We took the train to Busan, Korea’s second city and to the east of Seoul, on the coast. This trip was going to be about the fish.
Our AirBnB was a guesthouse not far from the Jung-Gu metro stop, albeit after the climb out of the metro, we then had a climb up a serious series of steps to get to the guesthouse and then climb some more steps to the room. Luckily their second floor was the UK’s first floor, so that meant two sets of stairs less to climb – woo hoo – you take what you can get when you’re as knackered as me! And I was taking in as much oxygen as I possibly could to help me up all those bloody stairs.
We dumped our bags and headed out for dinner at the nearby Jagalchi Market, Korea’s largest fish market. Even though it was early evening it was still pretty busy, with the mainly female market stallholders displaying their remaining fishy wares (oo-er) – octopus, tuna, dried fish, even whale meat (!), as well as lots of molluscs, sea squirts, sea cucumbers, crabs all in bowls, or tanks waiting to be picked out for dinner. I was too busy looking to take too many photos.
This was where I decided what else I wouldn’t eat whilst in Korea (the whale meat wasn’t even close to being on the agenda so doesn’t count, no, the first thing being the snails that were served up at the sashimi restaurant we’d been to the previous night in Seoul), it being octopus, as I saw somewhat too graphically parts of writhing and turning in a bowl after being sliced up for someone’s dinner. It wasn’t even a whole tentacle, but parts of one. To watch it furling and curling was too much.
I was obviously getting to be a bit of a fanny, says the girl who had eaten hongeo-hoe the day before (fermented skate, and as skate excrete urea through their skins it reeks of ammonia). Hongeo-hoe (more like honk-ing) was a shocker – it looks fairly innocuous then you put it in your mouth and realise that it’s practically solid due to the cartilage that it is mostly composed of so that makes it impossible to chew, or swallow, or bite down on. Then you start to get the stink of ammonia in your mouth, burning down to your stomach and the only way is either back out onto the table or (gag) down,where it burns it way through your now wrecked stomach lining. Urgh…thank heavens for soju….
Meanwhile, further into the market the restaurants were in full swing, with some of the owners calling to those passing by attempting to lure them in to eat.
Each stall had its speciality on show at the front, with prices up on the walls. The stalls were very basic looking but were doing brisk trade. We settled on eel for our tea and sat down to wait for our eel served 2 ways – plain and with chilli. No cartilage here.
Once the main meal was done as much as possible, the leftovers were taken away and mixed with rice and returned to us to be warmed up over the gas burner. Once it was sufficiently cooked we were let loose on it to scrape off the stuck bits. The owner and their friends were suitably impressed with my impression of a starving person using a spoon to scrape at the rice burnt onto the foil, and thought I was practically a native, and kept giving us extra bits of freshly cooked eel. We obviously looked a bit underfed…. Yet again, we were stuffed.
The next morning after skipping the lukewarm shower and trying to unkink my locked up back muscles that come from sleeping on a solid rock hard bed we were on the bus to Haedong Yonggungsa Buddhist Temple, which is right on the coast. It was originally built in the 1300s but seemed to have been fully refurb’d with concrete fairly recently.
It was heaving, as it was the weekend, there were coachloads of lil’ ol’ folks all turned up wearing duck-down jackets, massive visors, and trainers or full on hiking gear all milling about and trying not to hit anyone with their visors. There were also families, a few motorbikers on Harleys and the occasional tourist. We had to queue next to the twelve statues representing the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac to get in, and watch as people posed next to their representative statue. Mine is rat and he looked too much like Splinter from Ninja Turtles. Could have been worse, could have been the snake that looked like a sheep in armour….
Then we had to go past a nine storey pagoda that was for prayers for Traffic Safety. It could probably have done with being a bit bigger and more prominent, maybe on a roundabout on the road in front of the traffic-ly traumatised. We were then heading down a steep set of 108 steps, which apparently represent the 108 agonies of earthly desire of Buddhism. There should have been an extra step to represent my agony of a bad back and my earthly desire for a decent mattress.
Once over the bridge to the main temple complex there were numerous more tourists and numerous statues, including 2 golden peee-igs who were regularly being patted on the arse. For luck, apparently.
Down by the water there were terrapins being harassed by small children, and randoms were trying to clamber over rocks and avoid major waves to get the ultimate selfie moment – a snap of them being washed out to sea.. All truly spiritual and calm-inducing, if you’re on 5mg of Valium.
After the fun of being among the screaming hordes, we treated ourselves to a fish sausage on a stick (as bad as it sounds) and after waiting in another queue for a lunch of THE coldest noodle soup in the world (it turned up in a metal bowl that was fresh out the fridge, I had to warm the noodles up in a cup of broth served separately, till that became tepid from overuse). Apparently cold noodle soup was quite the thing back in the day, and judging by the queue still was a thing, if you liked freezing your mouth off. The Korean dim sum helped to warm us up a bit before we headed out to go to Haeundae beach to meet a couchsurfer for the afternoon.
The sun was shining and the beautiful white sandy beach was a perfect place to soak up some vitamin D and watch a bunch of foreigner freaks (mainly US grads teaching English) celebrate the Indian festival of Holi by dancing like loons to some tooooons.
Basically it seemed to be any excuse to get pissed and plant hand prints on girls’ tits, judging by the behaviour of everyone coming off the beach covered in paint and the fact that every girl’s t-shirts had handprints in the breasticle area. Strange how none of the boys had handprints around their testicle area.
Our lil’ couchsurfer was going to show us the sights and delights of Busan, until he ‘fessed up to not being a Busan native and was there studying for government exams. He was locked away for 6days a week and was venturing out on a Sunday in an effort to interact with other humans before he forgot what it was like to do so. Tourist responsibilities fell back onto Corean Cimchi and therefore we set off to see a bit of nature at Taejongdae Park, which had a little pullalong train that we could hop onto and thus avoid a long slog uphill.
We hopped off at the viewing platform, where you could look out to see to tankers parked out to sea and the cliffs, then the kids wanted to head off down toward the lighthouse whilst this ol’ dear had a breather on some nearby seats.
I was about ready to keel over but our day wasn’t done and after a strong brew and the opportunity to warm up – it was blowing a bit this side of town, we headed off for our dinner back toward town. Yet another astounding eating experience – what this country can do with a dead animal is nobody’s business!
This time around it was Suyuk Baekba, which is boiled meat, in this case thin slices of pork, like bacon, which came with tofu, kimchi, white rice and a soup. Any British person served bacon is guaranteed to die from a pig overdose, and happily so.
Unfortunately sitting at a low table means getting up from very close to the floor, never a good look but even more difficult with a stomach full of pork. We set off to burn off some of the calories at the nearby beach of Gwangalli where the Gwangandaegyo Bridge lights up as part of sound and music show on the hour. A gentle stroll to the sounds of dance music which finished with a suitably rousing can-can drew our evening to an end and we said our goodbyes and went our separate way to our host, and all of us headed off to own solid beds.
We walked past here, best sign ever…
The next day we were off again, by bus this time, to Gyeongju for a night.