Today we leave Busan in South Korea for Japan. We have been in Korea for 1 month, 3 days in Seoul and then 4 weeks in Busan. We arrived here with an embarrassingly small amount of knowledge about the place, the people and their language (googling hello and thank you as we stepped off the ferry!). After a month I can say that it is a shame that their rowdy brother to the north gets all the attention.
In some ways it feels very familiar here, if it weren’t for the distinct writing there are places where if you squint you could imagine you are in the United States. TV talk shows (and shopping channels) seem to revolve around the same issues and the hosts dress and speak in the same manner as those on the TV I am used to watching. The food is international with pizza, fried chicken, French bakeries and Indian restaurants being commonplace. Walking down the street in the morning I almost always hear a snippet of Ed Sheeran (on a side note ‘Castle on the Hill’ and ‘Shape of You’ seem to have been following us on this entire journey. I’m not mad, I’m impressed).
However they have managed to pair this multiculturalism with a strong, uniquely Korean identity. They have a very large domestic entertainment industry with a global following. K-Pop, K-Dramas and K-Films have fans all over the world (lots of foreign people we have met cite their fandom of these as the thing that first piqued their interest in Korea). They have their own alphabet (see our post on Seoul) which was established by an incredibly progressive monarch – King Sejong. In the time of his reign (1400s) woman had the right to 100 days of maternity leave, that’s more than in the United States (and, unfortunately, South Korea) today.
We have been working in a hostel while in Busan (shout out to Popcorn Hostel). This was our first experience of workaway and it has been largely positive. Although we were told it would be 3 hours of cleaning, 6 days a week we’ve never had to work more than 2 hours and typically it is closer to 1. There are lots of other people working here and they are all very friendly outwardly looking people. To travel the world you have to be open to new experiences and I find those kinds of people are the easiest to get along with!
Over the last week we’ve been ticking off the few remaining experiences before we leave. One of these was a visit to a Korean public bathhouse. Unlike the ones in China this one had the same amount of baths and saunas for men and women (but still segregated) so Ros enjoyed it a lot more. It was right next to the harbour so the view out from it was incredible. You could see the ships coming and going and the clouds rolling over the hills, all from the comfort of a mineral bath. There are large communal pools, hot and cold, some with fresh water and some with salt water and then a row of individual ones that have the best view of the harbour. On our first visit we spent two hours in the baths. This was broken up by visits to the non-segregated jimjilbang upstairs, a large open space with no furniture where you can relax, eat and drink. Your entry fee gives you unlimited access to all facilities for 12 hours. Because this is less than the price of the cheapest hotel room (and includes a spa) it is common for people to use the jimjilbang as cheap accommodation and sleep there overnight.
It has been nice to get comfortable somewhere. The woman in the corner shop opposite our hostel knows who I am and greets me with a friendly “hello” now. Koreans speak excellent English but are so shy they rarely speak it. Three weeks passed before the convenience store lady felt comfortable enough to address me in this way. It’s little things like knowing the staff in your local shop that often get overlooked when considering how attached you are to a place. It takes time to make those connections.
I was speaking to a friend back home a couple of days ago and saying how excited I was about getting back to travelling again, only staying a few nights in places and then moving on. At times while we’ve been here it has felt like we are stagnating and I’ve got seriously itchy feet. However he reminded me that in China I was telling him how much I was looking forward to settling down for a month and having a place to call home, however briefly. I guess there are positives and negatives to both and in Japan we will travel for the first month and then spend the next month in a workaway, so a little of each. I can’t wait 🙂
P.S. There are a couple of magical places that didn’t have enough going on to merit their own blog post but the pictures are too wonderful not to share so here they are:
Dadaepo Beach Fountains
These are set to music and they look amazing:
Here’s a short video too:
Cheonmasan Sculpture Park
This park is on top of one of our favourite hills, Cheonmasan. We climbed it recently and the clouds were so low you could see them flowing past: