Train to Busan
We couldn’t help ourselves.
We caught a train to Busan.
(And if you haven’t yet seen it, you really should give Train to Busan, the movie, a whirl. Like a cross between Snowpiercer and World War Z, it pulled a well-deserved 96% on Rotten Tomatoes…and its Korean zombies make the ones on The Walking Dead look clumsy and sad.)
The train made for an early start, and when I pulled back the curtains, I realised it was snowing. I may have cried a little (I’m not sure what it is about bloody snow), before waking Mary for her first glimpse ever.
It’s a mystery that I get so excited, what with snow being so cold and wet and inconvenient, but it looks SO nice when it piles up on things…even train tracks.
Our first stop in Busan (after storing our luggage at the one-night hotel), was Gamcheon Culture Village, the former slum-cum-ridiculously picturesque pastel village, nestled into the side of a coastal mountain.
It was a bittersweet visit.
On the one hand, it is beautiful (even with its very own Blues Point Tower, smack-bang in the middle):
And it is filled with creativity (I love that, no matter where you go, humans are compelled to make art)…
…and all manner of wondrous things.
I loved this wooden building, in particular, and thought its name was a great example of how important sensitive translation can be. On the map, it was named the ‘Tower of Solo Pleasure’ (make of it what you will, but I certainly kept a special eye out for it), and if it hadn’t been so lovely, I might have been disappointed to find the rather-more introspective-sounding ‘Tower of Pleasing Loneliness’ (as named on its plaque).
However, being there also felt wrong somehow. As we climbed up and down the stairs and around the tiny streets (along with, I add, a large number of other tourists), we walked past residents going about their daily business and could often see right into people’s homes, and I found myself looking down as much as possible so as not to feel so intrusive.
We passed this old lady (my favourite picture of the trip so far – taken in the blink of an eye!), climbing up an impossibly steep section of path, and she looked at us with such a withering expression, that I suddenly wished we hadn’t come. And, as we delighted in the cats we kept seeing around every corner, I saw one that needed treatment, and couldn’t shake the image from my mind for the remainder of the day.
In that sense, travelling can be a real double-edged sword. The places I love the most are often the places that welcome me least, and although I am trying to tread lightly – smiling, patronising businesses, going easy on the photos – it can be difficult not to feel like you should just stay well enough away.
After an interesting cab drive back, we immediately spotted Aori Ramen (established by Seungri, from G-Dragon’s band, BIGBANG), the ramen joint that Mary was very keen to visit. And I’m so glad we did.
It. Was. Amazing.
I liked the ramen almost as much as the single-person cubicles, which are a revelation – you simply mark your boxes with your choice of ramen variation, press the buzzer when you’re ready, and a pair of anonymous hands takes it away…
…and returns with your food, after which THEY DROP THE CURTAIN, leaving you to eat it in your own private, little cubby house. I think it gave everyone licence to slurp with wild abandon (including me), because there was definitely a louder-than-average soundtrack going on.
After, we watched a movie and had a nap (momentary heaven), then set off to visit the day’s choice of cafe, before realising that near-dusk was not the time to learn the public transport system of a new city. Before I show you where we chose to go instead, you need to imagine Mary in her cashmere coat and new brown boots (also from the vintage markets), and with her new bag in hand, all ready to meet Busan’s hipster coffee elite.
We went to the biggest fish market in South Korea, and producer of the worst cacophony of fleshy slapping sounds that I have ever heard. It was wondrously revolting.
I wanted to eat there, but Mary needed surroundings more befitting her stylish ensemble, so we went to Gentle Monster and pretended we could afford to buy their glasses (confession: I mistook the art on the ground floor for the store being under renovation).
This was on the second floor, as a monument to the remarkably fine line between art and pure, unadulterated wankery (they sell SUNGLASSES guys).
At the risk of this post turning into an ‘and then…and then…’, I simply must finish on dinner, because we couldn’t find anywhere to eat AGAIN, and ended up in this awful, desolate chicken shop on the fourth floor of a shopping mall (we were just SO TIRED). I was about to walk out and go hungry when the pickled radish arrived on the table, effectively locking us in.
It wasn’t good chicken, but Mary cheered me up by letting me take a photo of her sad chicken face, and we laughed so hard, it took ages to get one that looked even remotely glum.