A few days in Busan
It wasn’t with a whole lot of enthusiasm that I went to South Korea – the main reason we were making the trip being that it was so ridiculously cheap as to make our not going sinful – but I was pleasantly surprised.
It’s not difficult, the moment you arrive, to start making comparisons with Japan. The people exhibit similar behaviour (I’ve been told by others that the working culture is very similar – South Koreans being on top of the list in terms of hard working nations), the buildings and streets seem on the whole impeccably clean and the food seems similar.
One of the first differences to note is that it at times had an Eastern Block feel to it, replicas of buildings popping up everywhere – some so basic in design as to make you wonder if they needed an architect or just stacked squares on top of each other – like reused negatives of photos. Almost every office building or block of flats will have at least a twin, with others having a number of siblings (check out the skyline photo below). I noticed many blocks of apartments that were actually numbered in large writing on their sides, no doubt so that the management company doesn’t mix them up. The service culture couldn’t be more different. Unlike Japan, whose bend over backwards form of service often verges on the sycophantic, many of the service staff in Korea seem put-out and sullen when dealing with customers. Some transactions I experienced were conducted entirely in silence. I’m not saying that there aren’t exceptions – as there always are – but it was noticeable right from the off.
So, Busan itself. The area in which we stayed (Haeundae) was located right by a beach and was often filled with families and hyperactive children. The place underwent a transformation during the weekdays, morphing from a vibrant hub of leisure to a relative ghost town. The huge Starbucks by the beach, which was incredibly open until midnight nearly every night, was empty when we entered during the week. I think an empty Starbucks speaks wonders for the solitude of the place.
In terms of things to do, we did travel to a few temples outside of the city, making use of the cheap but urine-reeking trains. There are also a few good walking routes around the area and, after walking for long enough, you do quickly find yourselves in quaint fishing quarters and modest local dwellings. The aquarium is also worth a note, if only to point out that it featured many species I have never seen before, including the eerie looking Sun Fish pictured. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised (although a couple of days is more than enough time really).