From Korea with love…

Hello Everybody…

Before I start writing I must say that I will have to break this weeks’ blog into two parts…there is just too much to cover. The experience of South Korea was too rich and meaningful in a way I did not expect. I need to do it justice. That picture on top is a tease, sorry about that, it is from Beomeosa Temple which was built in 678. I need to give it time by itself.

There was quite a bit of discombobulation and discomfiture in the process of getting underway. First there was fog in Busan and so me and many Chinese people and an American wrestling team from Kadena Air Base waited for two hours for the flight. I went and got a lovely Beni-imo ice cream and was walking over to my  seat and there went the ice cream! It was so good, I went and bought another one. Finally we get called and on the plane, there’s more fog and we sat on the tarmac for  almost an hour and a half. The adventures of a modern traveler. So we finally did arrive and I have to say, the customs were awesome, in less than 10 minutes from landing, I had exchanged money (from yen to won) and was outside looking for a taxi.

I was rather surprised at the friendliness of the Korean people. I did not know what to expect, but the sheer ebullient nature took me by surprise. My cab driver, I cannot remember his name, first asked me if I was single, when I did not answer right away, he said, where is your husband?? I laughed and told him I was traveling by myself. He then proceeded to ask my age. I guess the Koreans have not got the same sensibilities about asking a woman’s age as we  do in the west. I didn’t care, I laughed and told him I’m fifty. He then told me about all the wonderful Korean gentleman and that I could find a husband very easily. I said I just came here for the kimchi!

He then started talking about the Korean War. Now, I had to tell my mother I was going to South Korea and knew that she was worried because her brother Leonard was killed there during the Korean War.  My mother was understandably not happy with my decision to go to Korea for the weekend, but she is my biggest champion and told me to be careful and have a good time. This cab driver remembered the war and said thank you to us Americans who came to help and fight alongside the South Koreans. I remember reading about the Korean War in High School, and then again in college. I remember it was glossed over (not by you Leann O’Neal!) and it seems to be thought of as  ‘the forgotten war,’ but I got an understanding that it was not meaningless to these people, or this person sitting in the car with me. I felt like maybe all those men and women really did fight and die so someone else could have freedom. It was touching and I passed it along to my mother.

deserted night markets bujeon
Night markets of Bujeon at closing time, just me and a few cats in the alley ways.

So I arrived at my lovely hotel the Ibis, which I highly recommend if you are in the part of the world that has one! I got checked in, dropped off my backpack, grabbed my camera and out into the night I went. Since I was supposed to arrive four hours earlier my plans had to be altered as to what I would see and do, but I knew the markets would be one of my first stops.

a street in Busan
A rainy night in Busan… not too far from my hotel and near the Bujeon Markets.

I walked out of the hotel and there was the entrance to the Metro (subway) so I decided to go see what was down there. I have to say, I love wandering around side streets, exploring what is around each corner and finding new and strange things that delight me and sometimes make me laugh out loud. At the bottom of the stairs to the Metro were shops stalls and booths as far as I could see in either direction.  So I began looking at all the different things for sale.

hats and wigs
Do you ever get the feeling you’re being stared at? One of the stalls in the subway markets.

So, I have been living with Okinawans for almost five months now. I think I am becoming very accustomed to their sweet ways. They are shy when they first meet you and if you’re lucky enough to be able to interact with them, Okinawans are the greatest people on the planet. So when you shop in Naha, you pretty much get left alone unless you want something, then they are polite and helpful. I was not prepared for the difference in culture, of course there’s a difference in culture, it’s a different culture after all! Well I made the mistake of stopping and looking at something, and instantly I had a merchant standing alongside me, a very hard sell. I said no, no and walked away, then I noticed something happening. I thought it was just my imagination, but the more I walked on, it became more evident. The men, and some women were stopping, literally stopped walking and were staring at me with tentative smiles.

fellini in Busan
Okay, this guy at the left of the photo, his name sounded like Captain Ha, which is very appropriate, was goofing around. I had dinner in the market service by this little lady and some interesting conversation! New friends.

I don’t know if it was because I was an American, had blue eyes or a woman walking alone, or a combination of all those, but it was a little unnerving. I thought, this is what it must feel like to be famous!

I decided to leave the shopping and go get something for dinner. I wanted to try something from the stalls of the traditional markets, so I headed down an alley way and ran into this guy pictured above on the left.  Here is a little taste of some of the conversation….

Some of you will recognize that beanie, it’s been with me for most of my vacations for many years now. It belongs to her now, she tried to barter for it and offer me food and money, but I ended up giving it to her since she liked it so much.

So the conversation with these gentlemen (I think they were trying to be gentlemen anyway) began with am I single, and how old am I? I started laughing. I was noticing a trend in the Korean ‘how to pick up a woman’ manual.  It was fun to just go back and forth with them. The one guy, whose name sounded like Captain Ha said I was too old for him. I was in stitches. That didn’t stop him from asking for my number three times. I reminded him I was too old for him. It was so weird because as I was sitting in the stall, the food was delicious and hot and spicy, people would just walk up to where I was sitting and stare at me and linger for a moment or two. I smiled at them and they would smile back and be on their way.

I went back down to the subway station again, armed with the knowledge of the enthusiastic sales force and decided to see what there was to see. I found another hat to replace my beanie.

And again I was noticing the attention, it wasn’t threatening in any way, just very strange. That happened all weekend, on the train, walking around, sitting in a restaurant – people just coming up to me standing there smiling and then moving on.

I wandered around the streets for another hour or two just taking in the feel of the city and enjoying the rain. As it was Valentine’s Day the next day I was pleasantly surprised to find this rock. I don’t know if it’s supposed to look like a heart, but that’s what I saw.

valentines day rock
It looks heart-shaped to me!

So I’m going to wind up here for now…next blog, it will not be a full week, I guarantee, will be my adventures getting on a train and being pulled into the train manager’s office on my way to the Beomeosa Temple in the mountains. Here is a photograph that I took on my journey up the mountain.

korean sakura 2
Korean Sakura!

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone. I hope it was great for you! I had a wonderful time!