As I waited for Madelyn to finish freshening up, I watched night descend on Gwangalli Beach from the window of our Airbnb. Directly below, talking moths swarmed around the glow of giant red and yellow umbrellas. To the left, neon signs advertising the many bars and restaurants that line the strip buzzed to life, one by one in a domino line, toppling into Gwangandaegyo.
The largest ocean bridge in Korea, Gwangan stretches 7.4 km over the East Sea from Suyeong-gu to Haeundae-gu. Its colourful lights began to flicker, from pink to purple to blue, their paint bleeding into the black water and streaking with the tide as it raced to shore.
The energy rising from the street was palpable; it was calling me to the ground.
“You ready to go?”
“Do you have a bathroom?” I asked breathlessly.
“Eh?” A woman and two men sat at a table in the restaurant, presumably waiting for customers to start their day.
I had rushed in when the conbini across the street turned out to not have a loo, but now realised I had no idea how to ask to use theirs in Korean.
“Bath-room,” I crossed my legs in pantomime.
“Bark-roo?” One of the men repeated questioningly.
The woman smirked and pointed to the corner of the room.
“Oh, thank you, thank you!”
I hurried in and closed the door on the sound of the man giggling.
I silently berated myself for not having learnt the simple, and obviously essential, phrase before our trip.
As relief flooded (out of) me, I looked up to find the toilet doubled as a storage space, with paper towels, cleaning supplies… and a pile of pots and pans staring back from a shelf above me.
“Hygienic,” I thought to myself.
The night before I’d been introduced to the South Korean custom of not flushing toilet paper, but leaving it to mellow in a (usually overflowing) bin instead. Also very hygienic.
No time to judge though – I yanked up my drawers, shoved my hands under the faucet and ran out of the restaurant yelling “kamsahamnida!” over my shoulder.
We couldn’t miss another bus.
“Almost there!” I panted over my shoulder. The narrow escalator that carries people from Gwangbok-ro Street up to Yongdusan Park was under maintenance so we were walking up the several hundred steps instead.
Located atop one of Busan’s most famous mountains, Yondgusan, the park of the same name is said to offer impressive views of the port city. We weren’t sure how much of it would be accessible after dark, but since we were already in the area we figured we’d give it a go.
As it turns out, Yongdusan Park at night is one of Busan’s best kept secrets.
“Get the vision, get the vision, get the vision, come -,” I executed the last of The Kills’ new album with a tug of my earphones when we touched down on the tarmac, breathing a small, happy sigh of relief. We had finally made it to South Korea. Or had we? The 55 minute flight from Fukuoka to Busan is something of a mind fuck; it takes that long to fly to Osaka and then you’re still in Japan. I blushed at the hangul winking at us through the window as we skated towards the gangway. We were definitely not in Kansas anymore.
This only became more apparent as we made our way though immigration, and then customs. “Everyone’s so tall!” I observed out loud to Madelyn. She nodded, smiling. It was my first trip to an Asian country that’s not Japan, and I couldn’t help but compare. “Wait till you see the trash!” Sure enough, empty coffee cups and soda cans were spilling out of the tops of every rubbish bin in the arrivals hall.
It was surprisingly refreshing to be somewhere where there was a bit of disorder. It reminded me of home.