion and the People’s Republic of China entered the war on the side of the North. Here it should be noted that over 33, 000 US soldiers were killed in action during the war, but more on that in a minute, because I also visited the UN memorial after the museum.
7. The active stage of the war ended on 27 July 1953, when the armistice agreement was signed. The agreement restored the border between the Koreas near the 38th Parallel and created the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a 2.5-mile (4.0 km) wide buffer zone between the two Koreas, which is now a tourist attraction that I chose to skip…
8. In 1957 South Korea had a lower per capita GDP than Ghana, and by 2010 it was ranked thirteenth in the world (Ghana was 86th). Contemporary North Korea remains underdeveloped.
So my next stop was the UN Memorial Cemetery which is the only one of it’s kind in the world. Here rest heroic brave soldiers from a number of UN nations that sacrificed their lives for peace and freedom during the Korean War. I’d like to tell you at this point that I have a lot of love and appreciation for anyone who serves their country in the military. The willingness to put yourself in harms way to protect your fellow countrymen is the most noble of traits in my opinion. So going to the cemetery was pretty emotional for me and I shed more than a few tears for the soldiers from all over the world that gave their lives to protect South Korea.
While I was there I was privileged to meet an actual war veteran from the Korean War who was a volunteer at the memorial. He is Korean, but fought alongside many American soldiers. When I told him I was from Utah, he shouted, “Beehive!” and he was proud to share that he knew the nicknames of nearly all the US States. He was full of pride and appreciation for the soldiers that gave their lives for South Korea’s freedom. He showed me his medals, told me a few stories, and he left me with a firm handshake and seemed truly appreciative to have a visitor. I left the cemetery filled with respect and pride to be a part of a country that protected these wonderful people from communist rule.
After an emotional afternoon, I was happy to meet up with Kathleen, Candice, and Kim for a girls night of traditional Korean BBQ!!! We went to the restaurant owned by a friend of Kim’s brother. I was treated to the most delicious Pork Ribs that we cooked on the grill at our table! By far it was my favorite meal of the trip, and I ate way too much, but it was worth it!
You would take the grilled meat and put it into a lettuce leaf with red bean and chili sauce, radish slices, and any other fun veggies around the table and munch away. We also roasted garlic right on the grill and ate it straight away. Needless to say, I walked away smelling like garlic and smokey meat. So delicious!!
Anyway, that’s all for now, I am going to head over to Nampadong for shopping with kathleen tonight. Tomorrow I am going up to Gyeong-ju for the weekend with the whole crew. If you actually made it this far, thanks, I know how long that post was!!
Wish you were all here!