If I had to recall my trip two years ago to Busan, these words will come to mind: Scary. Senior. Cool. Artsy. Sacred. City Beach. And Sore Feet.
We arrived at a pre-booked budget hotel named ‘You R My Sunshine’. No one was in. Photos and sticky notes left in the wall of the common room was proof that batches of guests came from time to time. Their stay seemed fun. Contrastingly, it was different for us. The third week of April may have just been the leanest month of the year for this part of Busan.
Everything felt mysterious: the handwritten notes and key were just left in the counter by the “manager”. Apart from my imaginings, the silence was unsettling,too. Anyway, we proceeded to our room, got settled down but hurriedly left. We even forgot a critical prop: my friend’s monopod.
We only lasted one night. And I remembered dreaming of human smuggling, kidnapping and Latin countries that night. Only the presence of bright yellow bed sheets comforted me.
Early morning, even as it poured rain outside, we checked out and left the keys where we found them. The “manager” was still nowhere in sight. We hurried to a convenience store several blocks away. Had a quick breakfast and later found ourselves smiling in front of our new hotel, the ‘B.S. Hotel’. The B.S. could have stood for “better” and “safer”. More modern, we didn’t even know what the other amenities were for.
Seriously, the senior population dominated the trains. I couldn’t help but get struck by the idea that these well-respected people in Busan are still active. Since they go around much, they must have jobs. Unlike in the Philippines where old people are not encouraged to work anymore.
The fashion of the ahjummas is something prominent and unique, too. Just like how they are portrayed in kdramas, I can attest that the trend is real and fashion boutiques that cater to the needs of these well-dressed ahjummas exist. They do use cellular phones and are not at all intimidated by technology.
I’ve spotted a few cool things myself.
The robot-themed train from the airport to the city proper. The monks in the street and in the train. The neatly crafted shoestring in one train passenger. The Dole brand of bananas exported from the Philippines.
And the UNIQLO store, which made me realize that mostly all commercial establishments did not employ any security personnel to guard the premises. How cool and safe is that.
Specific parts of the community are obligingly cultural. The Gamcheon Culture Village was one of the highlights of our Busan trip. I have seen episodes of the Running Man cast playing one of their famous hide-and-seek segment here. And this was a good place to get lost.
From the drop off point, an overview of this literally jam-packed village is offered. The buildings are similarly structured, almost uniform, and pastel colors were painted all throughout. Culture meant paintings, flower pots, and all else that spells cute.
My friend and I busied ourselves exploring every corner and stairs our feet could afford to bring us. Going up and down was the real drainer. Just after a few hours the village already looked more like a maze than a dwelling place.
The next part of the trip brought us to a temple called Haedong Yonggungsa. This is Buddhist holy ground. A cluster of temples beautifully built on top of large outcrops of basalt-like rocks that were slowly weathered by the brutal pounding of the waves. It felt like a kdrama on its own.
That time, the temple had sets of bulbs mounted on scaffoldings which meant it was visually stunning when viewed at night. All the same, it was already perfect time for slowing down and observing the other guests who better know what to do.
So aside from Christianity witnessed at Seoul, this time I had a glimpse of Buddhism in Busan.
Our undying motive of catching the last cherry blossom led us to hail a taxi to Dalmaji Hill that ended up in Haeundae Beach. This was my first encounter of a beach just beside a full-fledged city. Very convenient for those who’d like to take off their stress on the beach. There was a man sleeping on the side, obviously from drunkenness.
The beach spanned a kilometer from left to right and had a twenty-meter wide sandy shore. The buildings and cranes just nearby made me more appreciative of the green scenery and far-flung beaches back home. I felt the beach was more solemn that way.
The cool breeze and steady sound of the waves did gave the impression of breathing in fresh clean air. We made sure to take it all in before heading back to B.S Hotel.
My sore feet was not a highlight of the trip, but was a reality check for me and every other future travellers. This reminded me of emergencies and first aid cases a foreign traveler could possibly experience in-between trips.
I only had a less serious case of sore feet that time, but didn’t had band aids with me. Had it been a sore throat, a fever, a bad stomach or migraine, however minor, would be a serious nuisance. I pondered that keeping a stash of the few basic medicines from back home could have been an important part of my baggage.
Imagine the hurdle in the local pharmacy conveying the specific medicine for a specific ailment. I have trouble just sorting out and memorizing which local brand of medicine is for which condition. What more if there was a language barrier.
So even after two years, that sore feet was an experience that stood out with me.