After amusing ourselves endlessly with our fractured fairytale, we found a spot by the ocean where we could sit and relax for a while. A few moments passed, when from behind we heard an American, “Excuse me, do you speak English?” Considering our options, we chose to be nice and turned to find an American man and three young Korean men, who were university students there in Pusan and eager to practice English with foreigners.
They hardly needed to bother.
Mr. Lee #1, Mr. Lee #2 and Mr. Huh all spoke English better than both Sam and myself – or at least myself, as British Sam would quickly point out. Even though their proficiency in English was an indisputable fact, the American (we’ll just refer to him as the Irritating One from this point on) wouldn’t let any of them get a word in edgewise.
We’d ask them questions about Korea.
He would answer.
We’d them about what they were studying.
He would answer.
Now one might conclude that this man was slightly insecure and tried to make up for it by directing the conversation – nonstop. However, this conclusion might lead to a feeling of compassion for the man and I can’t, in good conscience, allow this to happen. He was a complete and utter bore, a butt-insky and a real bummer.
Enough said. (Except… I would have liked to have throttled the pest with my bare hands.)
Nevertheless, when we weren’t being forced to focus all attention on the Irritating One, we found ourselves engaged in lively conversations with our new friends as we strolled back around the park, chatting and laughing and learning about Pusan’s coastal history, as well as a little something about Korean culture, as well as our companions – all of whom were studying International Economics at Pusan University.
At one point, we stopped at a cliff’s edge (Don’t think I didn’t momentarily contemplate “accidentally bumping” the overbearing American.) where stood a statue of a Mother and her child. Mr. Lee #1 explained that this particular spot had became a popular “jumping off point” for suicides. So much so, that the Korean Government erected this statue as a symbol of Motherly Love, with the hope that this image of strength and forgiveness would prevent another person from making such a tragic decision.
Had the presence of the statue made a difference?
Maybe a few, they all shrugged.
Eventually, we left the park together and decided to eat at a local establishment the students frequented. It was our first true taste of traditional Korean cooking and it was delicious. Far spicier than anything that appears on a Japanese Table.
What a great experience. Such really good guys, fun and informative – and an awesome meal day.
We were satiated and ready to head back to our room so the students could continue on with their day – now night – out. Before leaving, however, they decided they would be our tour guides, so we planned to meet in front of Pusan Station at 9 a.m. the following morning. It was so refreshing to have seen the lighter side of Pusan. We were beginning to think this city had little to offer someone who wasn’t either a smuggler, a sex offender, or a hooker.
Just to remind us of Pusan’s more dubious dealings, fate did manage to slip one more salacious encounter between us and the haven of our hotel, when steps from the front door, we heard a call from behind and turned around to see a large man running towards us waving his hands as if he was flagging an air force jet in for landing. Reaching us, he plowed to a halt and with his hands planted on his hips, chin thrust forward and chest out, he proudly exclaimed, “I am RUSSIAN!”
“I am… Anne?”
“I am SAM!”
An awkward pause followed.
“Vhat is your room number?!”
Sam and I were a little confused and assumed what he really meant was how much did our room cost. So, we told him.
“No,” laughed the LOUD RUSSIAN, “Your ROOM what ROOM are you in?”
Before we had a chance to reply, a young man from the inn opened the door and frantically waved us in and away from the RUSSIAN’s misdirected hooker radar. Man, you don’t even have to dress the part here. It seems that if you’re a female in this town, you must be a working girl. Oh well, at least we had T’aejongdae today and who-knows-what adventures (preferably g-rated) tomorrow.
Our final day in Pusan was a truly lovely one, spent with our new friends.
The Irritating One was history, but the lovely Miss Jang, a fellow student, joined us.
Our new friends took us all over the city – from the mountains, where we wandered through Pomosa Temple and sat playing games by a creek running through nearby woods – to the ocean, where miles and miles of beaches and thousands and thousands of people lined its shores.
We travelled by foot and by cab, by train and by bus. We ate ice cream and kimchi, drank soda and beer. We talked politics and religion, about loving and living, cultures and climates.
And we laughed.
As the day drew to a close, Sam and I had to return to the station to collect our bags and find our boat. Our companions insisted on being with us up to the very last moment. Neither Sam or I minded in the least. Even though we had known these people just a little over 24 hours, I felt as if we had been friends for a very, very long time and saying good-bye felt far worse than I had anticipated. I think part of the reason why we had such a great time with our university pals was because they offered much needed light against the dark side of Pusan and we were exceedingly grateful for their kindness. We exchanged addresses and each new friend vowed they would come to Japan after graduating next year.
But we all knew how such promises are seldom kept and said our poignantly sad good-byes, knowing we would never meet again.
Onto our boat Sam and I climbed, where we learned there were no bunks available.There wasn’t even space enough to stretch out on the tatami in the large public room. So, after agreeing to pay an extra 3,000 yen for “first class” accommodations, we were led to our room.
The most unimaginably depressing space ever designed by a human being.
There were no beds or bunks, but instead two ancient futon. Musty and soiled. And two scratchy, moth-eaten blankets that looked as appealing as the tortuously puke green, poo brown, puss yellow, polka-dotted wallpaper plastered against our four stained and windowless walls. Yet this travesty of aesthetics didn’t discourage us as much as the fact that there wasn’t a single vent through which fresh air (or any air for that matter) might be circulated. Even the paper screen, behind which we hoped to find some kind of vent, was created to hide a nonexistent portal to the outside world.
The individual who designed this space surely must have taken their own life.
And most likely in this miserable space.
Which might also explain some of the stains.
Feeling little desire to spend the next 14 hours trapped in our first-class crypt, we wandered the boat, hoping that some new entertainment feature had been added since Thursday.
We passed some time playing with our food in the dining room and watching the sun set over Korea, but then returned to our room with 13.5 hours to reflect on our peculiar, puzzling, uplifting, downtrodden and dead-surprising sojourn to Korea. Five minutes later, we were fully engaged in making the following list.
Various Suggestions for What to Do on a Long Boat Journey, in a Dark, Windowless Room, in the Middle of the Sea:
1. Time-wasting activity: Count the puke green, poo brown and puss yellow dots on the wallpaper.
Time Spent: 7 minutes.
Result: Estimating the room’s dimensions, we all too quickly concluded that our cabin had approximately 1,575,000 puke green, poo brown and puss yellow dots on the wall.
2. Time-wasting activity: Come up with 101 different ways to use a plastic tiara. (The tiara must, of course, be purchased prior to attempting this time-wasting activity.) Two tiaras offer the participant even more leeway for thinking up truly stupid, time-wasting activities.
Time Spent: Believe it or not, 15 minutes.
Result: Given a “nothing is too ridiculous or tasteless” guideline, this game can offer a good several minutes of time-wasting activity – and even rear its ugly head when the game has long since stopped being amusing.
3. Time-wasting activity: Suggest one person read aloud to the other.
Time spent: Immediately rejected with a wisecrack and a quick stab at one more way to use a plastic tiara.
4. Time-wasting activity: Simulate the study of Japanese by picking up books and asking each other easy questions.
Time Spent: Less than it took to count the puke green, poo brown, puss yellow dots on the walls.
Result: Finding new ways to avoid studying by coming up with as many lame excuses as possible, such as: “I’m feeling terribly faint from the lack of air.”, “We can’t waste precious oxygen!”, “The puke green, poo brown, puss yellow dots on the walls are making me nauseous.” and the ever-popular, “I can’t concentrate with you wearing that ridiculous plastic tiara.”
5. Time-wasting activity: Suggest it’s getting late and it might be time to go to bed.
Time Spent: 10.25 hours.
Result: Being woken the next morning at 6 a.m. by both an old lady bellowing and “music by which to commit suicide” blaring from the other side of our windowless window, as well as one more faintly amusing stab at what to do with a plastic tiara.
And there endeth the story of our journey to Pusan, Korea. It took longer to write than it did to experience.
May this letter find your life filled with plastic tiaras, pleasant encounters, peaceful demonstrations, plenty of fresh air and not a poo brown polka dot in sight.