Busan in Winter

9 Apr

A few weeks ago, Baden and I heard drift of an ultimate frisbee tournament in the beach-side city of Busan and knowing full well that we weren’t part of any team, we decided that we’d make the trip in the hopes of catching a  few runs on the beach. 

Baden rode past the train station late on Friday afternoon to buy two train tickets for the Saturday morning. Early that morning, we woke at 4.30am to catch our 5.50am train. The train is slow but it’s enormous and the leg room offered puts any Kulula advert to shame! When the train left Yeongju, we were the only people on the train and we settled in for a 5 hour sleep. Within the first hour, the train had filled to such an extent that people were standing. We both felt bad sitting while some older Korean people had to stand for hours until we heard that those people actually buy standing seats for a much cheaper price.

I was woken half way through the trip by a familiar chant of Afrikaans chat. In our cabin, a large group of foreigners had gathered and were talking about a rugby game happening in Busan over the weekend. I very eagerly practised my Afrikaans with Baden wanting to tell the others that, “Ek is net Afrikaans” – thinking I was telling them I’m also Afrikaans (instead saying I’m only Afrikaans). When we did make eye contact, I chickened out and we learnt (in English) that there was a expats rugby league in South Korea and this weekend’s games were in Busan. They invited Baden to join their team and I’m sure if he’d had the correct clothes he would have been the first on the field! But we did say we’d try to watch.

And so we did. We spent Saturday afternoon on the outskirts of Busan city next to a rugby field and it was reminiscent of a typical South African weekend – except we had no boerie rolls or beer.

Baden and I checked into our hotel in the afternoon before joining some South African frisbee friends for a quick frisbee throw in the dark on the beach (obsession I’m sure!) and then dinner at an Indian restaurant that was so expensive Baden and I shared the smallest meal on the menu feigning to be full and drink water all night which we hoped was complimentary. We left that night eating very little and paying very much!

When we returned to our hotel we realised that it truly was a “love motel” – a Korean hotel which can be hired out per night or per hour – for couples who only need it for a few minutes. Outside our hotel were strategically placed pornographic cards of big breasted women with phone numbers. It surprised me that even in Korea – a country with an extremely low unemployment rate, incredible government subsidies and excellent education figures, prostitution is still tempting. Perhaps though they are not Korean women.

We spent Sunday on the beach watching the Ultimate games and throwing a bit on the sidelines (unfortunately, no teams needed extra players). We were delighted when the sun came out for a while – it feels like months since we were warmed by her rays! I was disappointed to find myself feeling “replacement envy” – Busan is beautiful bustling sea side city filled with foreigners, English restaurants with English menus, shops I recognise, shop owners who speak some English – even an English movie house! Yeongju has so few foreigners, no English menus, shop owners who can’t tell me how much something costs in English, and only a Korean cinema. But I did realise that day that living in the city means most social activities are money spending temptations and the living in the country affords ones savings to grow a little quicker!

It was both strange and comforting to return to Yeongju on Sunday night – when we stepped off the train at 23.50, amist the cold and rain, it felt like we’d returned home; home to a foreign city which is strangely familiar, home to foreign people who somehow feel like friends, home to a home that isn’t our own. But it was the first sign that things were looking up in Yeongju and that maybe it isn’t so bad.


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