Since we were out unitl around 3am the night before, we got a late start on our day in Busan. Excited that we could actually find brunch (there are no restaurants that we know of in our town Iwanuma that are open for breakfast), we made our way to the Wolfhound, an Irish pub near our love motel that had a decent “full English” breakfast and good Bloody Marys. After brunch, we took a quick stroll around Haeundae in the sunlight, surprising clean considering how trashed it was the night before. Haeundae beach in the afternoon becomes a sea of umbrellas and inner tubes. Still sunburnt, we didn’t relish the idea of another beach day just yet, so we headed over to the Metropolitan Art Museum.
On display were local Korean artists in a mixture of styles. One room was contemporary, with large oil on canvas and watercolor works. Some four or five rooms were lined with scrolls of calligraphy text in Korean and Japanese. Another five rooms consisted of hundreds of scrolls done in sumi, Japanese ink brush painting. While the calligraphy was certainly beautiful, it was a little redundant after two or three examples, but the sumi paintings were so simple yet gorgeous. Each time I thought I had found my favorite, the next scroll would be even more stunning. I have a particular fondness for Japanese art and I wanted to take every piece home with me. The contemporary work was excellent as well, minus the bratty Korean children whose parents insisted on taking their photos in front of every picture! One child was too young to speak yet, but he knew how to make the “peace” sign for the camera. Ugh, I read about how Korean mothers simply worship their children when they are young, and after having it confirmed by Amy and Michael, it’s a little overwhelming to see how little discipline goes on at that age.
After a little over an hour at the museum, we made our way to the subway to check out the Jagalchi Fish Market. While we had already seen quite a few markets like this in Korea, the Jagalchi is lauded as the most famous, so we had to see for ourselves. It is definitely the most massive fresh seafood market I have ever seen, composed of an outdoor area along the street and a five-story indoor market with hundreds of individual booths for the fishmongers. Each fishmonger also has his own area to prepare food for hungry customers. I really wished I was with a local who would know what and how to order some ridiculously fresh seafood, because I had no idea what to ask for. We contented ourselves with watching all the live octopus trying to escape from their tubs, which is highly entertaining. One made it out and partially down the street before his owner caught up with him. There is something so oddly hilarious about watching an octopus slither along the concrete. As you walk through the market, it is also not unusual to be sprayed with water by the various creatures in the tanks. If you have any interest, you can check out this video of the Jagalchi Fish Market experience for the highlights.
The market is right next to Nampo, a massive shopping district of Busan, so we wandered through this on our way to the Sky Park in the massive Lotte department store. Korea has more outdoor gear stores than I have ever seen in one place. They love to hike, so every corner has a North Face-type outlet filled with backpacks and moisture-wick shirts. There is also an extremely expensive Jeep retail store in Nampo, and apparently everyone in Korea has paid for a $50 Jeep logo t-shirt, because we must have seen a hundred of them being worn. We kept looking for a “knock-off” tent selling rip-off Jeep shirts for super cheap, but we only saw the actual Jeep store. What an odd thing to be trendy.
We headed for the Lotte department store because the rooftop viewing area boasts a “Sky Park” where you can catch views of Busan from on high. There is a tower in Busan, like that of Kyoto and Kobe, but the department store is almost as tall, and free! The rooftop also has a small petting zoo and aquatic activities for children, if you’re into that kind of thing. My uncle Michael had warned us that there is never a “clear” day in Korea. Even when the clouds are gone, a general atmosphere of haze tinges the sky. We got what pictures we could, and headed downstairs.
On our way out of the department store, we passed through the lobby where I noticed a large crowd of people sitting on benches, all facing a large fountain in the center of the room. The lights began to dim and an announcement came on in Korean. Andrew was in front of me, heading for the exit, so I got his attention and whispered “Something’s about to happen…” Not creepy or anything. We headed back to the fountain and in a few moments we were treated to an epic fountain show surpassing all other fountain shows… Okay the only one I can think of is the Bellagio, but it was definitely way better than Vegas! Water jets sprayed from the top and bottom, creating a cylindrical water column onto which projectors shined images of flowers and dancing ballerinas, set to classical music. The water being dropped from the ceiling was manipulated into single droplets, so it fell as a sheer curtain of suspended orbs. Sometimes the droplets fell altogether in rings, like a chandelier. Other times, gaps were created to spell out letters and words. Not being able to read these, we joked that they were probably subliminal messages to encourage more shopping. Whatever it was, it was magnificent and a completely unexpected fifteen minute treat.
Next we made a brief stop at the hotel to cool off, and then off to Jangsan, where the puppy cafe is! For those of you who don’t know
about this brilliant idea from Asia, a dog or cat cafe is somewhere you can go after work to hang out with animals, drink a smoothie and relax before you go home to your tiny, sterile apartment that doesn’t allow pets. I thought this sounded awesome, and was formulating a plan to do some research and bring this concept back home with me to the states. First thing, the word puppy was just wishful thinking. Perhaps this cafe should have been called “lovable mutts we found in the shelter” because no where did I see a puppy. There were a few small dogs of the same breed, and a few larger guys who were kept separate from the cafe area because they were too energetic and badly trained to be played with. After we got the dogs to settle down, they finally seemed to enjoy sitting in our laps, and if we stopped petting them they strongly protested. While not the puppy utopian society I had embellished in my mind, the little buggers do tend to grow on you none the less. I probably wouldn’t return, and I definitely won’t be opening my own cafe anytime soon, but I’m not sure wether to recommend this activity or to tell you save your money. If you’re okay with rescue dogs that pee on the floor and bark a lot, you might enjoy it…
We headed back on the subway to the Kyungsung University area, which is just about the coolest little neighborhood you could ever wish to attend college in. Every inch of it is crammed full with cheap restaurants and enticing bars, glowing from the neon and electric with the hum of vibrant youths. As we searched for a spot to eat (my ravenous desire for more baby octopus still strong), we came across a board game establishment, with open tables and various card and board games on a shelf, waiting to be played. More interested in food, we finally settled on a Japanese restaurant serving Korean bibimbap, which is almost as addicting as baby octopus. After dinner, we meandered to an ex-pat bar next door called Eva’s. Eva’s had a huge venue, with a stage for live music, darts, billards, and a beer pong table. They even offered hookah. Unfortunately it was Sunday night, so it was totally empty, but I’m sure the night before would have been a fantastic time. We sat at the bar, tried some Korean IPA and watched a little pre-season football. That’s American football to you. The IPA was okay but a little expensive, so we headed home to catch up on some zzzs.
Our next day was mostly spent in travel back to Seoul, so I’ll just sum it up quickly. We dropped our luggage off at the KTX station, bought our tickets to Seoul for the evening and headed off to check out one more beach before we left the coast. Gwangalli was close by, so we braved the heat and walked along the beach. It was too early in the afternoon for any of the restaurants with nice beach-facing patios to be open, so we did the next best thing. Bought big cans of beer and hung out on the surprisingly nice wooden deck of a convenience store and let life go by for a bit.
A couple hours later, we headed back to the station and picked up some spicy fried chicken and bibimbap for the road. The area across from Busan Station is called Chinatown, but this neighborhood includes lots of Filipino and Russian establishments as well. It is certainly an odd mix. The KTX ride north to Seoul is close to three hours, but comfortable and scenic. This time we had decided to stay in Insadong, my aunt Rebecca’s favorite area, in a nice little guesthouse called Lavinia. I double checked our reservations for tomorrow’s trip to the DMZ. We were good to go.