Well the adventure is still going strong in Busan! Not long after I arrived at the train station yesterday Bomi, Adam, and her parents arrived from their town and came to pick me up. It was great to see Bomi again. I mean, it’s not like it’s been years or anything, I just feel at home with her. We all piled into the car to head to Lotte, which seems to be a pretty big enterprise around here. We went to this huge department store that, along with many shops you’d typically see in a mall, also housed two movie theaters and several resteraunts. We went to a buffet to meet up with her cousin – “Peter” (his English name) – who had recently moved to Busan to take a new job. So the tables all had hot plates, and the first thing they did was pour a bunch of water in it. Then you go to the buffet and collect a variety of vegetables and raw meet to put all together in what was referred to as the “hot pot”. There was also some more individual foods like fried dumplings, sushi, and fruits, among other things. Anyway, it was a great meal and I loved getting to know Peter. I don’t remember exactly what he says he does, but apparently he studied Chineese in college. He admitted that his Chineese was a quite a bit better than his English, but I thought he spoke pretty well. Bomi’s mom explained that his great English could only be attributed to his great English teacher…a.k.a her haha. She definitely is a natural teacher, and she was teaching me (Korean) words all day!
We left the resteraunt and Peter led us through this huge market, which basically had a booth for anything you could fathom. My favorite place was one alleyway loaded with thousands of books, but not just any books – USED books! Well I’m sure there were new ones too, but they don’t have the same appeal. I only found one booth of English books, but I just love being surrounded by used books on all sides. After all, no matter the language, they all tend to have the same scent. The food section of the market reminded me quite a bit of those in Central America, though there was definitely a different variety of sea creatures. We eventually found a coffee shop and settled in for a pick me up. I was fascinating to hear Peter explain the political perspectives of South Korea and China as they relate to current global events, to include US politics and North Korean relations, and so on.
We left to head back to Lotte and cut through a massive subway station – I figured we’d take a train, but we simply emerged from the station back in a different part of the city. I was glad to have a local to guide us and show us things off the beaten path. Speaking of locals, we departed from Lotte to head Bomi’s dad’s friend’s house. I didn’t know, but I guess South Korea has (or had?) a compulsory military service, and that’s where they had met. This man was incredibly friendly and boisterous and vaguely reminded me of my cousin Woody. We all sat in a circle on a blanket and soon his wife brought over a small table full of Soju and placed it in the middle. So the most popular thing to do is pour a shot into a cup and fill it the rest of the way with beer. I know that sounds less than appealing, but it really just taste like beer. Apparently Koreans have quite a strict decorum when it comes to drinking, of which I was not entirely familiar. For instance, when I held out my glass for him to pour me a shot, Adam practically dove in front of me to grab it with both hands. Taking something from someone with both hands is traditional for pretty much everything, but I hadn’t realized it applied to liquor. On top of that, it’s considered very unlucky to ever pour your own drink. I later asked Bomi if that meant people could never drink alone; she laughed and explained that people definitely still do. Another thing is that you hold the glass with both hands when you toast and observe a strict hierarchy. So if someone is older than you, the top of your glass should be below the top of their glass when you clink them together. I fortunately had plenty of opportunities to practice over the course of the night.
We eventually got ready to go to dinner, and Bomi informed me that we would be eating at an eel resteraunt. Anyone that knows me well enough knows that I detest seafood, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to entirely avoid it on this trip. Fortunately after my year living with a host family (person) in Spain I got pretty good at concealing my gag reflex, so I figured I would just do that. After all, eel is considered a treat, and Busan is especially known for its quality. Bomi insisted that I could eat at the chicken place across the street, but it didn’t seem worth it. Besides, I’d never had eel so I figured there was a chance I might like it. Almost as soon as we sat down the servers began filling our table with bowls of vegetables and other garnishes. Then they brought a basket of raw eel because again, the table had a grill in the middle. Bomi’s dad began to place the pieces on the grill and the two long ones immediately started flopping around all over the place! Bomi admitted that she’d never had it that fresh before and was pretty surprised. Adam explained that it was just because they still had electricity in them, not because they were alive or anything, so I guess that’s better. As her dad cut them into smaller pieces with scissors and occasionally turned them, Bomi passed me plenty of things to go with it, such as pieces of ginger, leaves of lettuce, and some sort of spicy sauce. I found the piece that looked the most seared, mixed it with the other things, then took a deep breath determined not to let my face betray my tact. I quickly shoved it in, and to my immense relief, I mostly tasted ginger! As the night wore on I helped myself to piece after piece and gradually reduced the ginger ratio. I wouldn’t say that it’s my favorite thing in the world, but it wasn’t so bad. Their friends made sure the beer and soju continued to flow, but I took care not to overconsume because I wasn’t sure how it might content with the eel in my stomach, and as much as I didn’t mind it going down, it was not something I wanted to experience again later.
After dinner we returned to their house for – you guessed it – more beer and soju! Once again, they brought out a table of snacks, and when I did not partake they kept trying to offer me different food. Bomi explained that he couldn’t understand why I wasn’t eating with my drinks, but I’d assumed it went without saying that I still had a belly full of eel. Although I couldn’t understand anything anyone said, it was hard not find myself laughing along with the rest of the room. Besides, some sentiments don’t need to be expressed in words. As the night drew to a close, Bomi, Adam, and I lined up in front of them to do the “Korean bow”. We basically got to our knees then put our foreheads to the floor. Apparently it’s tradition for children to do that to their elders and subsequently be given money! I thought he handed me a 1,000 wan note (~$1), but I later saw it was 10,000! With that the three of us bade them farewell and caught a taxi. On this night I stayed in a motel, which was rather simple but comfortable enough.
Bomi informed me in the morning that her parents were going to pick me up and we’d all be meeting somewhere else. While her parents and I waited for Bomi and Adam, her mom explained a few things about some of their holidays and told me a little bit about the typhoon that hit Busan in 1989. Their friend then met up with us again for a late breakfast. As we waited, he kept saying things to me, but all I could do was return a blank look and awkward smile. He occasionally said something slower or rephrased it, but alas I still could not speak Korean (though I know like 10 words now!). Bomi and Adam eventually joined us and we were all served heaping portions of some sort of bean sprout soup, which was quite good. We spent the rest of the time in various shops and walking through more markets. Adam wanted a bit of a break so we dropped him off at this video game cafe. It was basically a room with a ton of computers that have most PC games downloaded, and you pay roughly $1/hour to sit there and play. I thought it was a great idea, but it apparently serves as quite a distraction to young people who would otherwise be spending their time in extra curricular activities.
We all eventually piled back into the car, and her parents dropped us off at the airport. Before long we boarded our flight to Jeju Island where we plan to spend the next few days. It’s supposed to be pretty rainy, but Peter gave us plenty of rainy day activities to try here. We’re also supposed to climb the tallest mountain in Korea, so we’ll see if I make it out of that one!