Friday, May 28, 2010


This one's for you, Mom: the Korean version of road trip McDonald's iced coffees: a little McCafe at 6 am, ready to board the train for Busan!

Tom n Toms Coffee: one of the most popular coffee chains in Korea. Of course, Britney and Christine had to take a picture to represent their favorite Toms (Haeg and Grotjohn, respectivel)
And don't worry about the third coffee picture of the weekend, representing the Midwest with a little Caribou Coffee! I've seen a few Caribous in Seoul, plus this one in Busan. Starbucks, to be expected...but Caribou? Strange.
Near the port in Busan- the only beautiful weather of the weekend!
Saturday: rain, all day long. This was supposed to be our Beach Day...
Awkward, not only because I'm wearing a rain jacket at the beach...but also because I had realized a split second prior to this shot that if I don't make the Asian peace sign in a picture these days, I don't know what to do with my hands. Guess I'll have to work on this before I come home. A beautiful Buddhist temple along the coast that we visited on Sunday- decorated with thousands upon thousands of colorful lanterns

Sunday = what else, pouring rain. But ridiculously overpriced, neon yellow rain ponchos bought on the street saved the day!
Nothing completes a cold, rainy day like a boiling hot pot of kimchi jjigae! A red stew made with kimchi, red pepper paste, onions, tofu, egg, pork, rice cakes, and more

The long-awaited long weekend celebration of Buddha's Birthday in Busan- a weekend of rain, naturally.
The journey down there was slow, but of course the day of travel was marked by sunny, cloudless blue skies and soaring temperatures. We had opted for the normal (read: slow) train ride down south, given that we made our travel plans a bit late in the game and had once again forgotten the many other million Koreans also making travel plans during this important holiday weekend (one of only two national holidays during the year in which most Koreans are granted a day off from work). KTX high-speed train: booked. Bus: highly dangerous option, considering the number of cars to be expected on the roads at any given time, at any given place in Korea, throughout the holiday weekend. Truly, the normally 4-hour long bus ride could (and has actually been rumored to) turn into a journey of double the time, due to heavy traffic. The "normal" train was quite the experience: we had all been picturing a spacious car that would grant us a leisurely ride of a few hours, in which we would marvel over the scenery of the Korean countryside and engage in deep conversations. Quite the opposite: we learned very quickly that the "normal" train is a very popular means of transportation for those people who don't have a strong preference for comfort, personal hygiene, and luxuries while traveling. In other words, the railways sell not only reserved seat tickets, but also an almost-unlimited number of "standing room only" tickets...because there's just that many people in Korea!
We were squeezed like sardines into our train car- me squished against the window next to an older Korean man who was sitting a bit too close for comfort (although to give him the benefit of the doubt, he had quite a few elbows, backs, and other body parts in dangerously close proximity to himself, given his more vulnerable position in the aisle seat). The aisles were positively crammed with people- the young and the old, sitting and standing, some reading intensely, others chatting rapidly on their cell phones, and still others staring out the windows aimlessly the entire 4.5 hour trip (or at least, as much of the window as they could see, which was probably not a significant amount). You can imagine the stale, stuffy air of that train car...too many people, too many smells, and too much time spent wishing I was anywhere but in that train car.
Needless to say, we were incredibly happy to be free of the train, 4.5 hours later as we rolled into Busan station. We noticed the difference in landscape, atmosphere, and the population, as soon as we stepped outside of the station. It felt like a much different pace from Seoul- slower, more relaxed, more carefree. True, Busan is the second-largest city in Korea, but it just seemed so much freer of the constant stimulation that plagues Seoul at all hours of the day and night. The city was certainly packed with foreigners, though- it seemed as though every foreign teacher in all of Korea had made the trek to this coastal city for the holiday weekend.
The one downside of the weekend? Oh, well that would just be the rain that started on Saturday morning and did not stop...did not even let up...for the entire weekend. When we arrived in Busan on Friday afternoon, the weather was perfect. We naively planned a beach day for tomorrow, dismissing the forecast for "a chance of rain, with overcast skies," truly believing that since we had put so much effort into our journey south (and had endured such atrocities on the train ride), of course the weather would turn out to be just beautiful, in our favor. Still, we managed to see a lot of the city- a huge fish and seafood market (even though I've been to a few in Korea now, those never get old!), a huge ferris wheel overlooking the ocean (just another impressive feat of me conquering my fear of heights, no big deal), and visiting some beautiful Buddhist temples (decorated in amazing colors for the holiday). The best was the temple along the coast that we visited on Sunday (see my pictures above): it was breathtaking, built upon the rocks and cliffs of the coast, so vibrant and peaceful at the same time, almost like a dream because of the dreary, blurry, rainy weather. Some 2,000 won ($1.50 US) neon yellow rain ponchos saved our lives that day!
Very good trip, even despite the amazing time with amazing friends, Shauna and Christine! :)

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