Summer vacation was a mere seven days at the school where we teach. It was supposed to be nine days (a week wedged between two weekends), but our director decided to make it a few weekdays bookending one weekend. We were all already peeved about this fact and had resigned to them not changing it, when they came to us a month before vacation and asked us if they could go back to the original plan. They wanted to do a summer intensive program over vacation, as if the students don’t have enough on their plate already, but could only do it if it was a full week. Half of the foreign staff had already bought plane tickets months prior, so the school not only screwed the teachers and staff out of a nine day vacation, but also screwed themselves out of a potential money maker. Welcome to Korea.
Irritating politics aside, we considered many potential destinations before deciding to stay in Korea. Our first plan was Japan, but as we were thinking about buying plane tickets, the tsunami and earthquake hit and we decided it wasn’t the right time. We knew we needed to buy plane tickets months ahead of time and we weren’t ready to commit to expensive plane tickets to a country that was in the middle of some serious problems. Plus Dave grew up close to Chernobyl and we figured that the last thing he needed was to visit a country emitting serious radiation.
Then we thought about going to Malaysia or Singapore. We decided against traveling to either place for several reasons. I was afraid of going there, meeting other backpackers and coming down with a terrible case of wanderlust. That would make coming back to Korea too difficult. We also thought that it wasn’t worth spending the airfare to go there and back when we’d be in the area in the winter anyways. Why not just wait. Lastly, we realized we hadn’t traveled south at all and weren’t sure when else we’d be able to do it. What a shame it would be to leave a country we’d been living in for a year having not seen much of it at all.
So, we decided on two destinations: Busan and Boseong.
Busan is the second largest city in Korea and is located in the southeast. We didn’t know a ton about it other than it was on the sea and got rave reviews from everyone. We took the KTX (the high speed train) there and stayed at a love motel. Love motels are exactly what they sound like. The check-in desk allows you anonymity with blacked out glass. Being the silly foreigner that I am bent down to the small opening in the glass to talk during check-in because I feel that eye contact usually helps when there’s a language barrier. At the time it didn’t occur to me that you weren’t really supposed to do that.
Love motel rooms are not necessarily meant for long term stay. A few hours is acceptable, but a few days is okay of course. Many people stay in these as cheap options, which is what we did. It doesn’t feel seedy, save for a few things. The laughable adult channel on the TV, a left over condom wrapper in the bedside table with an open box of condoms, and in the case of the love motel we stayed in during our first week in Seoul, no door on the bathroom and a window from the bedroom into the bathroom. Let’s just say that all bathroom trips were announced prior to starting and the TV was turned up loud when necessary. I’ve been told that some rooms might not even have a separate room for the bathroom. I’m relieved we haven’t stayed in a place like that.
Our motel was by the most popular beach which was lined from end to end with as many umbrellas as they could possibly fit. Koreans don’t like the sun. The waves were dotted with many yellow innertubes and lots of children. It being our vacation and all, I wanted to be as far away from the kids as possible. The large amount of urine that we thought would be in the water was a huge turnoff too.
I have to mention that while standing on the sidewalk next to beach looking at the scene in front of us, a Korean man came up to Dave and said, “You have a fantastic beard.” Amazing. His next question was, “Are you from Europe?” How did he guess?! He then asked if I was too, and he said he figured that I wasn’t because I don’t look like it. How is it that one goes about looking like they are from Europe?
The highlight of our trip to Busan was the seaside Buddhist Monastery we visited. It felt like we were walking on the surface of the sun and the unshaded bus stop we waited at for twenty minutes was not terribly lovely, but it was still our favorite part of Busan.
Our next destination was Boseong which is where much of the green tea in Korea is grown. The pictures we saw online had us sold instantly. Boseong was so stunning that I think it deserves it’s own post. Here’s a little preview of what it was like…