I awoke on Thursday a free man. After a 20-day winter class session, I began the first of 10 well-earned vacation days. With laced boots and a full travel pack, I prepared to hike to the Mokpo Bus Station.
The decision to walk proved to be a mistake. My toes screamed in pain as I took step after painful step. Temperatures in Mokpo plunged to -11 degrees Celsius. Eventually, I could take no more. I dipped into an Angel-In-Us coffee shop to study some flashcards and give my poor toesies warm refuge.
I half debated hopping onto a bus or requesting a taxi.
“Mama didn’t raise no softie,” Tough-Brain said.
“No, she didn’t,” I thought. I said my customary “an-young-hee-ge-ship-syo,” and departed into the cold. I felt like Dennis Quaid in The Day After Tomorrow without the ropes. With my face-warmer pulled tight and my boots shuffling one step at a time, I finally made it with time to spare.
I purchased my bus ticket, popped a squat, and settled in for a four-hour communal road trip.
After passing the time with Tokyo Vice, psychology articles, Anki flashcards, music, and a brief meditation session, I finally shook off my restless legs on Busan city soil.
I was the last of our group to arrive at the Airbnb. The Bard, The King, Potato, and Sugar all seemed travel weary (Sugar from Vietnam and the rest from Jeju Island). Either that or everyone was hangry and hankering. Likely both. They wanted food. My fasted and famished self provided no protest.
So we descended into the subway system with the Shinsegae Food Court programmed into our mental GPS. I grabbed my customary 300-won subway coffee to tide me over.
To our disappointment, the mandoo (dumpling) restaurant we sought had already closed. We failed to do our due diligence. We looked around for other restaurants and settled for an even more attractive option – a sushi conveyor belt.
Paying per plate, we all appreciated the opportunity to try a vast variety of raw fish. The Bard and I split a bottle of sake. It was a great fast-breaking diet-cheating meal. However, it was pricey. I cut myself off and chose some kimbap and candy bars at a local CU to finish out the night. And no cheat meal is complete without ice cream, right?
From there we prepared a list of potential sites to see and settled in for the night. As the latest comer, the group relegated me to the couch. I slept surprisingly soundly.
I awoke first, eager to get my daily Duolingo and morning meditation out of the way. When the Bard joined me in the land of the conscious, we decided to hit up a coffee shop.
After a fruitless walk through the bitter cold, passing countless closed cafés, we made a wonderful find. The shop sold 1+1 Americanos. We saved our money for the privilege of drinking more coffee. It was a fantastic start to the day.
As the whole group slowly prepared themselves to move out, we decided on our first stop – the Gamcheon Folk Village. This is a historical neighborhood in Busan known for its array of pastel-colored homes arranged on a hillside like a Tuscany village or South American slum. We took the subway as close as we could and began our trek up the hill.
At the halfway point, we started dropping like flies. Our calves burned and our resolve thinned. Everyone except The King and I elected to take a taxi the final kilometer up the hill. Our decision partly rested on the fact that six people cannot fit in a four-passenger taxi and partly because “mama didn’t raise no softie.”
When we reached the village, the work required made the experience that much sweeter. The vista was incredible. Multicolored housing sloping down the mountainside reminded me of the Crayola 64-pack that well-off kids brought on the first day of 1st grade.
The local Buddhist temple was also a sight to behold. The King and I approached the sight apprehensively.
“Are we allowed to be here?” one of us asked as we slid a gate open.
“I don’t know. What’s the worst that can happen?”
We turned, startled, by an older man wearing the gray winter robes of a monk. We returned his greeting. He then gestured us to the temple and instructed us to remove our shoes. We complied. The reward was a beyond-peaceful experience. Three golden Buddhas stood upon a mantle with candles and symbols by their sides. Above our heads, paper lanterns illuminated the quiet hall. I know we weren’t trespassing. I’m sure thousands of people visit this temple each year. Yet for some reason, I felt special.
After stopping in an English-themed brunch café where I hit my head on the low ceiling, sipped an Americano, and watched The Bard and Potato crush a variety of Western fare, we elected to move on. Our next stop – Gukje Market.
What a maze. We naturally separated. Sugar wanted to rest at the apartment. Potato shops till she drops. The Bard searched for boots. The King and I had no pressing material needs and simply wandered aimlessly. We chuckled at hats with Korean phrases, I drank Americanos (I’ve since worked to taper my coffee consumption), and The King stepped into a restaurant for an omurice. As a regular faster, watching people eat gets easier and easier.
I passed one shop with a collection of TWICE posters. That planted the seed. About an hour later, I returned. Now my favorite K-Pop ladies adorn a wall of my apartment.
Potato’s shopping star burns bright, but finally, we found her and The Bard and returned to the apartment for a brief break. I sipped a soju (in moderation) and The Bard taught The King and I a fantasy/RPG game called Monster of the Week. Potato resumed shopping at the Lotte Department Store (she recovers quickly), and Sugar slept through everything, inconveniently ill.
We later reconvened at the Lotte Department Store, split off to eat the food of our choices (I chose kimbap (go figure).)
“Oh-seo-say-yo,” (Welcome) said the clerk.
“Ee-goh-du-een-boon-ju-say-yo” (Please give me two servings of this thing).
The ladies returned a confused look.
“Du-sa-ram” (Two people)?
“Ah-ni-yo. Han-sa-ram-du-een-boon” (No. One person, two servings.)
“Ne.” They still looked confused.
“Pay-go-pa-yo” (I’m hungry).
This made them chuckle.
With a full day in the books, I already felt quite accomplished. I had time to contemplate many feelings that night. Sugar wanted to trade her bed for the couch. I agreed, indifferent to my sleeping arrangement. That was a mistake. Heat wafted into the loft and left me unable to sleep for a good hour.
Who supplicated to the Buddha offering a bottle of soju?
I found this lovely creation at the Lotte Mall.
These pigs sure seem happy. Happy pigs make happy pork. Happy pigs come from Korea.
Why is that dragon holding a billiard ball and why wasn’t I invited to play?
I love how happy the Buddha looks in so many statues. It promotes the peace I seek to live each and every day.
Someone commented about stacking rocks and making a wish. I finally got my chance again.
Breathtaken by the view, The King was unaware of the unscrupulous paparazzi sneaking up behind him.