After one unforgettable week in Tokyo, I head over to Busan,Korea, following my original itinerary. Now, here is the thing, I knew Tokyo would put the bar way too high and I can’t lie to you I was kind of afraid of getting bored there, but since Korea was awesome enough to welcome Moroccans with no visa required, thus less headache, and more freedom, I stayed 3 weeks in Korea, 10 days in Busan and another 10 in Seoul, before departing to China.
I found out I had a free place to stay only two days before my arrival to Busan , I was really happy when Patrick, my future host, accepted my request to stay with him for 9 nights, an English teacher in Busan just like the author of book Vagabonding that I was reading at the time, coincidence? That’s what I thought at first but not after I met all these other English teachers in Korea, basically if you see a foreigner who looks like a young professional, then your best bet would be to assume they’re one.
It was a Saturday morning, Heading out to the train with my roommate’s host in Tokyo, he asked me what was my plan in Busan, with a smile on my face I told him that I had no clue where I was going or what Busan even looked like, other than having nice beaches, ‘you are brave’ he replied.
On my way to the airport that morning, almost all I was thinking about is how different Is Korea going to be from Japan, who is going to be cuter Korean or Japanese girls, and how awesome would it be to make some new friends there. I flew with Korean air, it was very nice, I would totally recommend flying with them.
On board I was reading Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, one of the reasons I loved this book is how the author mentioned Ibn battuta on many occasions. Another reason is that I would be reading it and I can almost feel like I’m reading about my own life while I am travelling. I have to admit, Busan looked kind of not cool from up there, buildings looked all the same and when I later asked about it, I was informed that there was one major company responsible for all the real estate there, I’m just saying that it could be more creative, However I liked how all those mountains covered and surrounded the city, I am still curious though as to why every rooftop was painted in green.
When I landed in Busan airport I had to go through Immigration office and make up some hotel name and address as to where I would be supposed to stay at, then went to an ATM to get some cash and off to my new home for a while, Patrick gave me some pretty good directions and so about an hour later I knock on his door, I had to ask a couple of girls about the building’s location after I got off at the right subway exit, they stopped, giggled and continued their way, I was like ‘OK, that’s new’, then I went to ask an old lady working in a convenient store, answering me in Korean I give her a confused look and she gets out of the shop and walks me all the way to the building’s entrance. If I noticed one thing during the few first hours after I got to Busan is that Koreans can stare at you for ages unlike Japaneses who are way too polite to even dare to do so. In other words, there is no way you can win a staring contest with an old Korean man in the subway. I just can’t imagine it happening. but anyways give a try and see for yourself.
I think those first moments when you go from city to a new city are probably the only time you can spot some very little but interesting details before you get familiar with your new environment, that’s why my note app on my phone is my best friend during that time.Though I wasn’t the one they were waiting for I took it as a good omen.
I finally got to Patrick’s place and how lucky I was to stay in such a fancy and spacious apartment, I mean where can I start from, the huge TV that made me want to watch movies I always postponed, or the comfortable Couch I never wanted to get up from, or the nice view from the 20 floor. We sat down and got to know each other a bit, before we went out for dinner, Patrick has been working for over 3 years in Korea he told me many interesting Korea cultural differences, things you can’t see by yourself after a short trip.
A not so warm welcome by the waitress, so far from the one I was just getting used to back in Tokyo, as we go in this Korean restaurant nearby and try my first Sam-gyup sal, the authentic Korean barbecue, see here is the thing, I knew it’s a place where you cook your own meat, but when the plate of raw meat came to our table, It just hit me that we were actually going to be cooks right then, Patrick did most of it though, I just watched and kept thinking how I was going to eat this with no bread until I saw my friend using lettuce as bread basically, adding grilled garlic pieces, mixing it with some onions and some sauce on top, it was really tasty but It got messy as lettuce can’t absorb sauce like bread does, so definitely not for a romantic date. I thought I was getting good at chopsticks after a week in Japan but those metal ones made me look like I have never used chopsticks before. I kept struggling with them the whole time until my hand got tired, I tried Soju, and had a hard time keeping up with Patrick since it was kind of strong , that was my first hint that Koreans can freaking drink, it’s almost as if you’re eating while drinking shots of vodka.
Patrick being such an awesome host and a generous guy, paid for dinner before we went to Seomyeon where everyone goes out at night for fun, many arcade stores but not nearly as much as Akihabara in Tokyo. I was really surprised by the big crowds in that place though, and it’s at that moment that I first felt how awesome that city was even if it wasn’t as clean and super organized as Tokyo, it had her own charm and a different vibe, after walking for a while we go into a restaurant/bar and ordered ” haemul pajeon ” a kind of pancake with some vegetables in it, and “makkoli” another Korean drink, totally different from Soju, it’s like rice made into juice with alcohol in it. I can never forget how we ordered the small bowl and couldn’t even finish it while another two girls sitting on the next booth to us had a much bigger bowl of mokkoli finished it and ordered another one. That was my second hint.
My home in Busan
Sam-gyup sal, the korean barbecue
Mokkoli at a bar you can’t miss
Day 2, a sunny Sunday, I put on a t-shirt and shorts before Patrick and I went hiking up Hwangnyeongsan mountain, we were probably the youngest people going up there, watching all these old people exercising at these mini fitness parks made sense to how Asian countries have a high life expectancy, once at the top I was approached by a curious Korean man asking me where I am from and how it is very rare to see someone who looked like me there, with his few words he made such an effort explaining to me how that peak served alarm the city with fire in case of a war attack.
There is something about going to a peak and seeing the city from above that just do it for me, you will notice me taking pictures from the top of every city I visit. From there, we headed down directly to a beach called Gwangalli Beach, it was beautiful even on winter time.I can’t imagine how busy it would be on Summer. Exhausted and hungry we went to eat in a New Zealander restaurant we were the only ones there, not a good sign, but we got one hell of a big burger, as always I finished it first, it was really tasty. we head back home via subway and watch the movie American hustle where Robert Di Niro speaks Arabic on the one scene he was in.
Beautiful view of Gwangalli beach
At a kiwi restaurant
Day 3, Monday, waking up at around 9 am by the smell of a fresh cooked breakfast, Patrick then left to work and I tried to find someone to explore the city with that day, and this girl from an online app called “Meow” agreed to show me around and so we went to the UN MEMORIAL CEMETARY, it was kind of boring but definitely not for someone who lived through that Korean war, we went to Centum city a place where everything is new, and where the huge Shinsegea department store stands tall, holding the Guiness record for the world largest mall. My friend told me that Busan have been changing very fast in the last few years, that if someone moves back after being away for a couple of years wouldn’t recognize it. Next stop Haundae beach, after walking on the sand and enjoying the view of a new city on one side and the old city on the other side, we went to a nearby market to get some food, Patrick have told me to try live octopus but once I saw how it was moving I couldn’t dare putting it in my mouth, there was plenty of sea food, but because there was so many choices I ended up eating none, and so my friend had me try “Toppokki” the famous Korean dish, you can find it everywhere, and it’s one of the cheapest snacks you can get for a few dollars you get a plate of these mashed rice sticks that looks like pasta dipped in some tasty hot sauce. Later on, we went back home made us a chicken salad which she loved and watched some chick flick before her mom called her to go back since it was late already.
Day 4, I went to get coffee at Starbucks with a different girl, I remembered this one’s name because she was very cute. Monica was learning Italian in university to be an was an opera singer, we only met for a couple of hours before she had to go back to her class. Getting around the city by subway was a piece of cake after spending a week in Tokyo, from Kyungsung & Pukyong National University to Seomyeon where I wandered around by myself until I reached Busan market, the market reminded me of the souks back in Morocco, only much cleaner and much more seafood but so little choices of vegetables and fruits, I bought some salad to make my usual chicken salad, some tangerine and some bananas of course.
Day 5 Wednesday,when I got to Beomeosa temple and as I was taking pictures of the nice views there, I saw a group of young people staring at me so I got closer, Ji Min Lee, a Korean girl with blond hair from the crowd came up to me and asked me where I was from and then we talked for a bit before she told me about what they were doing that day, and how they gave free guided tours to tourists like me. It was nice to learn about the history of Buddhist temples and the meanings of different statues and gates, which brought up the question how Christianity got so popular in Korea. When we were done they invited me to their 2 day trip taking place the following weekend, since the crowd was young and good looking I accepted to join.
Going back I stopped to see Busan national university campus, just to feel how it would be to a student in South korea.
The same night I met Seung young, a couchsurfer I have asked to show me around the city, we walked around Seomyeon as it was very close to where I was staying, she told me some of her travel stories, when she visited Barcelona and how she loved the food there, she took a year off university to do some volunteering abroad, she also spoke perfect English, so I knew we would get along well. She later took me to really cool cafe called Daracbang cafe that looked exactly like we were hanging at someone’s place, it felt like home, a genius date spot.
Korea is known for many cool things and cafes are the one that impressed me the most besdies free wifi everywhere of course. I have to mention that by this time I was already in love with Korea.
Day 6 Thursday, I met Seung-young at around 2 pm before we went to Nampo dong, where we had the best “bibimbap” I had during my whole stay in Korea, we then went to check out Jagalchi fish market, and then a nearby Lotte mall that had a really cool musical water fountain and a beautiful roof top with nice views of Busan for free. Later on, we left to Gwangalli beach and witnessed the light show on the bridge at 8pm, I felt like I was the local since, it was my friend’s first time to see that actually. After a whole day of walking around, Seung-young came up with the best idea and took me to this Restaurant specialized in serving huge dishes of chicken, it’s called “Outdark”. I never got that full since the day I got to Asia.
Day 7: Friday Tired from the day before I woke up until noon, spent a lazy day doing some laundry and watching movies while my Korean friends were texting me that it was snowing and how happy they were to see snow for their first time in some cases.
At night, I went to Lzone cafe, which holds an event called international party every Friday night, it is a hostel and a language school in “Kyungsung”, a great way to meet some locals as well as foreigners, I stayed there until it was time for me to take the last subway back home.
Day 8: Saturday was the only day I woke up early at because I had that weekend tour to go to. First stop, Beomeasa temple where we stayed until we got lunch accompanied with some monks there who you can’t sit next to, after that we went to an authentic Korean tea ceremony and learned to play Jang-Gu, a Korean instrument, then we headed to make some pottery in an Onggi village outside the city, where I learned I had very good pottery making skills hidden. I later find myself in a big flat to spend the night with this awesome group university students, first we had a cooking competition, then we played many games I never seen or heard of before, but my favorite was the one where you make a line of like 5 people for each team, the first person at the line has to describe something using only gestures to the one in front of him and so on until the last one at the line has to guess what is it, it’s gets so hilarious at the end. I had so much fun that night, and made some really good friends that made Busan feel like a second home for me.after the organized games finished, the drinking card games started, I spent more time with Hailie more than anyone else, she was funny, she had the most Asian eyes I’ve ever seen and I loved her energy. we stayed up until around 4 am before I fell asleep on the giggling of others and her later who probably stayed awake until the sun was up. I will let pictures speak now.
With the cute Hailie and Ellie
Day 9: Sunday with a little hangover I got up, not wanting to say goodbye to all these wonderful people I have just met, and spent the best time with, Ji min Lee has even made a bracelet for me. I was really impressed by how they cleaned the messiest place I probably been to. On my way back home I took a bus accompanied with some of the crew, I was reflecting on how can good company makes a place much more awesome when, while checking the countless pictures and videos I had on my camera. When I got home I took the best nap ever,if a 5 hour sleep can still be called a nap, until the new couchsurfer who was staying y with Patrick the following week rang the bell. Marouen, a hitchhiker from Tunisia started his long journey from Tokyo too, he sparked the sleeping desire to hitchhike in me just like activating a dormant volcano.
11 pm, I thanked Patrick for being such an awesome host and I left to catch the night bus to Seoul thinking when would I have the courage to face the absolute unknown and take the road hitchhiking as well.
with my host Patrick
Busan had been great for me, I met the coolest people I could imagine hanging out with. So many amazing memories and friends to visit whenever I get the chance to. I loved How each subway station smelled so good because of that good pastry cookies “keranbpang” , I loved how some people stare at you until you feel the need to nod or say hi to them.
To be honest, Japan was just too perfect for me, being a laid back person and kind of messy as well I definitely can’t imagine myself living there, as oppose to south Korea.
Special thanks to Patrick for hosting me and helping me in my journey and making it possible to travel around Asia with my little budget, and also for showing me the hilarious lonely island songs on Youtube. A big hug to every one I met in Busan, I love you guys I would do anything I can to make it to a another Viewsan tour.