The ferry n' Busan
Trip Start Jul 09, 2007
30Trip End Dec 20, 2007
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Before departing our Hiroshima hostel, we threw a quick load in the washer (but had to go to the laundry mat around the block) to use their dryer. It was pouring rain for our commute to the train station (once again). We carried our oversize bags to the trolley (street car) station. We gave ourselves plenty of time before our scheduled Shinkensen ride, so we decided to grab some breakfast at a café in the station. Phil had a hash omelet, and I had green tea, maple French toast. Our table was actually a computer screen. The café offers internet access for 100 yen for 30 minutes (not bad, but we didn't partake).
We still had plenty of time before our scheduled departure, so we traded in our tickets for ones an hour earlier. The ride to Shimonoseki (where we would catch the ferry to Korea) was super quick, around an hour and a half. We get to the station, and as Phil was conversing with the information desk (as he has done at every station since landing in Tokyo), nature called for me
The Shinkensen drops you off at the Shin-Shimonoseki station, but you must go to the Shimonoseki station to catch the Kampu ferry. Although the ride is only two stops (about 6 minutes), the trains only run every 40 minutes. We find the travel agent office right outside the Shimonoseki station, and rush in to buy our ferry tickets. The travel agent spoke absolutely no English. After a five minute miscommunication about what class-seating we wanted, we were able to reserve our seats. We chose the second class seats (which only cost $85 a person), rather than first class (your own room for $120). Our last meal in Japan was terrible. We were out of cash, and we spent most of our remaining hour (until the ferry boarded), looking for an international ATM
We went to the ticket office to pick up our boarding passes, and the ticket agent explained that we needed to pay more money. She said that we each had an addition charge of 300 and 600 yen a piece. This was passenger maintenance sur charges (as the taxes were included in the price we paid at the travel agent). It wasn't about the money (which only worked out to about $17). It felt like such a scam, but what were we to do? The waiting area for the boat was crowded with Korean school kids (just as one of the reviews of the boat warned). The kids were all super friendly, and all spoke English. Phil and I watched a bit of Sumo wrestling and waited to board.
Once on the ship, we went immediately to our sleeping quarters to check out the deal. Our room (112), was about 100 square feet. It had tatami mats, blankets, sheets, and a football sized rectangular leather pillow. It held twelve Koreans, me and Phil. And we were immediately the enemy. Phil made the God-awful mistake of leaving his flip-flops on in the room, and one of the women almost had a nervous breakdown. They then set up an empty tatami mat buffer between us and everybody else
We met a Danish couple on the boat (thank God), and later found the only other American on the ship, a kid from Philadelphia (who sort of resembled Anthony Michael Hall). The Danish couple were amazing. They were traveling for ten months around the world. They had just come from South America, before spending three weeks in Japan. The only catch was, they had almost no money. They hitchhiked everywhere and either found people to stay with or slept in a one person tent.
Anthony Michael Hall's story was even weirder. He was stationed in Japan for two years with the Marines (although he looked no older than 19). His time was up, but he fell in love with a Japanese woman. A much, much older Japanese woman who owned a bar. He was staying with her, but would have to catch the Kampu ferry every few months or so when his visa expired. When I asked what the Japanese lettering on his arm meant, he said that it was a tattoo of his girlfriend's name. He said that she required that he get it. Phil thought it strange for a Japanese woman to be so demanding. He did tell us a cool story about this local alcohol called Habu sake. Habu is poisonous Japanese snake. The bottle of sake (I actually think its shochu) has the dead snake still in it. I suppose that's a kick to anyone who has bragged about swallowing the worm in a bottle of tequila. Anyway, the drink contains the deadly venom, but when mixed with the sake, it only causes temporary paralysis
After the snake story, we returned to our room and tried to sleep (on the floor) amongst our many roommates. It might not have been so bad, had the man next to Phil not snored at a 4.8 decibel range. Although, the hoards of Korean school kids running up and down the hallways screaming, did muffle the snoring a bit.
Day 13- You say Pusan I say Busan...
We awoke early on the boat. Our roommates were scurrying about, and the door to our cabin was propped open, so the outside noises were difficult to sleep through (even with the plugs we had strategically forced into our eardrums). We were docked in port at Busan (or Pusan, everyone spells it differently), but we couldn't leave the ship until customs opened at 9:00am (it was only 7:00am). We had a little breakfast (a box of cookies and a canned coffee), and hung out in the lobby.
Upon leaving the port, we weren't sure where we needed to go, and we had no Korean Won. A very sweet young girl came right over to us, and asked if we needed help. She was also exiting the ship, and wasn't familiar with Busan, but wanted to help nonetheless. We told her we needed an International ATM, and she asked passer-byers until one was able to direct us
We get to the Nampo-Dong station, and are supposed to veer right at the Police station. We can't seem to figure out which side of the street we are supposed to be on and we refuse to cross (with no cross-walk), so we stop to ask people for directions. The one thing we should point out is that there are no street names in S. Korea, only numbered streets. But even the numbers don't make any sense, and half the time, are inaccurate. So, directions are usually given by landmarks. Twenty minutes of aimless walking, and getting no help from anyone, a man approached us (as we stood in the middle of an alley looking pathetic).
The man spoke perfect English, and asked if there was anything he could do to help. We both jumped up and showed him the hostel confirmation and our dilemma. He pulled out his mobile phone and dialed the number. He spoke for a few minutes (in Korean), hung up and then said, sorry they don't have any rooms for you. I immediately thought that this was a big scam, and that this man would try to get us to stay at another hostel where he would make a commission
I begged Phil to quickly stop in Dunkin' Donuts (he wants to kill me with the American food). I really miss American food sometimes (and since I could never waste a real meal eating it), I like to make up for it with little coffees and snacks. He convinced me to at least get a Koreanish donut. I brought my green tea pinwheel to the counter, when two American girls walk in. They are teaching English in Busan, and gave us a few quick pieces of advice. We finally figure out that there is an entire city underground. You don't need to keep walking up and down the stairs to cross the street, you never come back up (or at least not until you reach your street). There are loads of shops, bathrooms, and even fountains underground to amuse you during your walk.
Phil and I followed the underground walk toward Busan Station (where Phil wanted to visit the tourist center). We reached a fork in the road, and weren't really sure where to go. Very helpful maps are placed all over the underground (and are all written in English). As we began to look at one, another teenage girl approached us and asked if we needed help. This one also wasn't from Busan, but just had to help out. She found out directions to the station, and left the underground to show us the way (I'm sure it wasn't on her way). About three blocks down, she asked a young guy if this was the correct way, and said something else in Korean
The tourist information center recommended we try China town for lunch (at least the location was right, directly across the street from the station). We found a cute restaurant that looked pretty crowded and ducked in. We were ushered to a room towards the back. The restaurant had several small rooms, with one family-sized round table in each. There was an older man enjoying his lunch at our table. He did not even look up as we sat down. He seemed to enjoy his food, and made slurping sounds with every bite. A minute later, he jumped up from the table (startling me), and ran out (we never saw him again).
We over ordered thanks to a hungry Michelle (and thankfully so). They made the best pork dumpling soup imaginable. The broth was very light and contained shrimp, shitakis, mixed shredded vegetables and a chewy type of ridged seaweed we've never before tried. The noodle encasing of the dumpling was very thin and soft. The stuffing, pork and chives, was very subtle. We shared a somewhat boring seafood fried rice that was enhanced tremendously by a goopy black soy based garlic sauce that spread like peanut butter but solidified nicely once mixed into the rice. We also had a spaghetti like dish sautéed in a garlic broth with shrimp and similar ingredients as the other two dishes
Our room at the Sam Won Jang hostel was great. It was in the heart of the Busan fish market (for those who do not like fish, this may not have been an ideal location). We don't mind the smell, especially when it means that there are countless great places to eat within a stones throw from our hostel. We had a private room, with a nice (western style) double bed. We also had our first private bathroom/shower since the trip began. Granted, the shower hung above the toilet. We had a big screen TV (32 in) and mini-fridge as well.
Around the block from our hostel we found the nightlife for all of Busan. About twenty square blocks of outdoor market lined the streets. Hoards of people tasted the local catch (mainly squid), and shopped at the clothing and jewelry booths. We found a busy, two-story Korean BBQ, and decided to give it a try
We were pulled into a busy BBQ by a middle aged woman who turned out to be the manager/owner
We walked around a bit more and I was finally able to convince Phil to go to the Keno Café. It was on the 4th floor of a shopping plaza, and I was excited to grab a drink and play a game or two of Keno. As the elevator climbed up, I expertly gave Phil the rules of Keno, and even let him in on my own strategies. We were greeted at the door, and were seated at an oversized leather booth (which seemed fit for royalty). As I glanced around the room (looking for the Keno screens), I noticed that the entire restaurant was themed in an old-world European theme. Dramatic wooden moldings, old-fashioned props, leather, and studding brought the humongous room to life. While the room was out-fitted with a stage complete with a Korean performer, it lacked the one feature I came to see- Keno!! I began to glance around, almost urgently, thinking I may be crazy. Did we get off at the wrong floor? I then saw a neon sign that read "Keno" above a black-tinted door.
Opening the door, however, sent the night into a completely different direction. The "Keno" room, was actually a mini-night club! A lone deejay sat behind a cloud of smoke and a disco ball. Two people stood in the corner, appearing lost (perhaps they too were looking for Keno). I sat back down, in hopes that as the night went on, the party would start. Phil and I began sampling the infamous Korean "firewater" (Soju), and we were ready to start the party.
A half-hour later, and the room was packed. The deejay's music was surprisingly only a year behind the times. The weirdest thing was the way that the Koreans danced! They would line up and face their partner (with about three feet between) them. Most just danced in place, rarely spinning or stepping out of line. Phil and I sort of followed suit during round 1. Yes, round 1. Apparently, this wild dancing is just a little too much for the locals, so the deejay completely shuts down after 20 minutes of dancing. Everyone takes a seat in the main room, grabs another Soju, and heads back for round 2, in another 20 minutes. Phil and I decided to make this one count. When Eminem began to sound through the aging audio system, we danced like two horny Co-eds on spring break. We rocked their world. Everyone began to just watch us (in amazement). We received thumbs up, and smiles. We were celebrities.
We became friends with an odd sort of trio at the table next to us (in between sets). There was one woman (who had had way too much Soju), and two very friendly men. Whenever the woman would go to the bathroom to puke, the men would hold hands and hug. As it turns out, one of the men was dating the drunken woman (who appeared to be unaware of their "special" friendship). It did however, add to the craziness of the night. We love Busan!!