Saturday morning Gideon and Yoojin, and Birdie, their whippet, picked us up bright and early (6:45) and we headed south to Busan. Birdie is gorgeous and regal, and while at first she seemed spooked by the situation and us, Gideon and I sat in the back seat with her and before long she was sleeping/meditating with her head in my lap. Doggie fix!
This is a mountainous country, and we drove right down the middle from Seoul in the northwest to the second largest city, Busan, on the coast in the southeast. Blue-green mountains on all sides, and the most modern and well-kept freeway the entire route. David read that Hyundai built the freeway in under 3 years. Amazing. We arrived in Busan after about 5 ½ hours, hitting rather horrid traffic as we approached the city and then went in fits and starts through downtown and over to the southeastern edge where our airbnb was. This time we were in a modern highrise, though not so high by Busan standards (18 floors or so) and we were on the 15th. Lovely apartment with two bedrooms, very roomy, overlooking a small lake surrounded by a park.
We parked our luggage and headed out for some walking for us and for Birdie and a little sightseeing. The weather was warm to hot, but a seaside beachy heat, so we went to a nearby beach and walked looking for a place to eat. Finally we settled on a place with outdoor tables since we had Birdie with us and ate truly delicious fish and chips, then headed back to chill, watched a little Korean TV and went to bed.
Sunday we woke to a little bit of a cloudy morning. Luckily the airbnb owner had stocked the kitchen with breakfast food—two loaves of Japanese style bread (white, thick, fluffy), apples and oranges, juice and milk and cornflakes. We devoured breakfast and headed out. Our first stop was the Haedong Yonggungsa temple which is right on the coast, in a dramatic setting of rocks and hills. Due to the holiday weekend it was jammed with a cheerful crowd and much pointing and fussing over Birdie (typical Korean response to dogs, especially unusual breeds since most dogs we see are toys and often are being carried in arms and tote bags). We were perhaps among 8 total westerners in the crowd.
Next was Beomeosa, in central Busan but way, way up a mountainside, and finally downtown to the fish market where we had supper around 4:30.
The Busan fish market is well known, quite large and nothing like we’d ever seen. Stall after stall, many with tanks of live shellfish of all kinds including hundreds of abalone, a little shocking to a Californian. Clams of all sizes, and lots of things I could not identify. The deal is you select fish and shellfish from a stall, and that stall proprietor calls upstairs to the associated restaurant. A short discussion about how things will be prepared is conducted (sashimi for the larger fish, smaller fish grilled, and the giant clams steamed in our case), you pay (came to about 80,000 wan) and a young woman comes down to take the fish up in a bucket and lead you to a table. Banchan appears, then the various dishes and accouterments (e.g., soy sauce and wasabi for the sashimi), drinks are ordered, and we start to eat. And eat. And eat…and then the soup comes which is made from the fish bones and veggies and is boiled on a little gas burner that is placed on the table. We ate most of that, too.
We were stuffed. As we left it started to rain, and I didn’t think I personally could look at food again, but ha, we went across the street to a bustling, nay jammed couple of blocks filled with street vendors and people, umbrellas and commotion, and proceeded to eat some sweet little buns shaped like peanuts and fried dumplings filled with nuts and something or other that was also sweet, Delicious! It was really raining by then so we hustled back to the car and headed back to our apartment. With traffic this turned into a 90 minute drive…we staggered upstairs and fell into our respective beds.
Around 2:30 David and I both woke up and went to pee. The moment we finished an alarm started screaming, bells ringing, and the repeated instructions in Korean telling us, apparently, to get out. Of course our first thought was “what in the world did we just break? By peeing?” Yoojin ran into the living room as we all were totally confused and freaking out. She said “A FIRE??” and we all started getting dressed, still in a daze. It was freaky but not that frightening, as 1) this is a concrete apartment building and 2) it was POURING rain, and had been for at least 5 hours. How could the building possibly be on fire? Gideon went into the hall and a man was fiddling with some box on the wall and mumbling there was a problem with the alarm, as if this was not unusual. Nonetheless the alarm continued, so Gideon and I decided to go down the stairwell and see if we could find someone to explain there was no need to worry. We walked all the way down (15 flights) and did not see a soul. As we walked down it was increasingly obvious we were the only residents with any concerns since we never found anyone else up and about. We got in the elevator and went back up. Into bed, everyone. This was actually the second time on this trip we have been awakened in the middle of the night—a few nights after we arrived David got a phone call at around 3am, a wrong number from Berkeley. Okay, let’s have this be two of two.
Monday morning we were all back in the car at 7am, as Yoojin and Gideon dropped us at the Central Bus Terminal. We took the bus to Jeonju and they drove on back to Seoul.