Dave’s Birthday & Lunar New Year

February 22, 2009 at 9:01 am (Uncategorized)

Dave’s one lucky guy.  His birthday is on January 25th, which was also smack in the middle of the longest holiday weekend we have during our entire Korean stay.  Although the holiday is for the Lunar calendar, which no one in Korea actually observes, the country takes two full days off of work to spend time with family and friends, which for us meant a four-day weekend!  WOOOO HOOOO!!! 

We’d toyed with several different plans – visiting a ski resort, maybe hopping over to Japan for a few days – but everything was either really expensive, or booked up, since literally the entire country travels somewhere during Lunar New Year.  We’d been told that the volume of traffic leaving Seoul would be like the Chuseok holiday back in September, but even worse, and that many families spend the holiday at ski resorts or out in the country. 

Our co-teacher Sarah said that she was planning to head down to Busan (also known as Pusan, depending on your reference – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Busan) to enjoy a few days away from Seoul, so we decided to join her.  Busan is at the almost the southern most point of the country, and is the second largest city after Seoul.  While metropolitan Seoul has about 24 million people, Busan has a measly 3.6 million – it’s like Seoul’s little baby sister.  It’s best known for its beautiful beaches, which we would not be enjoying since it was January, and its enormous fishing industry.  Our real objective was just to get away from Seoul, and to enjoy exploring a new city for a few days. 

As is always the case with these adventures, we had to leave at the crack of dawn to catch a bus out of Seoul.  Irony of ironies, we woke up at 4am to find it was snowing – of all days to have snowfall!  We met up with Sarah and her friend Mike at the Seoul bus terminal at about 5:30, only to find that the next bus wouldn’t be leaving for Busan until 8:30.  Sweet.  The boys grabbed some fast food (how guys can eat that disgusting food before the sun rises is beyond me), and we just hung around and killed time until our bus arrived.

Since it has only snowed three times this winter (sorry to everyone back home, who have had a billion inches of snow fall already), everyone in Korea loses the little driving ability they have, and the roads turn into parking lots.  We left the bus station at 8:30, and in two hours had barely left the city.  I had a feeling we were in for a long trip….luckily the bus driver decided to forgo the highway for some backroads driving, which likely saved us countless hours of waiting.  We slept for a few hours, read a bit, and just wasted time until we arrived in Busan about 7 hours later where the ground was green and the sun was shining!  Beautiful. 

From the bus terminal we linked up with the subway system which would take us to our hostel in Nampo-dong, on the south-west side of the city.  Busan is so cute – the whole city has only three subway lines!  Awwww…..Anyway, we exited the subway about half an hour later and were completely overwhelmed by the pungent smell of decaying raw fish.  Oh man, it’s something to be experienced.  The directions Mike had received from our hostel were vague, to say the least: “Exit the subway, look for the seafood restaurant and cross the street.  Go up the alleyway and past the kimchi pots, then turn left.”  Riiiiight.  We wandered around for a good half an hour before finally finding a huge cartoon map of the area, and from there we were able to figure out where we needed to go.

The hostel was only $15 per person per night, so our expectations were definitely low, but the place was surprisingly comfortable.  Sarah and I shared a room with a double bed, a tv, and a bathroom with a full shower – not bad!  Dave and Mike shared a room with ondol heating, so they slept on the floor, but it’s still much better than some hostels I’ve seen.  The only downside was that we were on the third floor, and directly below our rooms was a 24-hour noraebang, or karaoke room.  It was well used by many a drunken Korean during our three night stay.

We dropped off our bags then decided to check out the neighbourhood until the arrival of two other friends – Sally and Desirae – who had the misfortune of having to work on Saturday morning.  Directly across the street from our hostel was a huge district filled with restaurants, bars, and tons of outdoor market stalls.  We stopped in at a chicken restaurant and the boys and Sarah muched on some wings.  Once the girls arrived we headed over to a huge bar called Hollywood and enjoyed a few beverages. 

Fast-forward a few hours, and the six of us are wandering around outside looking to fill the longing urge that only Koreans and us foreigners here can really understand.  Everyone has heard of karaoke lounges, but in Korea the noraebang (“norae” = song, “bang” = room) is a little different, and it’s an absolute national obsession.  Instead of singing in front of a group of strangers, we rent a large room with comfy couches, microphones, tambourines, maracas and lots of flashing lights where we pick from a variety of American tunes and sing, singSING at the tops of our lungs!  Some of my favourite choices include Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”, Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”.  Hmmm….it’s a little strange that two of the three songs involve praying – is my subconscious trying to tell me something?? 

Here’s Sarah, Desirae and I getting into the groove:


Anyway, time passes by incredibly quickly when singing great tunes with friends, and before we knew it it was 5am – we’d been up for close to 24 hours!  We hit the hay and I slept straight through until the early afternoon.

When I woke up Sarah had already gone out with Desirae and Sally for some wandering, but Dave and Mike were still about as mobile as I was.  It was Dave’s birthday, so we decided to do some sightseeing and let him pick out the evening’s activities.  We met up with the girls and walked over to Busan Tower, which offers a great view of the city and the surrounding waterways.  Here’s a nice picture of the tower:


And a couple of shots that Mike took from the top:





It’s kind of interesting to look at these pictures, because when we were there the area didn’t really look that densely populated, especially in comparison to Seoul, but man, there are a lot of buildings! 

Here’s the gang:


Dave and I


Sarah, Sally, Mike, Dave and Desirae

After the tower we decided to go over to the Jagalchi fish market (http://www.lifeinkorea.com/travel2/pusan/21/), which is one of the largest indoor fish markets in all of Asia – it sounded pretty cool, but by the time we were done I’d vowed never to eat any sea life ever again.  Sarah described it as one of the levels of fish hell, since the entire area was filled with hundreds and hundreds of tanks packed with every kind of creature you can imagine, all awaiting an untimely death. 

I watched old Korean ladies pulling live eels from a tank, only to skewer them with a large metal hook and pull the skin right off the body.  Oh my god, it was disgusting.  The poor thing was still alive!  Just because I know everyone likes visuals, here are a few more of Mike’s shots:




That crab was trying his hardest to escape certain death…..


Mmmm….doesn’t  it make you hungry just looking at it??  No?!?  Yeah, me neither. 

Anyway, we moseyed back over to the entertainment district, where Dave picked out a samyeopsal restaurant for dinner.  I wasn’t too hungry at first, but the mouth-watering smell of barbeque pork quickly pushed the thoughts of poor skinned eels from my mind.  We had a great meal, then did some bar hopping until we landed at a great place called Ace Bar.  The Ace Bar is known for its selection of enormous beer glasses, which come in a variety of heights:


We went for the gusto and ordered Kings, which are the largest of all the beers – they’re the huge green ones on the far left.  Ironically enough, the bar didn’t stock enough glasses to serve all six of us Kings at once, so Sally and I settled for Ace’s, which are one size smaller.  As an added bonus, the tables at the Ace Bar were fitted with super cooled cups that keep the beer extra frosty, and they had lights, too!


Here’s Sally, Desirae, Sarah, Dave and I just after the arrival of our first round:


Drinking from this huge glass tube makes one look like he or she is playing the clarinet, albeit a beer-filled clarinet.



After the Ace Bar we headed back to the hostel where we surprised Dave with a yummy chocolate birthday cake topped with….saltine crackers??  Yep, that’s Korea for you.


Then it was back to our favourite noraebang for some more singing and merriment to close out what I hope was a really great birthday for Dave.  I know we all had a fantastic day!

Since we were out on Sunday night until somewhere close to 6am, most of us slept well through until mid-day on Monday.  By the time Dave, Mike and I had roused ourselves the girls had already left for some shopping, so the three of us wandered around the entertainment district across from the hostel.  It was here that I found the greatest hat ever created – I’d seen these hats worn by my students over the last few months, and had long ago decided I wanted one.  I finally found the perfect one in Busan, and once I put it on my head it didn’t come off for the next 12 hours.  Seriously – tell me this isn’t a fantastic hat:


It actually comes with paws that you can use as gloves!!!  How amazing is that?!?  I think it’s the single best item of clothing I’ve ever purchased.

We met up with the girls at around 4pm, and decided to head over to the famous Haeundae Beach, which was about a 40 minute subway ride away from our home base.  We arrived just as the sun was setting, and had a fantastic view of the waterfront:



The views were amazing, but since it was late January there really wasn’t much else to do other than stare at the beach…..soooo righty-o, that was about it for Haeundae.  We found a great Mexican restaurant called FN Tacos (“FN” was for “Fuzzy Navel”, but I prefered to read it as “f-n”, like a swear word :)) who served some yummy tacos and burritos, and then it was back on the subway and to the hostel. 

For our final night we decided not to break protocol, and went back to the Ace Bar for round 2.  Yet again, Dave conquered the King:


Later in the evening he pulled out his best Wolverine face – you’ll notice the chopsticks carefully arranged in his watch so as to give the impression of claws:


He kind of looks like a bulldog, don’t you think?  What a special guy….

We also found a little G.I. Joe figurine during our wanderings, and Mike spent a good 45 minutes arranging him in different positions around the table.  Here are a few for your viewing pleasure…

G.I. Joe invades the snack bowl:


G.I. Joe’s invasion fails miserably, and he drowns in the snacks:


G.I. Joe tries on a seaweed skirt, just for fun:


G.I. Joe has a smoke (check out Dave’s face in the background – classic):


And then, after seeing how little he has to live for, G.I. Joe decides to end it all using his favourite Korean beer bottle opener:


So that was our final night in Busan – after the Ace Bar we went back for a little more noraebang (after the first two nights we had shot our vocal chords, so it was a much shorter outing) and then said goodnight. 

The next morning we woke up early and headed back to the bus station to check out the scheduled departures.  Considering how long it took to get to Busan we quickly changed our minds and decided to pay the extra money and upgraded to a train ticket.  The bullet train from Busan to Seoul would only take 3 hours, and considering that everyone who had gone on vacation during the long weekend would be travelling back home on Tuesday we decided the extra expense was well worth it.  We were given standing room only seats, which meant that we stood in the little area in between compartments, but it had a tiny fold-out seat that we shared during the trip.  We were all completely exhausted, so there really wasn’t a whole lot of conversation on the trip home. 

Even though we did little more than sleep, eat and bar-hop, the trip to Busan was by far one of the best experiences I’ve had during the seven months we’ve been in Korea.  We really bonded with our friends, and shared some fantastic memories.  We’ll never forget the Lunar New Year holiday, and Dave will always have an amazing birthday weekend in Busan to remember!


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