A couple weeks ago, needing to escape Seoul and in search of some warm weather, I headed to Busan with my friend Lisa. Lisa lives in Daejeon, an hour away by KTX (Korea’s high-speed railway system). I spent the first night in Daejeon, catching up with Lisa and meeting some of her friends. The next morning, we headed to the train station and, several hours later, made it to Busan, Korea’s second-largest city.

The city itself was reminiscent of Miami. Busan, located on the southeastern tip of the country, is far more modern than Seoul. All of the same restaurants and chains that exist in Seoul are also in Busan, but the buildings and streets take on more of a western style. Additionally, most people spoke a decent amount of English, especially when compared to their counterparts in the capital.

We arrived early Saturday afternoon and set off in search of our hostel. After several hours of searching (with some heavy shopping thrown in there), we gave up. After all, when the directions on Hostelworld instruct travelers to “jog five meters,” how serious can the place be taken? We decided to get a hostel near Haeundae, about a 15-minute taxi from the beach. Some guys working at a PC-bang even called the hostel for us to see if there were rooms available, then walked us outside and hailed a cab. Once we got settled at the hostel, we decided to grab some dinner back near the beach. We ran into some of Lisa’s friends from Daejeon at the restaurant and hung out with them for the rest of the night. Despite the night’s chilly air, we spent a couple of hours on beach lighting sparklers before heading to a different part of town. Nobody really knew where we were going, but the area we ended up going to was directly across from the Gwangan Bridge.

Lisa and I with the bridge in the background

Lisa and I with the bridge in the background

The next day, we hit up the Busan Aquarium, which I’ve officially decided is a must-see for anyone visiting Busan. The aquarium features all the regular sea life, but also has a tank where visitors, for a fee, can swim with sharks. Yeah, swim with sharks! Though I did not partake (this time), you can still read Alex’s account, as she went to Busan a few weeks before I did and coughed up the won for the shark swim.

The aquarium was a definite highlight, mostly because it was a fairly interactive place. Also, there were plenty of good photo ops:

The aquarium has fishified versions of some of history's great works of art. This was the only one I got a picture with.

The aquarium has fishified versions of some of history's great works of art. This was the only one I got a picture with.

PENGUIN!!

PENGUIN!!

We got to hold starfish!

We got to hold starfish!

Shark attack!

Shark attack!

Melissaquarium!

Melissaquarium!

After the aquarium, we met up with Lisa’s friends on the beach for an afternoon of relaxation. The beach, with its waterfront shops and massive hotels, reminded me of Tel Aviv. However, hundreds of Asians enjoying the nice day reminded me that I was in Korea, not Israel.

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Mountains in the distance

Mountains in the distance

Of note: the thong-wearing, jet-skiing Korean man who zoomed back and forth down the length of the beach for several hours. He never stayed still long enough for me to snap a picture, but the mental images will never, ever go away.

Another beach highlight was the small, shrieking girl chasing birds nearby. The video speaks for itself, I think. Also, take note of the fully clothed people walking on the sand in 70-degree weather. I’ve noticed that Koreans tend to visit the beach in dressy attire, but I haven’t got the slightest idea why.

With a few more hours to kill before our train departed, we headed to the U.N. Memorial Park. The cemetery honors all those from around the world who died during the Korean War, with remains of soldiers from nearly a dozen countries.

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Following the memorial, we posed for pictures on the massive sculptures just outside the cemetery before heading off to our last stop, the Jalgachi fish market. Lisa and I had been craving chobap (the Korean word for sushi) all weekend, and figured the best would be found around the fish market, one of the most well-known in Korea. The market seemed to be just as massive as the Noryangjin Market in Seoul. The only notable difference was that the Jalgachi vendors spoke much better English than their counterparts in Seoul.

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After an hour of wandering around the market and not finding anything that caught our attention, we came across a newly opened restaurant with western food. So did I eat fish in Busan? No, but I did eat some chicken and pasta, and even drank a complimentary glass of white wine.

Busan had one last surprise for me before I left. Actually, it had several surprises. And by surprises, I mean cool things to buy. One was an earring holder in the shape of a wine glasses. Another was a nice pair of earrings. Yet another was a fitted t-shirt with Le Petit Prince on it. And lastly, and most tastily, candy strawberries. You’ve had candy apples at the county fair (or at least you have if you’re from upstate New York and go to county fairs every year). I must say, candy strawberries surpass candy apples by every degree of measurement imaginable.

That is pure glee, my friends. Pure glee.

That is pure glee, my friends. Pure glee.

All in all, the trip to Busan was a good reminder that life not only exists outside of Seoul, but that it thrives, too. Busan was lively and exciting and provided a great change of pace, if only for a weekend. I don’t think I could stay in Korea another year, but if somehow I wind up here again, I would definitely find work in Busan.

So totally Asia
Lotus lanterns outside the train station

Lotus lanterns outside the train station

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