South Korea, Day 5. The Polar Vortex Touches Down

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For some reason, when we travel together, we bring the shittiest weather to the most beautiful places. Busan was no exception. What started as a light drizzle ended as a deluge, which kept the four of us darting through the city streets, from one shelter to the next.

We gave our cab driver a print out in Hangul (as printed off of booking.com) that included our hotel name, address, phone number, and a map. We chose to stay in Haeundae beach because most of the cheap hotels on booking websites are located there, and it was really hard to understand what neighborhood we wanted to be in/where we wanted to stay, but it turned out that Haeundae beach was a good 45 mins/1 hr away from Busan station, which is a bummer, because the things we wanted to do/see (Jagalchi market, Tajongdae clam tents) were on the train station side of the city.

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We had decided to try a stay in a love hotel. Basically, young Koreans live with their parents until they get married. Which means they have nowhere to schtup while they are still single. Enter the love hotel. The concept is the same as an hourly cash hotel in the states, but the reality is much, much different. Love Hotels are known for their cheap rates, theme rooms, and awesome amenities, like loads of toiletries (including condoms, heh) wifi, computers, flat screens, fridge, microwave, you name it. The negative reviews of them say that there is no front desk assistance, zero frills in the hotel itself (like there barely even is a front desk), they are windowless, the beds look small on reservation sites, and you can hear way too much love going on. We found the negatives to be entirely untrue. Our rooms had a window, I couldn’t hear a thing from other rooms, and while the front desk wasn’t much of one, the girls manning them in the two hotels that we stayed in, both spoke English. I mean, they weren’t going to be coordinating tours for us or anything, but they could tell us how to get to the subway.

When we got to Haeundae beach, we drove through a crazy maze of love hotels. They are all packed together in one area, and I guess the roads aren’t well-marked or something. It feels like a network of alleys, really. Our driver got completely lost and kept driving us in circles past the same places, his GPS making super Mario brothers noises the entire time (and constantly saying that we had reached, and then passed our destination, and then, do a U-turn, you are at, nope, you’ve passed your destination) Finally, we found hotel the sun and everybody cheered, cab driver included.

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See those car wash looking flaps hanging in the driveway? Those are meant to protect the identity of those who are trying to have a discreet love hotel rendezvous.

There was a tiny front desk, with an English speaker sitting behind it, but also, a popcorn machine with free hot popcorn, a toaster and bread, a cooler with free bottled water, and our beloved sweet coffee machine, with free coffee. Americano, post-haste!

Hotel the sun lobby

Our room was small but perfectly fine. The promised amenities were all there…wifi, computer (with a hangul keyboard:() flat screen TV, bottles of lotion and cologne, and hair gel, all of it.

hallway

Yes, he is totally pointing at a double-decker black vinyl couch. Let’s not think about what has transpired on that thing. It’s better that way.

We set out to see Busan, but it was just crazy storming. We were wet and in need of beer and refuge. I mean, Randi actually looked like a refugee who just came crawling off of a life boat.

refugee

We stumbled upon a random (warm, dry) place in that love hotel maze. And then we had one of the most magical food experiences of our trip.


Unfortunately, I don’t know what the name of the place was, but this bit of graffiti seems to indicate that its Obanjang Bobogi…I think?

name of the place

Anyway, we ordered our beer and magkeolli, and from the handheld menu with English (but look at how freakin’ cute the hangul menu was)

Menu

we chose a pork bone stew. We all went in to rapture when they brought out the hot table coals and poured egg with scallions into the side.

Egg

Then came the banchan, one of which was a bowl of marinated onion or cabbage and it was delicious. The stew was one of those things that you eat where you just have to close your eyes and eat verrry slowly, and moan. I think we talked about it every day for the rest of the trip, it was SO satisfying. They brought out some ramen noodles too, and we all made our own little custom bowls of goodness.

pot of food

After that amazing meal (and a free sweet coffee from their machine) we went back outside where it was still storming. We made it about three blocks when we hit the beach and beelined for the busan aquarium.

aquarium

We needed to get our asses inside. So, we decided to pass some time there. All of the employees wore these little headbands with bobbing balloons on them.

buying tickets

The Busan aquarium is pretty great. They’ve got loads of stuff going on in there. Tide-pools where you can hold and touch stuff, a big old shark tank, and a jellyfish room that was nearly the end of me. There is some sort of air or something under those jellyfish, blowing them all over the place. I went into a crazy trance watching them and had to be pulled away. Anyway, if you are ever in Busan, and it’s storming, or you are with kids, or you just like aquariums, hit this one up. It’s worth it.

Back outside, the storm raged on. I think we made it about another two blocks before we ran inside again, this time to follow the signs to a chicken and beer place. Lots of bars and restaurants in Seoul and Busan are on the second, third, fourth floor of buildings and you have to take elevators to them. It wasn’t until about ten days into our trip that I realized that the “5F” I saw on signs meant the fifth floor. We hopped in the Bonchon (a very popular chain, I now know) elevator and took the ride up.

bonchon elevator

Once in, we ordered some beers and watched sports (Dodger and Yankee games on, all the time over there-grrrr) and k-pop and tried to wait the storm out. I seriously sat there for like an hour and a half and watched an endless stream of k-pop. Video after video of interchangeable young Korean boys and girls, always in groups, doing coordinated dances and acting out being in love or breaking up, or humping hotel walls. I don’t know. I loved it.


We ordered some of their fried chicken and it wasn’t anything special.

bonchon chicken

Looking outside, it looked like Bonchon’s windows were frosted or painted. We couldn’t see outside at all. It was that gray. We just decided go for it and we took off. At this point it was REALLY storming. I think we made it another two blocks, maybe four this time, back towards our hotel when we had to duck inside again, this time to Miami Bar.

Miami bar, as the name suggests, is aimed at the American tourist. There are American license plates adorning the walls, American music on the jukebox, American beers on offer.

Have I discussed the doorbell system yet? I don’t think I have. When you are in a restaurant in Korea, and you want something, you press this little button your table, and a bell rings in the restaurant, and they know you need something. It’s awesome. I think someone would get murdered if we allowed that in the states, but it seems to work perfectly well in Korea. We rang our doorbell to find that it sounded like a fart. Every door bell in that place had a different noise, and ours was fart.

We drank there until the storm seemed to subside a bit, then ran for it again.

Another two blocks closer to our hotel, and we saw this little fried chicken shack, so, we ducked in. Soaked. Totally, to the bone, soaked. The proprietor was wearing waders for fucks sake. Sadly, he was watching coverage of the recent Sewol ferry disaster, with a look of total disgust on his face.

busan fried chix interior

We ordered some beers and fried chicken, which his wife popped up to make. the first round was plain, the second was spicy. The plain was good, the spicy was fabulous.

We were now within shooting distance of hotel the sun and we made our final run for it, back to Hotel the Sun, where I took a hot, hot bath in my awesome jetted bath tub. Soon, we would be in another country.

love hotel maze

Hotel the Sun http://www.booking.com/hotel/kr/the-sun.html
Busan Aquarium http://www.busanaquarium.com/en/
Bonchon Chicken http://www.bonchon.com/?p=590

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