Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lunar New Year in Busan!

Monday the 23rd was Lunar (or Chinese) New Year, meaning a five day break from work! (Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday are my normal days off, plus Monday for the holiday and the day after!) And since I'm trying to budget as best as I can, I opted to stay in Korea this time around. Plus, for as much as I do want to take advantage of being so close to so many other countries, I also want to see Korea! I've been here two months and haven't had the time or money to travel much, so we set our sights on Busan and decided to make it happen. Corey and I headed down on Saturday and then Will followed on Sunday, and we spent the holiday hanging out with a friend from training, Gether, who was lucky enough to be placed in Busan and who also kindly allowed us to crash on his floor.

Waitin' on the train. We didn't book tickets ahead of time at all... Figured that there would at least be standing room available on the KTX. (The KTX is a high-speed train that runs from the Seoul area down to Busan and can take anywhere from 2 1/2 hours to 4ish hours, depending on how many stops it'll be making.) I'm somewhat of a... very organized traveler. I like to know that I do have a ticket for a train or plane or whatever, I like to know when exactly it will be leaving, and I like to know when exactly I'll be arriving at my destination. Corey, on the other hand, is pretty okay with winging it. Since we didn't really decide to go down to Busan until the last minute, my obsessive need to plan wasn't a possibility and winging it was pretty much our only option, much to my distress. Luckily, it totally worked out in our favor and everything was fine.

For the first 45 minutes, we had standing room tickets. We squeezed our way into the "snack" car and found a corner by a vending machine to hang out in. It was reeeaally crowded. I've taken the KTX a handful of times at this point and I've never seen it this packed. There was literally no room to walk. I was really happy when we had to transfer to another train after 45 minutes. Plus on the second train we had seats! We spent the rest of the trip eating our picnic lunch and being entertained by a couple Korean children in front of us who kept making faces and being adorable.

Purple dot = where I live, blue dot = Busan!

Welcome to Busan! Pretty impressive thing to see as you leave the station, amirite?

We didn't do much that evening. We got to Gether's, dropped off our stuff, grabbed some dinner, and then passed out. One thing we did notice about the area Gether lives in -- not many foreigners. As we ate dinner, two different groups of men approached our table to tell me goodbye. One even shook my hand. I've gotten so accustomed to the stares that actually being approached by people kind of threw me off. They were perfectly nice, but I guess there are enough foreigners in my area of Incheon that I'm not that unusual looking, unlike this particular area of Busan.

On Sunday, while we waited for Will to get into town, we wandered around and Gether took us to what is the largest department store in the world! Guinness World Record certified and everything. It was pretty ridiculous. They have an ice rink. AND a spa. As well as tons of shopping. The Shinsegae near where I live is swanky enough already... this one was just insane.

Lotte Trevi Plaza. Yeah. This is in a DEPARTMENT STORE, YOU GUYS. Go big or go home, I guess?

Aaaand then we found the costumes. The Korean high schooler who was manning the photo/costume spot was a little awkward and seemed like he truly hated his life. (He was in traditional clothing as well.) But we had fun dressing up!

"Do Korean poses!" (At this point, I should add, we had drawn a crowd. Luckily, they all seemed to be entertained by us.)

Then we got Gether in the King's costume and Corey put on the Queen's costume. THAT was a hit with the crowd, lemme tell you. Quite a few people took pictures of them. It was great. They do make an awfully handsome couple.

After the gigantic department store, we decided to head in the direction of the beach, but make a stop at the Busan Museum of Art to kill time so Will could meet up with us. It was free, so that was nice, especially because it wasn't anything spectacular. There was a pretty neat exhibit with really old maps and drawings of Busan from the Japanese occupation, juxtaposed with modern photographs of the same areas. I enjoyed that part of the museum. For the most part it was a lot of modern art... ranging from abstract paintings to weird audio/visual installations that I... just can't get behind. Sorry. I'm an art snob. And some of that was just crap. (A fair amount was probably also lost on me, though, since I don't speak Korean.)

That evening we all went out for dinner and then some celebratory drinks. It was a pretty epic evening, actually. We went to an Irish pub and met a Finnish guy named Mika who wanted to be our new best friend and just kept buying drinks and shots for us. Yeah, it was one of THOSE nights... But the next morning we ignored any hangovers we may have had, got up, grabbed breakfast, and headed down to the ocean!!

Sooooo pretty! I can imagine this is just crazy packed during the summer. It was definitely a crisp afternoon, but still good for a nice stroll along the water.

Will and Corey, taking a picture of...

Gether, hanging out on the beach.

This is Busan's big fancy bridge. It's pretty awesome looking. (Especially at night.)

Lifting weights. So macho.

Then we found a small amusement park! Since the rollercoaster was calling to us, we decided to wander in and check it out. We found out it's called MeLand and what you see pictured above is pretty much the entire park.

Even though it may be the tiniest amusement park ever, we decided to buy three-ride tickets anyway, choosing the rollercoaster, the ferris wheel, and bumper cars!

And so began the trend of climing onto/into children's coin-operated rides...


Then there was some air hockey.

Ferris wheel! I love ferris wheels. So much. The cars on this were enclosed, which was nice, because it was damn cold that high up in the air. We'd gone on the rollercoaster before the ferris wheel and it was rough. Not the coaster itself, but the experience of being hit in the face with really cold air at a speed that's faster than, say, walking was pretty miserable. So, some advice: don't go on rollercoasters in the winter. Lesson learned. (But it was worth it.)

The view through the (dingy) windows of the ferris wheel car. A little bit of MeLand and then a nice look at the water and bridge.
And then it was my turn to play on a coin-operated children's ride. This thing had wheels and it very, very, very slowly rolled forward and can be steered by the wheel sticking out of its back. A truly thrilling ride. Here you see me swinging around an invisible lasso.

We hung around by the beach until it got dark, mostly to catch some of the sunset.

After dinner, we grabbed coffee and noticed fireworks going off outside through the windows of the coffee shop. We wandered back down to the water and found this guy selling roman candles and sparklers on the beach. Being the Lunar New Year, we decided it was only appropriate to also set off fireworks, so we bought a handful and went to town.

The beach and bridge at night! All lit up and pretty.

Yeah roman candles! I'd never set one off before since they can be pretty dangerous, so this was kind of awesome. Though I was kind of worried it would explode out the wrong end and get me. (Mom, Dad, I think you're responsible for putting that image into my head. I remember asking for roman candles as a kid and you always said no and I'm pretty sure that was the reason you gave me.)

The guys with their sparklers!

The man selling fireworks had a little fire going too. As soon as we walked up and the guys bought some fireworks, the man shuffled me over to the fire and made me stay there. I set off my fireworks from a chair in front of this fire and it was pretty great. Before we headed back home we all huddled around it for a bit because it'd gotten brutally cold. (I am so sick of winter.)

On Tuesday, our last day in Busan, we decided to go check out a temple. Gether wasn't able to come with because he had to work, but he recommended this temple to us. And boy am I glad he did. Talk. About. Gorgeous.

This temple was located right on the coast, so as you go down the stairs to get to the actual temple, you get a glimpse of the ocean.

And then! This!

So, so pretty. It was super crowded because everyone gets the days before and after the Lunar New Year off, but I didn't mind. It was fun seeing families there together and all the people who had come to pray.

Appropriate, since it's the Year of the Black Water Dragon now.

Giant gold Buddha!

Giant pigs!

The Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.

The view from higher up. So. Pretty!

Down in a cave. The woman bent over is filling a cup with water to drink after she said her prayers.

The 108 steps.

Chinese Zodiac statues.

Here's mine -- 1985, the Year of the Ox.

After the temple, we found some food and decided to make our way home. We picked up our stuff from Gether's apartment, headed back to the train station, and found some cheap standing room tickets for the ride back to the Seoul area. Luckily, since Busan is the end of the line, we were able to get on a fairly empty train car and claim some pretty perfect spots on the floor. It ended up being a pretty enjoyable ride back. Not only was this train considerably less crowded, but we played some games of sudoku and cryptoquote, chatted with some Korean kids, and snacked away on chips and cookies.

Not bad at all.

It was a really great weekend. I can't wait to go back to Busan when it's actually warm outside! Those beaches were so pretty and there's still sooo much left to explore down there. Another trip is definitely on my to-do list for later this year.