This was my first year in Korea without a solid plan for the Lunar New Year holiday. For the first three years I lived here, I took these days off as an opportunity to travel outside the country. The first coinciding with my winter vacation to Malaysia, Singapore and Bali, while the second year I celebrated in Hong Kong. Two years ago I had a completely different experience, celebrating family style with my ex-boyfriend, his parents and even an afternoon visit Grandma's house - my first and only 세뱃돈 (New Years Money). A few students asked me if I would go home to see my family during the new year, a question I've gotten in previous years as well, but one that still surprises me. Not only do Americans not really celebrate the Lunar New Year, but there was no way I was about to do a 15+ hour round trip for a four day weekend. Funny that most Koreans consider a weekend trip to Seoul (roughly 3 hours) too long, but my 15+ commute home would be understandable. Not wanting to stay home alone for the weekend, I decided to take the opportunity and head down to Busan.
Upon hearing that I was heading to Busan alone many of my friends worried that I would be bored traveling alone, do we forget that I've done this before. To be fair, I don't love going solo in South Korea, a country catering to couples and groups, but on a weekend almost every individual is home with family and very few 외국이 친구 foreigner friends, I didn't have much of a choice. My main intent anyway was to visit the sea, Korean's love the 'winter sea' and somehow this idea has rubbed off on me, and also to finally visit SpaLand, one of Busan's famous relaxation destinations. It was only after I made all of my plans that I remembered one of my good friends, Minkyu is originally from Busan (where we first met) and thus I may not be all alone after all. We've been pretty good at meeting up in random destinations before, so I figured chances were high.
I keep telling myself to splurge on accommodation, book a nice room and enjoy it, but ultimately I go for the cheaper option - old habits are hard to break. I found a guesthouse only a few hundred meters from Haundae beach and figured what I saved on accommodation I could spend on food and drinks. I made one huge mistake in my travel plans, and that was opting to take the bus from Dongdaegu station direct to Haeundae beach. Originally I was planning to take the train, but without thinking decided the bus station was closer to my guest house and therefore more convenient. What I utterly failed to remember was that traffic would be insane due to the holiday weekend, this meant that what should have been a two hour journey instead took four hours. Clearly I've fallen out of practice with my travel habits after being stagnant for a few months :)
After arriving in Busan I was quickly able to locate my guest house, conveniently located above the Haeundae market, which was great considering how hungry I was upon arrival. I couldn't decide what I was in the mood for so instead opted for a handful of street food and a huge coffee, all of which I toted to the beach with me. I had originally planned to walk the coast east to the neighboring district, Jung-dong, known for its cafes, but considering my late arrival and strong winds opted against it. I hung out at the guesthouse for a while, chatting with the one other guest, an American who's in Korea for an undetermined amount of time (my favorite kind of travelers) while waiting for Minkyu. When we finally met up he asked me if I remembered his friend who was standing nearest me, to which I responded with utter confusion, I had no idea who this person was. It turns out he was the owner of the noraebang which we went to 7 years ago on my birthday when Minkyu and I first met.
By the end of the night it was very evident to me that we're getting older. The first time we met there was at least four rounds of drinking, ending with us closing down the noraebang and proceeding to then go drink more over a steaming dish of spicy chicken feed. All of this of course was followed with me being hungover on the train back to Gumi. This time though, we limited ourselves to two beers at the first bar, followed with a walk along the beach (see the above lights festival) and then a late night coffee. Honestly, I'm not mad about the change in dynamics, but it's weird to not be wrapped up in those all night benders anymore. I was happy to return to my hostel at a decent hour though as I had plans to wake up early and head to the Spa.
The spa offers a discount for both early morning and late night visitors, so I figured I mine as well take advantage of that, not to mention smaller crowds at that time of day. I was definitely tired after only 6.5 hours of sleep, but I figured relaxing at the spa for four hours (the full time limit) wouldn't take too much out of me. I paid my 15,000 won (roughly $12) in exchange for two towels and my adorable wardrobe of brown, pajama like outfit. I always hesitate with things in Korea, worried that I won't understand how things work or be lost without English, which is silly considering there is almost always some English and I can understand Korea (I just doubt my ability to do so). While there was plenty of English instruction I was the only [white] foreigner at the spa, at least for my first few hours.
I started with about a half hour soaking in the different baths, my favorite being the one with strong jets to massage away muscle tension. I know a lot of people who oppose the traditional Korean bath experience, not wanting to get naked in front of tons of other ladies, but I have no problem with this. I get stared at by simply being white in this country, so what's the difference if they see my lady parts. After the baths I changed into my stylish wardrobe and explored the myriad of sauna rooms the spa has to offer. There were rooms of varying temperature and moisture levels, but one of my favorites was the meditation room. I was enjoying the silence and relaxation, however a few times snoring ajossis (older men) forced me to relocate. The spa also has a relaxation room equipped with lounge chairs and TV's (the later which I could without). There's also outdoor baths and a footspa, but given that it was the dead of winter only the later was open. When I first arrived I was unsure if I would use the full four hour time limit, but it turns out I had no problem doing so. Eventually though it was time to pack up and head out, back to the beach.
With decent weather and plenty of time on my hands I decided to walk back to Haeundae beach for lunch, a travel habit of mine that probably wouldn't go over so well had others been with me. I tend to spend half my time walking when traveling, which not only saves money and provides free exercise, but also allows me to see "behind the scenes" of a city. By the time I got back to the beach I was once again starving and once again sought out the market I had slept above the night before. I found a small shop with a steaming pot of ddeokbokki out front which drew me in. This isn't usually one of my favorite foods, but something about the day, the shop, or the sweet ajumma working pulled me in. Instead of killing another day alone wandering the city I decided to head back home to the comfort of my own bed. I caught a late afternoon train and by dinner time I was back home, having accomplished my three goals of the weekend.
Where to start. After living in this country for three years I have memories, experiences and stories galore. I'll now always be a bit partial to the Land of the Morning Calm. Filled with delicious foods, beautiful nature and friendly people, I'm always happy to return.