Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Apr 08 2012

Korea, part seven

Up at half past five this morning, out the door of the hotel and in a taxi blowing past the remains of the famous gate whose incineration had half of Seoul in tears a while back, and walking past the frolicking homeless people in front of Seoul Station by six. The rude woman behind the counter informed us that every seat before noon had been purchased already on all trains to Pusan, so we bought standing tickets and hoped for empty seats. A pair of well-dressed, laughing Slovakians half-sprinted/half-danced past us several times on our way to the platform, where we found and then lost several seats as people boarded the high-speed train.

The journey was fairly quick, and though we stopped to play musical seats at several stations along the way, we mostly remained seated the whole time. Pusan was relatively warm, and we rushed to take the subway to the crowded bus station, full of people eager to see the newly blossoming cherry trees in Jinhae. The line looped around and around, and we munched on chicken burgers as we watched people cutting in line here and there in front and back of us. Every so often a man would run in and shout something, and several people would leave the line and follow him. I wondered if he was running a competing bus company and brazenly stealing passengers, but you’d think he’d steal customers who hadn’t yet bought their tickets.

When we got out on the curb, we  found that the people the man had been calling were actually those willing to stand in the bus aisle during the hour-long ride to Jinhae. As we drove past various buildings, I realized that most Korean apartments are basically the same, at least as far as outward appearances go; floor-length windows with railings  to keep the kids from falling out. I also figure that Korean people tend to drive like they walk, i.e. with some kind of vengeance. I suppose, however, that the system works well enough as long as everyone agrees to follow along.

The trees in Jinhae were mostly blooming, the formerly stark avenues wreathed in white. We walked back up the streets, marveling at the change from just a week ago, and had lunch at the same roadside stand; the food was still delicious, though we weren’t offered free soju this time. We then walked up to the train station and along the canal where everyone and his undigested dog was taking the same damn picture over and over. It was a bit silly, but there you have it. We walked up the canal, sometimes in the canal bed and sometimes along side, looking for what appeared in the guidebook to be a red bridge, but after traversing the entire thing, no red bridge appeared; I figure it was a Photoshop job. Some attendants were on hand to personally curse people who dared pick cherry blossoms, but there were too many. I saw all sorts of cameras, including a new Polaroid as well as a Rolleiflex. Not a Leica in sight, however, at least not a real one.

The weather was getting colder again as we snaked though the alleys past a public bath with its huge smokestack, and then across the bridge over the tracks. As I stood in the square in front of the station, waiting for Linda and Daphne to finish taking pictures of potted plants, I felt the trip coming to a close. Back at the bus station, the line was even longer than it had been in Pusan this morning, and we waited as the sun dipped lower and lower in the sky for our chance at a bus seat, finally boarding along with several shameless Westerners who jumped the line just at sunset, the white cherry blossoms turning blue in the dusk. I was bushed and tried to sleep on the ride back, but didn’t quite achieve unconsciousness due to the fact that I’m still fascinated with the new country that I’m about to leave and kept looking out the window at everything.

It seems that Koreans really enjoy taking the family out to a hotel for the weekend, as both of the ones near the bus station were full, as well as many of the love motels, which I found surprising until a family of four, including two small girls, came in to inquire about a room at the place we eventually found, the “SS” (not sure if they know the connotations; at least there aren’t any Nazi notes in the decor that I can see). It seems that Korea is not yet at the level of requiring business hotels; everything is either an expensive luxury hotel or a cheap, low-class love motel. Taiwan was like that at one point, long ago.

For all of its impressive development, Korea doesn’t exactly scream international; there’s not a great amount of English, Japanese or Chinese on signs. We went next door to e*mart, where they don’t seem to take non-Korean credit cards; we had to pay with cash. The motels don’t take credit cards either. The layout was the same as that of an American mall of not too long ago, but the products were pretty much what you’d find in a Wellcome back in Taiwan, more or less, or the equivalent here.

Now I’m back at the SS. The airport is two stops away via the light rail. Tomorrow we fly back to Taiwan.

posted by Poagao at 12:58 am  

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