There is a reason why I have not written about Busan yet. Thinking about Busan always brings a wide smile to my face but it also makes me sad that I am so far away from it now. It is a place that has touched my heart not only because of the things that it had to offer, but also because of the people I met there.
This post is a tribute to all the awesome people of Busan.
On a humid Monday morning, I reached the Haeundae beach in search of a cheap hostel, and as usual got hopelessly lost amidst the crazy lights, and the organised chaos. The Haeundae area is very popular with the backpackers and the local young crowd, and was teeming with people, but since most of them were just visitors, they could not help me find the hostel that I was looking for.
All I got was smiles and shrugs.
Exhausted, I decided to try my luck at a local dry cleaner. The lady did not know any English but she was determined to help me. She offered me a seat, and took the crumpled piece of paper, in which I had scribbled down the address of my hostel, and walked out onto the street.
She returned few moments later with a middle aged man, who asked me what was going on.
“I am looking for my hostel.” I said, pointing at the piece of paper that the lady was holding.
He looked at the address, and gave me the Shrug and Smile routine.
But the lady was not done yet. She made the man translate to her what was written on the piece of paper and then gasped. She looked at me with a rising smile.
She wrote down the address in Korean on a slip of paper and gave it to me. Then she came out onto the street and with frantic hand gestures, told me where the hostel was.
I thanked her, crossed the street and started walking. I looked back and sure enough, she was standing outside her shop, looking at me with a heart warming smile. She was the first of many friendly people that I was going to meet during my stay in Busan.
My guesthouse was a cosy little property right in the heart of the market area, close to the beach. The reception was located on the first floor, and on the other side of the floor, were the rooms.
But confused as I was, coupled with my tiredness and stupidity, I climbed up to the second floor in search of my room. A girl dressed in a nurse uniform greeted me as I walked along the corridor with my heavy rucksack, looking for my room. She brought me downstairs and made sure that I found my room. I wondered for a second if she was being so nice to me because she wanted a tip. But, she just waved me goodbye and left, leaving me feeling guilty.
It is not always about money.
My roommates at the guest house were also very cool. I was sharing my room with two baseball crazy Korean friends from Seoul who had come to the city to watch a match, another Korean from Daegu who had come to learn surfing, and an Irish guy who was trying to find a job in Busan.
The room was empty when I checked in. Tired and sleep deprived, I crashed on my bed and napped the afternoon away. I woke up to the smell and sound of deodorant being sprayed. It was the Irish guy, Ron. We said our customary hellos and where are you froms, but soon we really started talking.
We talked about backpacking, Korea and K-Pop. He told me that he was going to a nearby bar, and asked if I wanted join him.
“Maybe later.” I wanted to explore the surroundings a bit before drinking the night away.
Few minutes later, the Koreans came in and before I knew it, I had forgotten about going out and was chatting with them, listening to their stories, laughing at their silly jokes. They laughed too, when I told them about my jimijillbang experience.
Kim, the Daegu guy, told me about his trip to India a few months ago and showed pictures of him attending a Rajasthani wedding. He also helped me decide on the places to see and things to eat during my stay.
The friends from Seoul invited me to watch a baseball game with them the next evening at Sajik Stadium. Their only condition was..
“You have to support the Twins.”
They were diehard fans of the LG Twins, a baseball team from Seoul. They heavily used the team merchandise; bags, jerseys and wrist bands.
I couldn’t believe how awesome the people here were.
(Sadly, Twins lost the next day.)
Every day for the next four days, all five of us would meet in the evening at the hostel, go out for dinner, drink and then sit till late at the beach, and talk. We would make fun of each other, laugh and hangout. It seemed incredible that within a few days, we had become such good friends.
One day, I got up early and went to the Beomeosa Temple.
Beomeosa Temple was located on the outskirts of the city and with the help of the wonderful locals, I caught the right trains and the right buses to reach it.
Located on a hill, the temple is far away from the hustle and toxic gases of the city and is a peaceful respite for the locals. The greenery, panoramic views and the traditional Korean temple made me want to spend hours just gazing at the beauty all around.
I sat under a tree, in the vicinity of the temple, for about an hour, listening to the magical chants and prayers coming from within, the relaxing chirps of the birds, and the sound of the stream as it passed through the rocks. It was wonderful.
As I sat there mesmerised by the beauty of my surroundings, I heard voices. It was a group of monks, and they were trying to tell me something.
I couldn’t understand what they were trying to say, until someone pointed towards the temple and said ‘Food…Go..Fast..”
Taken in by the beauty of the temple, I had completely forgotten how hungry I was. I picked up my bags and darted towards the temple. Half way through, I realised I had forgotten to thank the nice monks.
“Thank you!” I shouted out, hoping the group of monks who were walking in the opposite direction would hear me. Sure enough, one of them looked back, smiled and waved.
There was a big lunch hall, full of people eating, talking, and serving. All the tables were full and after receiving a bowl of soup and rice from one of the volunteers, I stood at one of the corners of the room, looking for a place to sit. As far as I could see, I was the only foreigner in the room.
An old couple stood next to me, dug into their plate of rice and soup. I was looking at them eating happily, wondering if it would be rude to take a picture, when the old lady caught me staring.
She slowly picked up her bowl of soup and poured it into the rice. She then gestured, asking me to do the same.
“I am looking for a place to sit.” I said with a smile.
She didn’t understand, and kept looking at me, gesturing for me to pour the soup on the rice. The old man was giggling like a kid. I slowly poured the soup on the rice. The lady smiled, and put a spoonful of the rice and soup in her mouth. Then she looked at me again.
It was my turn now.
I put a spoonful of rice and soup in my mouth and started chewing. Now, I am not a fan of Korean food at all, but this was just tasteless. It was like having boiled rice with warm water. But this was a temple offering, and I needed to respect that. I had a couple of spoonful, and when I looked up, I saw the couple smiling ear to ear. I realised they were closely studying my expressions.
Suddenly, the old man burst out in laughter, spraying the lady with half chewed rice and soup.
I couldn’t stop myself either and laughed out loud too. The poor lady tried her best to stay composed, but then she too started laughing.
This was going to be the highlight of the trip. Standing in the hall full of people, going about their holy lunch, while we laughed uncontrollably.
All good things must come to an end, however.
On my last evening in Busan, while hanging out at the beach with my roommates, I noticed that we were not chatting like usual. We were silent. It seemed under the silent sky, and amidst the cool sea breezes, we had realised this was the last time we were hanging out together. We just sat around on the powdery sand, listening to the rhythm of the waves. Every wave seemed to bring with a flurry of heart-breaking sadness.
And this air of sadness still hits me, along with all the beautiful memories whenever I think about Busan.
I think about all these wonderful people and wonder where they are now. I wonder how the Twins are doing this season and whether Ron finally managed to get a job. I wonder whether Kim learnt to surf and if the old couple still visit the Beomeosa Temple.
Because deep down, I know all I can do now is wonder…. and pray that someday, somehow, we will all meet again, and create more wonderful memories… for I am still not quite ready to say my goodbyes.