on friday, i scrambled out of my office at precisely 4:30 PM, rushed to change out of my slippers and into my street shoes, and sprinted home, doing my best to ignore the onlookers. once home, david and i changed clothes, grabbed our packed bags, and were hailing a taxi by 4:50. we had an express bus to catch at 5:20 that would take us across the bottom of south korea, and drop us off by the sea.
we barely made it to the terminal in time, but the bus ride was smooth and relaxing. we arrived in busan around 8:30, and took a cab to our hotel, called the busan central city hotel. we explored the area around the hotel and settled on eating at a small kimbap restaurant after aimlessly wandering the streets, hungry and unsure for a few dozen blocks. my first impression of busan wasn’t that great, since the drunken businessmen were out in full force, red-faced, arm-in-arm, and stumbling across the streets. this aspect of korean culture is less-than-appealing, and can unfortunately be found in any city, so i won’t hold it against busan.
i spent the night hacking/barking like a terminally ill seal; the residual aftermath of my endless korean cold. david spent the night sweating in our unnaturally warm room (i think we unknowingly turned on the floor heaters, and didn’t have the faintest idea how to turn them off), and then spent the second half of the night sleeping under a cold, water-soaked towel to fend off the rising heat. needless to say, we didn’t exactly awake bright and chipper.
but the good news was that there was an ediya coffee shop right around the corner (one of my favs, because for no other reason than the fact that they play the oddest mix of late-90s r&b and music from the short-lived latin invasion of the early 2000s), and we had a map in our pocket for a MEXICAN RESTAURANT.
we haven’t had mexican food in a solid 2 months, which may not seem all that long, but back in america, i’d have salsa withdrawals if i didn’t consume it once a week. i mean, come on, we had our going away party at a mexican restaurant. our intake may have been a bit excessive, but it was always so cheap, and always so good. my mouth is watering just thinking about it, so let’s move on.
we hopped a few subways and found our destination with very little trouble: a 2nd floor tex-mex place called “hello kimchi” (ok… beggars can’t be choosers). the woman who ran it had spent some time in ohio, and she had a good idea of what a couple americans were craving. we went all out with chips’n’salsa, a chicken quesadilla, guacamole, and a chicken chimichanga. it was cheesy, crispy goodness. we were in heaven.
our spirits lifted and our stomachs groaning, we ventured down to the big beach, haeundae. i’m a sucker for a good strip of sand, and this beach did not disappoint. i love the feeling of a city falling away as you step onto the expanse of shells and soft earth. the skyscrapers and the maze of blocks ends so abruptly and the world opens up endless in front of you. it was refreshing, to say the least. we wandered and took pictures, but didn’t linger long since our main destination, gwangalli beach, was rumored to be filling up quickly. we needed to claim a good spot for the main attraction and purpose of our venture: the international fireworks festival.
on the beach we met up with the rest of our friends who had arrived that morning. we spread out our cheap, odd little mats on the sand, opened up our snacks, and watched the beach around us fill up with thousands upon thousands of spectators. as daylight faded, the diamond bridge lit up with multicolored lights that moved and changed into various patterns. barges sat in the bay, with huge screens on them that advertised the show to come. i was in high spirits, laughing as nearby koreans befriended david and started feeding food into his mouth. i sat and tried to take in in the odd, tightly-mashed collection of people all around me, eating, joking, touching, close and comfortable.
the rain started about an hour before the fireworks were scheduled to begin. it was steady, but not too cold, so we all hunkered down under umbrellas and waited patiently. after about a half hour of the rain, we discovered that our cheap little mats liked to collect and pool the water so that our rear ends and all of our belongings were quickly becoming soaked. we all finally had to stand, and as time went on, the dampness was beginning to permeate everything. i was starting to get impatient.
when the first boom bursted into the sky, everything changed. epic music poured out of speakers and over the water in the bay, while coordinated fireworks exploded off of barges, off the bridge, and even sparked and fizzed on top of the water. i have never seen anything like it in my life. it was artistic and graceful, and even seemed to be telling a story. it was like watching dancers, fluid and in-step with every note of the music. there were glowing birds that swooped across the sky and turned into flaming, white-hot sparkling fireworks. there were fireworks that looked like niagra falls, pouring off the bridge in thick streams. there were fireworks that lingered and caught the breeze like dandelion fluff. my mouth hung open the entire time. it was a far-cry from the sporadic, uncoordinated booms of the fourth back home. i didn’t know fireworks could be like this.
unfortunately, due the rain, our camera caught very little of the action, but sometimes i think that’s okay. it’s good to get out behind the camera and be fully present in a moment that will most vividly live on in our mind’s eye. a camera can’t do it justice anyway.
heading home, caught in a throng of dripping umbrellas and sopping people, our group ducked into a little bar to get out of the rain and madness. we had a good chat and waited out the craziness until an hour or so later. we made our way back to our neighborhood and caught a late-night snack before turning in.
sunday, we made a quick venture to shinsigae, apparently the largest department store in the world, according to the guiness book of world records (and the most expensive, according to me). it had an ice skating rink in it, along with a huge movie theater and a lovely park on the rooftop. i enjoyed getting to see the busan international film festival’s new screening building nearby – it had just opened and was the strangest looking building i have ever seen.
too abruptly the weekend was over and we were on the bus back home, exhausted and content. in the end, aren’t you always glad you went?