Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Weekend in Busan

The long awaited post about my weekend in Busan (formerly spelled Pusan).  Let me begin by saying that I decided to come into Korea a few days early, since the school/recruiter wanted me to fly in the night before my first day, landing at aprox. 10 pm.  Since my contract started first thing on Tuesday, November 1st, I thought it best to make arrangements to come in early.

My flight landed in Busan, at about 7 am Korean time, on Saturday, October 29th.  I wanted to make it in time to see the Busan International Fireworks Festival, as I had already heard of it, when doing research from the U.S.

Busan is the closest major metropolitian area to where I will be living.  Busan is the second major city in Korea with a population of close to 3.6 million (the metro population is closer to 4.4 million.)  For more info on Busan, click here.

Based on my experience, and some of my previous research, Busan has a very "second city" vibe.  And, as Chicagoans know, that creates a strong personality for the city.  Even the city motto, "Dynamic Busan" portrays that vibe.

(click on pictures to enlarge)
map of South Korea showing Busan

The first couple days in Busan I spent in the Suyeong district and at Gwangalli beach. This was where my hotel was located. I selected the location to be close to the firework festival, since I figured I would probably be jet-lagged and want to make a quick escape to my hotel afterwards.

Gwangalli Beach, which sits inside a cove, is surrounded by many shops and restaurants.  This little (relatively speaking) corner of Busan was a great area to explore.  And despite the rain for most of my trip, I was able to make it to the beach on more than one occasion, and probably would have explored more of the city if I hadn't just enjoyed being at the ocean.

Map of Suyeong-gu area of Busan, specifically Gwangalli Beach

a panoramic from the west of Gwangalli Beach, Suyeong-gu, Busan, South Korea

a map on display near the beach

Gwangalli Beach

Just offshore from Gwangalli Beach is the country's first double decker bridge, Gwangan Bridge, also known as the "Diamond Bridge."  The bridge is a suspension bridge and connects the areas of Haeundae and Suyeong.  It is the largest bridge over ocean in the country, spans 7, 420 meters (which is more than 4 and a half miles.)  It was also the setting for the Busan International Firework Festival, with the bridge serving as the main "stage."  Year-round the bridge is has a changing display of lights that change every day and season.

a small piece of Gwangan Bridge

Gwangan Bridge at night
(photo credit Wikipedia)

For the most part, I spent the first 2 days walking around essentially being a sponge. I managed to not get lost, not a minor feat considering the layout of Busan.  Although on the second day I did take quite the scenic route through the fish'd have thought the big neon fish would have clued me in....yeah...not so much.  I even saw the biggest crab I have ever seen.

Sorry there is no scale, trust me, this guy is HUGE.

Unlike Chicago, Busan is full of hills.  These quickly grew tiresome (and sometimes slippery.)

view looking down one of the hills

They even have added traction to the hills.  The tile portion was quite slick.
I spent a lot of time jumping from the concrete traction, here is a close up.

Many of the "streets" in Korea are what I would consider alleys in the U.S.  However, they are completely full of businesses, restaurants, and produce "stalls"...there is something in every nook and cranny here.  It was nice to have so much to explore, but made it more difficult in my attempt to not get lost, as they tend to shoot off in every which direction.  Additionally, I got comfortable with Korean Won, and completed multiple transactions, as well as got in my fare share of window shopping and people watching. 

 Pretty sure this sign says something like, "Don't fish here"
Note all the little fisherman just the other side of the wall.

I wanted to win this for my friend Megan, but alas I am horrible at claw machines.
Side note:  they also had "prize" machines with things like vitamins in them.  Odd!!!

"I need coffee now!" & "Coffee, please"...just my kind of place.

"Bag in Awesome"...I really wanted to know what this place was, but it was never open 
(I think it was out of business.)

Going at it alone, there were several moments where I felt overwhelmed. It is difficult to order food, or understand what you are ordering, and I found myself going to places that had pictures that I could just point to. I also avoided food that I did not understand what it was. I did not need to wind up eating something too spicy or that I would not handle well, considering I had a health check in just a few days. By the end of the second day, I just caved and went to McDonalds. 

A scary menu to walk into a restaurant too, especially for a restaurant with "foreigner" in the name.  (Also pricey, thankfully they had lunch specials with pictures for significantly less money.)

My delicious lunch (Chinese food - I know, I know)...Cantonese noodles.
Also, McDonalds delivers!

Another cop out meal, at the Lotteria...although I did make myself try something new.  

ad for the Lotteria, as well as my receipt

These were sweet potato balls, essentially fried like a cheese stick or jalapeno popper, 
but filled with sweet potato.  They were only ok.  

After living so long in Chicago, I am no stranger to public transit, but I was impressed by some of the amenities on Korean transit.  

First:  curb site cart racks

Second: A taxi stand, separate but adjacent to the bus stop. 
(and conveniently covered and with seating)

Third: Bicycle lanes, shared with the sidewalk, not the street.  
(No more fear of being "doored" or hit by a car, 
and for scardy cats like me, one more level of protection from the craziness.)

One of the other strange things I encountered was public exercise equipment, and it actually gets used!

I remember things like this from when I was growing up.

However, I've never seen public hula-hoops, and yes I saw a guy using one, 
and yes they are as huge as they look.

Not to mention, public free weights (albeit rusty from exposure to the elements.)

Public ellipticals, and a myriad of other equipment   

And as promised in just about every phone interview I had, Korea has Outback!

Outback Steakhouse!  No rules, just right.

a very tall Outback

It had definitely been an experience being a complete minority, most certainly humbling.  I am so thankful I was able to have an adjusting period before I jumped right into working.

My favorite picture from the weekend.  
Gwangalli Beach, Suyeong-gu, Busan, South Korea

Since I took so many photos, here is a short video slideshow from my first experience living in Korea.  To see a better quality display on my youtube channel, click here.  (Note: they were setting up and taking down the Busan International Fireworks Festival while I was there, so there was more than likely more police presence than usual.)  I hope you enjoy it.

Music: "This Time Next Year", by Pat McCurdy

And, of course remember...don't lean on elevator doors as you may fall down the shaft, 
and land on your head, which will immediately catch fire.

Warning, head injury and combustion possible.

Hugs & Kisses,


supermandy said...

Public Hula Hoops! awesome. Though my personal fave is the warning to not fall down an elevator shaft and have one's head burst into flames.

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