Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Friday, April 6, 2012

Spring Break 2012: The Return to Korea!

It's been a while, readers. Both since I last blogged and since I last visited Korea! My last time in the big SK was back in 2009 when I lived in Seoul two years as an English teacher (more on that episode in cringe, 19-year-old fashion here)... and, for Spring Break this year, I, spurred on by my Matsuyama BFF Rachel’s having two friends currently living there, decided to step back in time and re-visit the land where I got my first taste of Asian living three years ago.

The journey to Busan was a long but (relatively) painless one, consisting of: a bus, a train, another bus, a SUNFLOWER, a Shinkansen, another bus and, at last, a BEETLE. (If you’re wondering what those two rogue capitalized names are, they’re the (typically cute Japanese) names of the two ferries we had to catch!) All in all it took us about eighteen hours of travelling, but when you’ve got one of your best friends (and, not to mention, a crate-full of beer) by your side, it’s all just part of the fun! Highlights of the journey include getting so bevv’d on the SUNFLOWER that we slept wayyy beyond the 5AM docking time. Waking up at 6.30AM, wondering where everyone else had gone (but not thinking much of it), Rachel casually set off for the bathroom, only to return a few seconds later yelling: “WE’RE DOCKED”. All I can say is PRAISE THE LORD for Rachel’s bladder... if she hadn’t needed the toilet then, God knows how long we would’ve stayed ignorantly slumbering for. Anyway, turns out that all the other passengers had disembarked when we’d arrived...AN HOUR AND A HALF AGO. Not that anyone seemed to care – grabbing our bags and fumbling our way to the exit, the crew cheerily wished us a good morning and off we set to catch the Shinkansen for the next leg of our journey. From there on, everything was pretty smooth sailing – we got to ride the bullet train and then set sail on the BEETLE, which shipped us off to Busan in a mere three hours!

Eighteen hours of travelling and you too can look like this!

With Rachel's awesome friends Nick and Danica to show us the ropes, our time in Korea was a whirlwind of shopping, sightseeing and soju. We partied with Rachel’s Canadian friends in the city (who all got a kick off me being the Token Brit), took in some rays on the beach during the day, got to see an ancient Korean temple hidden among the cherry blossoms... and partied some more come evening. As always, I’ll let the photos do the talking.

Taking a moment to endear myself to my new friends.

Check out this one in high-res!

 ...LOL JK I’ve got a shit-tonne more to say.

This being my first time back in Korea since 2009, it was a chance to see how my impressions of the country had changed since living in Japan for (almost) a year. It seemed that every angle we turned, me and Rachel were screaming, “You don’t get THIS in Japan!” I think the most notable difference between the two was the people. It’s not that Koreans are rude... they’re just definitely more assertive than the Japanese I’ve come across. If you’re in their way on the subway, they won’t be afraid to give you a helpful elbow to push you aside...whereas in Japan it seems that if somebody makes so much as an unintentional brush of the shoulder on the train, it’ll be coupled with an emphatic “すみません!” That assertiveness also meant that Korean strangers were more willing to come up and talk to us out of pure curiosity. In Japan, I get a lot of stares, but often people are too shy to go beyond that and actually broach conversation. In Korea, on the other hand, there were more than a couple of occasions when a complete stranger just walked up to us and started talking, trying to find out a bit more about the Curious White Tourists. I wouldn’t say my previous impressions of Korea from before were shattered at all... just that they were re-painted in a slightly different colour, now looking at them through the lens of a gaijin in Japan.

On the more superficial side, I also discovered that, as much as I like Korean’s got NOTHING on Japanese cuisine. Simple as. That being said, it’s definitely much, much cheaper to eat (and shop!) in I guess it balances out! 

Maybe it was my four-day long hangover, but I never really found the Korean preference for lots of little dishes to be entirely filling...

What’s more, one thing that hadn’t changed was the Korean penchant for AMAZING POP. Once again, it seemed the whole nation had latched onto a single song – before, it was SNSD’s “Genie”, this time, SHINEE’s “Sherlock”. I live for this shit.

Having lived it up for four days in the Big SK, the time had come to jump back on the BEETLE and return to Japan... well, that was the plan. Turns out a rough few storms across East Asia had flipped the BEETLE over on its back, and left it functionless, legs flailing in a vain attempt to move. Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad, but the bastard wasn’t running. So that meant we were forced to take another 24 hours in Busan, long enough for the seas to calm to a state where the BEETLE could flip itself over and scurry home. The whole ordeal would’ve been fine, except we hadn’t budgeted for such a contingency. And, when I say we “hadn’t budgeted”, I mean there never was a budget and we’d blown all our money on booze and clothes. Luckily, where there’s a VISA card, there’s a way. And just when it appeared we were (literally) going to have to go the night without eating (this time I’m actually not exaggerating), our (previously un-thought of) plastic blue friend came to the rescue. God bless.

VISA in hand, everything you touch turns to GOLD.

Luckily, come Wednesday, the storm had subsided and, a day later than planned, the BEETLE was back on its feet. Still, it wasn’t exactly plain sailing. The seas were still pretty rough, and to prepare us all for the tumultuous journey ahead, the BEETLE’s crew came around with a little pot of complementary pills, so that we were all sufficiently dosed-up for the ride ahead. Even then, the voyage was still pretty scary! At one point, a massive wave hit the side of the boat... and later I swear I heard a whale groan eerily close to us (though it could’ve equally been the hallucogenics I’d just been plied with). Either way, we made it back in One Piece (fellow JETs, contain yourself at the pun)! All in all, a great vacation with great people... what more could you ask for? Just the kind of break I needed to gear me up for the new school term that starts on Monday!

Oh, and if you’re reading this and we shared this experience, I have one thing to say... JESUS IS A MOTHERF***ING BISCUIT.

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Anonymous Rachel said...

jesus is SUCH a biscuit! god bless.

April 6, 2012 at 12:28 PM  

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