Via Busan

In Asia on August 29, 2010 at 12:28 am

In order to get to Tokyo, I decided to fly out of a seaside town in Korea called Busan. It’s the second largest city in Korea and a tourist destination in itself. It also has several tourist agencies, which can provide foreigners with a Japan Rail Pass.

The Japan Rail Pass can save travelers tens to hundreds of dollars on train fare providing that you visit several cities. My 7-day pass was about $300 dollars. This is about the cost of a round trip ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto.

The great thing is that service is unlimited on all JR trains until the expiration of the pass. So not only could I go to Kyoto, but I could also use a ton of trains within Tokyo itself. I also managed to make it to Hiroshima, which was completely worth it.

However, the pass is only sold to foreigners, and you have to buy it outside of Japan. But it’s not available in Daegu, the city where I was staying, so it was either Busan or Seoul. Because I was planning to fly out of Busan, it was the only likely choice.

I chose a travel agency at the international port, thinking it would be an easy landmark to find. After calling to verify they would be open during the week until 5 p.m. and that they did speak English, it was settled.

Often travelers plan weeks or months in advance when wanting to book a hostel. This is very sound and logical.

The day before I left for Busan, I did some Internet research and found several hostels listed nearby the seaport. I guess I assumed I would just waltz in and they would of course have room for me. After talking with some friends, it was determined this wasn’t so smart.

Then I noticed that when I searched for the international seaport, a little thing named “Pusan Hostel” popped up. That sounded promising. And they had a web site entirely in English. Even better. I sent an e-mail and got an instant reply saying there was one place available in the co-ed dorm for $20. Perfect. Co-ed dorm did sound a little less private, but after all of the roommates and camping trips I’ve been on, it wasn’t too disconcerting.

After arriving in Busan and taking the subway in the wrong direction, I was sweaty and a little peeved. But I gave the taxi driver the best directions I could and dragged my 7-year-old, decrepit wheelie suitcase down an alley lined with quaint fountains and foliage, making the sweltering heat a little more picturesque.

The “can’t-miss-it” sign was tiny, and I ended up at a department store being aided by three salespeople in finding the place. I retraced my steps and found the gated entryway.

It surely was dorm-style living and not air-conditioned in the main living area. I quickly dropped my bags on the ground and hovered around the oscillating fan like a menopausal woman having a hot flash. It was then I noticed the huge black cat decal complete with pink bow and accompanying text that read “My Pretty Little Girl.” Strange, I thought. But maybe it was leftover from the previous owners. In the event the current owner picked it as welcoming Engrish, it surely was good for a laugh.

I refrained from speaking English because everyone looked Korean or Japanese. Then one asked with a perfect American accent, “Hey. Where are you from?” “Um, Florida, what about you?” “Oh, we are from California.”

Turns out, they all just happened to be Korean-American. We talked later about how it’s kind of difficult for them to travel because everyone assumes they speak Korean. Though they dress in a Western style, the locals are kind of surprised, annoyed and confused that they aren’t understood by someone who is clearly Korean.

As a foreigner, I feel awkward sometimes, but I am happy that people go out of their way to treat me like a sensitive mentally challenged child in explaining things to me. It’s obvious right off the bat that I have no idea what’s going on.

Because I didn’t have anywhere to go and didn’t particularly feel like finding my way around the city by myself, I quickly invited myself to lunch with the boys (I was the only girl at the hostel—not as uncomfortable as some may think.) We then decided to head over to the beach.

A long and crowded commuter bus brought us to a little cove surrounded by skyscrapers and the tents of a little fish market. It was about 5 p.m. so the sun was heading down, but I wanted to get in some swimming anyway.

I brought two bathing suits to Korea, neither of which I brought to Japan nor did I use in Korea. I ended up eyeballing some of the fashions for sale next to the fish market and just in front of the change rooms. I avoided the electric green and neon purple and opted for the black and white polka dot, which is very similar to one of the suits I left in Daegu.

There wasn’t a try-on option, and I could tell the bottoms weren’t exactly going to fit my derriere. So I was preparing to use the shorts I brought as a backup. Funny thing is this would bring me to three layers. Because not only did the bathing suit come with a bottom, it came with a thong to go under the bottom. I guess they knew with so little material, one’s crack would be exposed, and it was only fair to provide one with a thong to solve this problem and make one feel like a teenage hussy. You know the ones I’m talking about. Those damned teenagers that can’t seem to keep their asses in their tight little jeans. Yeah. Pink lollipops and rainbows spilling out all the time. Anyway, this accessory was surprising as Korea is considered rather conservative.

The lifeguards blew the whistle to call everyone out of the water. That was my cue to run into the water. I definitely wasn’t going to miss the experience of swimming in Korean waters. I just wasn’t. The temperature was wonderful. Kind of reminded me of swimming in Wilmington, N.C. My legs didn’t go numb, but I didn’t feel like I was wallowing in piss either.

After this, we cleaned up at a jimjiban, or bathhouse, and a very nice one I might add with great views of the beach.

Then it was off to sushi because what’s a beach town without fresh fish. We were accosted by men and women holding octopuses and various other sea creatures. Half of the food we got was still moving.

So I bid farewell to the beach city with my Japan Rail Pass in hand and happily traveled on to Tokyo.


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