We arrived back in Busan and headed to the same youth hostel we had stayed in previously, had a massive lunch and wandered around the markets. I bought a new hat with ear flaps and large pom poms on the chin tie that was much warmer than my current hat in preparation for the colder weather in the north and found a pair of replacement hiking shoes for Luke in one of the many outdoor clothing shops. We then warmed up with cake and hot chocolate and made plans to meet up with Juseong the next day. He had been our saviour when the Jeju ferry was cancelled the last time we were in Busan and we had nowhere to stay, and he was keen to meet again and show us more of the city!
We were up early the next morning and, bleary eyed, we overshot on the subway by one stop, Luke already having had to forgo one ticket and return to the hostel because we forgot the present for Juseong. Luckily there was a bell to push and a friendly boy came to bleep us through so we could go back the way we came. We arrived a little late, but were pleased to find Juseong and his friend, Han, were there to meet us. His friend was equally smiley and friendly and was also a keen photographer. We sometimes felt we were back on our wedding day having our pictures taken for the album! They took us on a hike up to Baemoeasa temple, a beautiful series of colourfully painted old wooden temple buildings, nestled in the hills overlooking Busan. Most of the buildings were original, but one had been burnt down by an arsonist a few years ago. It had been faithfully rebuilt and the paintwork was especially vibrant. The path leading up to the temple complex was lined with strings of rainbow coloured lanterns, and there were huge, worn stone statues of tortoises. We spend an hour wandering and peeping into the different buildings, including one tiny temple dedicated to the mountain god, part of a Korean religion prior to the arrival of Buddhism. In front of one of the buildings, we saw hundreds of bricks of terracotta coloured bean curd drying in the sun below a persimmon tree. The branches were bare save for the bright orange fruits, which glowed against the blue sky like tiny suns, and birds chattered as they flitted merrily from fruit to fruit. We were pleasantly surprised to be treated to a free lunch at the temple canteen. It was huge inside and we sat around one of the many wooden tables and had generous portions of vegetarian bibimbap out of stainless steel dishes. We were amazed that we didn’t have to pay at all for it; it was quiet in there that day, but I can imagine it gets really packed in summer, so it must cost quite a lot to run. After eating, we clambered up to the top of a nearby hill to see a small hermitage, from where there were wonderful views over some of the districts of Busan and out onto the sea. It was a fantastically clear day and we were even able to see a Japanese island from our vantage point.
We made our way back down towards the town, and Juseong stopped to buy some traditional rice cake and red bean paste sweets. We all sat on the back seat of the bus and shared them, along with a bag of sweet potatoes given to us by Son’s mother, which had gone all syrupy inside. After an hour or so, we got out and they took us to see the Korean International Film Festival building. It was an enormous, swooping steel modernistic building boasting the longest cantilever roof in the world. There was a Guinness Record plaque to commemorate this achievement, which, not being well up on architecture, meant very little to me! Under the shelter of this magnificent roof there was an open air cinema where you could watch films in summer, but in the winter months it housed an ice rink. Inside there were more cinema screens and Juseong told us that he visits once a week to watch films with his wife; it would be brilliant to have this on your doorstep, it’s so much grander than your average Odeon. Another plus point (or not?) is that it is next door to the largest shopping mall in the world! This also sported a Guinness Record plaque.
We took a short stroll to arrive at an office block, one of the tallest buildings in Busan and with marvellous views of the Hyundai coastal area. Luckily for us, Juseong’s friend worked in an office on the 40th floor. We drank tea in the lounge overlooking the sweep of the bay and watched the sun set. It was without doubt the most stunning cityscape I have seen – the bridges that arched elegantly across the estuary were lit with colourful lights and skyscrapers of glass and steel reached skywards against the curve of the horizon, reflecting the setting sun. Below we could see a spaghetti-like network of roads that wove around the buildings, and as the sky darkened, car headlights lit the highways like strings of Christmas lights.
Our next stop was a small café at the bottom of the building, where we bought dinner for our new friends as thanks for their generosity. After eating, we continued our walk along the coastline, stopping to take photos of the illuminated Diamond Bridge and marvelling at the eerie glow of the distant fishing boat lights. The boats themselves had tipped over the horizon, but the reflection of their softly shining lamps, strung out like pearls where sea met sky, beautifully illustrated the curve of the earth. We passed rows of posh hotels and a shipyard jostling with fancy yachts and day-tripping boats, one of which was rather amusingly named ‘hyperdick’; perhaps a reference to the owner’s lack of boating etiquette? Crossing over a small bridge onto an island, we traversed a wooden gangway that lined the coast where a statue of a woman sat gazing mournfully out to sea, before eventually descending onto Hyundai beach. In summer, this beach would be packed with the hip and trendy, partying and drinking cocktails, but in winter it was all but empty. We slipped into the lobby of one of the fancy hotels that faced the beach and took a ride up the see-through escalator for more city views, which brought us to the end of our tour of Busan. We thanked Juseong and Han profusely; they had been incredibly kind to us and we had seen so much more than we would have done had we explored on our own.
The next morning we wandered to the dockyard to sketch the tugs and fishing boats. It was another gorgeously clear day and we were sorry that we would be spending the best part of it travelling, but were very excited to be finally seeing Ele, Luke’s sister. On the way back to collect our bags, Luke went in search of some wool to make a string for my mittens as I kept dropping them. He was unsuccessful, but whilst I wandered ahead I came across a starling panting on its side in the middle of the street. People walking past were ignoring it and the poor thing looked very stressed. Glancing surreptitiously from side to side, as if about to perform a petty crime, I swiftly picked it up, cupped it between my hands and strode down the road looking for somewhere safe to leave it. As I walked, I gave it a little stroke on the head and whispered to it, which almost certainly made it more scared, but made me feel better. Passers-by were looking at me with a mixture of surprise and disgust. I found a patch of small bushes with a sapling in the centre, checked the bird over for broken wings or legs and concluded it had merely been stunned. The frightened thing was then deposited in the safety of the bushes and left to its own devices. Back at the hostel I washed my hands well and got talking to a lovely family from Singapore with whom I exchanged details in case we ever make it there! When Luke returned, we saddled ourselves up once more and set off for the station. We passed the bush where I had left the starling en route and I peeped in to check on it. It was still there, but on seeing me peering at it, it flew to the top of the tree and promptly did a poo! Success! I was very pleased it had saved this little performance for when I came back.
The rest of the day was spent on public transport as we took a circuitous route to the station in the north of South Korea where we were to meet Ele. Unfortunately for me, I had drunk rather a lot of coffee and there were no toilets on the coaches, so much of the journey was spent wriggling in discomfort! It was all worth it though when we found Ele waiting for us at the station café. It was so wonderful to see a familiar face after weeks of travelling! We had really enjoyed making new friends, but there is nothing quite like the comfort being able to relax around someone close to you and share news. We were very much in need of settling down and unwinding, which is just what we intended to do over Christmas.
(P.S. We are currently in China again with even more restricted internet than last time, but Luke has figured out something terribly clever so I can post my blog again! I will try to trickle it in so it isn’t too much at once!)