I am a planner. I tend to plan my life out months, if not years ahead of time, adjusting as I go along so that there is always a fairly direct path ahead of me. The quickest way to stress me out is to create big, spur of the moment plans, therefore throwing my carefully crafted schedule into disarray. This aspect of my personality is important to keep in mind as I tell you about my recent trip to South Korea over my spring holiday.
In theory, the trip was planned, if by planned you mean I had booked the tickets months in advance, told everyone I was going, and had faith that by spending time with my friends who live in Busan, I would have more than enough to do during the ten days that I would be travelling. I had not, however, booked any accommodation, nor any transportation within the country as I believed I would be spending the entire trip in Busan, the second largest city located directly across from Fukuoka, and which is where my flights would be landing and departing from.
My plan basically consisted of meeting up and staying with my friend Jun from my university who lives in Busan, and from there we would explore the city and go skiing before I went back to Japan, but at the last second, he found out that he needed to leave Busan for almost the whole time I would be there, first to go to Seoul and then to visit family outside the city. And with that, my plans vanished and all I was left with was a round trip ticket to Busan and a burning desire to eat my body weight in kimchi. (This burning sensation became a lot more literal after I actually attempted this goal.)
Jun would at least be in Busan for the first two days of the trip, so I booked a hostel for that time period, packed my bags, and left for the airport. It is important to note that at the time of my departure, the extent of my knowledge of the Korean language was about 5 words and a vague idea of how their alphabet, Hangul, works. So on the bus ride to the airport, I looked over a Hangul chart and prayed that it was as easy to pick up as the internet claimed.
Luckily, this trip had absolutely no travel mishaps, other than me getting to the airport unreasonable early as a safety buffer against such mishaps, which meant I spent a few hours aimlessly wandering through Fukuoka International Airport waiting to check into my flight. Once I boarded, it was a mere forty minutes before we were touching down in Busan. Yeah, you read that right. It took two hours for me to get from Beppu to Fukuoka by bus, but only forty minutes from Fukuoka to Busan. Also, my flight over was only 4,500 yen, or about $45. For anyone else going to Korea, I highly recommend Jeju Air, because they have super saver tickets that let you get to Korea for practically nothing.
Flying into Busan was probably the prettiest landing I have ever made and did an amazing job of introducing the country as a place where every moment is Insta-worthy. The whole trip, it seemed like every single thing had been purposely designed to attract photographers. After going, I now understand why people use selfie sticks so liberally there. I had my phone out the entire time and took almost three hundred photos.
The first night, I went out for dinner and drinks with Jun, his brother, and our other friend (who also happens to be named Jun), which was a lot more exciting than usual since I was of legal drinking age in Korea. This may seem confusing if you know that the drinking age in Korea is 20, and I am still 18, they actually count age differently there. Everywhere else, people are born at age 0, and you turn 1 a year later. In Korea, they start counting at 1, and on your “first” birthday you turn two. But that’s not all. Regardless of your date of birth, everyone in the country ages up on New Years. This means that everyone born in 1999 (who will be turning 19 that year using international age) is 20 in Korea. Apparently, that doesn’t always apply to foreigners, and I read claims that there were foreign tourists who got turned away from bars or clubs even though their Korean age was 20, but what I found is that they will accept whatever age you give them. If I say I am 18, then they will be a little confused before realizing you are using international age, but they won’t bring out the drinks menu. If you say you are 20, then you have learned enough about Korean culture to be rewarded with alcohol.
The next day, we went to Gamcheon Culture Village, which is an older section of Busan placed on a steep hill, and all the buildings are painted bright colors. It is a poorer section of the city, but the bright buildings and beautiful street art on every corner draw a significant crowd, and we were surrounded by selfie-stick-wielding tourists as we made our way down the road. This is where I encountered beondegi, or boiled silkworms. We were walking down the street when all of a sudden Jun got very excited, which should have been my first clue that something unpleasant was coming, but alas I naively followed him over to the vender parked on the side of the road. I am always willing to try anything once, so even though I had some serious reservations, I thought “hey, at least I will have something to write about when I get back.” Well, you bet I do now.
After Jun explained that I was visiting for vacation and wanted to write about unexpected or interesting things on my blog, the lady kindly offered for me to try one for free. If you have ever tried popping boba, then you have a vague idea of what eating this felt like. For those of you who have not, imagine a very tough shell filled with hot, spoiled soy milk, that explodes in your mouth when you bite on it. In case you cannot tell, I was not a fan. There are very few foods that I absolutely refuse to eat, but beondegi is now at the very top of that list. The problem is, it is sold absolutely everywhere, and the smell is so distinctive I could smell it long before I even knew where the vendor was. However, this would be a great option to have around if you are trying to diet, as the smell reliably made me lose my appetite for at least two hours each time I caught a whiff.
But other than the bugs, I had an absolutely amazing time traveling around South Korea. I went to Seoul for the weekend, where I stayed in a super fun hostel in the center of Hongdae, and spent my time meeting up with other friends from my university and going out with the people I met in my hostel. Then I spent the last four days wandering around Busan, taking an exorbitant amount of photos and discovering the magic land that is the Jjimjilbang, or Korean sauna. After this trip, I am a firm supporter of traveling solo, as I got to completely alter my plans at a moments notice, and because of that, I ended up seeing and doing way more than I would have had I just stuck to my original itinerary. I wandered all over both Seoul and Busan, and by the end, I could both read signs in Hangul with ease and order food in a restaurant, so what more do I really need to know. This trip also has strengthened my desire to pick up Korean at some point while I am studying at APU.
I did more things than I could possibly write about in one post, so instead here is a slideshow of the highlights of my trip. (I realize now that in the moment, 95% of the ‘exciting moments’ I thought to take pictures of was when I was eating, but that says a lot about how my brain works. And honestly, I mostly went for the food anyway.) This was absolutely amazing, so I will probably write about it again the next time I have writer’s block, but for now feel free to message me or comment with any other questions about my trip!