The last days in Asia. The opportunity to visit urban Korea, a missed chance to meet Baby Face and the long flight to the US.
Busan, 30th August
Now we’re backpackers again. What a miserable destiny. Prado on the way to Tacoma, US. We from Changwon to Busan, Korea. An odd bus waiting for us.
1h to Busan West, …
… another hour with the metro to our accommodation.
Now we’ve time for sightseeing. At least for the few must-have-seen sights in Busan.
1st of all – the place all this raw fish comes from, the Kories munch whenever they can. Easy to find: the fishmarket. Just follow the fishy smell and you’ll find the fish. A short walk to the sea shore …
… a lot of fish and other monsters of the sea being prepared …
… to be sold in the huge fish market.
In the back roads eateries preparing all these delicacies for an incredible high prize, …
… and many other offers for the poor guys getting lost in the port area.
Finally of course a lot of opportunities for odd shopping.
To avoid complete confusion with all these fascinating offers some clever Busies built a tower. You pay a considerable entrance fee and an elevator takes you up to 127m.
And you have the complete overview again – provided you find some space between all the selfies being taken at such an extravagant place.
Finally, there’s another must-have-seen-sight in Busan – at least according to our beloved Lonely Planet: Gamcheon Culture Village. A former slum now converted into a tourist hotspot. It’s famous for its colourful houses.
Not a really interesting place. Mainly degenerated to a backdrop to make selfies, to take pics of each other’s incredible and eternal love and to imitate scenes of famous Korean soap operas. Maybe rather a place to study the mental state of its visitors than a real sight. Whatever …
Seoul, 4th September
On to Seoul. As backpackers of course by train. We still don’t feel 100% as real backpackies. Therefore, we ignore the super cheap local train taking 24h for the 500km to Korea’s proud capital. We decide for the fancy train. This 1 speeding to Seoul in just 2½h. Logically, it’s more expensive than the slow 1 – about 10% more.
Early afternoon we’re in Seoul. Among some 10 mio other guys living in this town. Very backpacky – like we take the subway to our accommodation near Myeong, 1 of the town’s eatery centers.
And here to our huge surprise: it seems that in Seoul it’s not forbidden for Kories to speak English.
If in Seoul, of course the most important place to visit is the North Korean border. Maybe another chance to shake hands with Baby Face or to drink a beer with him. Well, maybe he’s too busy optimising his personal nuke to drive Uncle Donny to distraction. Who knows, we’ll see once at the border.
So we book a Panmunjon / DMZ tour. Together with 25 others we start early morning in a big tour bus. What the hell, we’re in a real tour bus with a baby sitter in front of us telling us every 5′ what to do and what we better not even have to think about.
1h to the border. Some 20km from the border the 1st road block. An army youngster checking our passports. No more pictures – the North Kories might use them to invade.
Then we arrive at a place they call Camp Bonifas. Here all seems to be top secret. No idea if we can take pictures now. Everybody takes them secretly. A lot of barbed wire, a lot of uniforms, flags and other important signs of the presence of even more important peace keepers. Now an American army guy has to check the passports again. Still nobody is imprisoned for taking pics.
We’re driven to a big building. The camp’s information center cum souvenir shop. We have to learn about Korea’s history; about the good 1’s and the descendants of evil. An US army guy knows perfectly well the whole story.
Then we have to sign a paper that we’re fully aware of the dangers of the next destination on our tour …
… and then finally time for the souvenir shop. Most of our tour members miss it – they need to visit the restrooms.
Finally we’re driven in an army bus to the so-called Joint Security Area invented by UN. A place where South’n’North Korries may meet in a friendly or hostile atmosphere. Where they may exchange their different points of view, discuss eventual problems, maybe have a beer or a bottle of Soju together. All under the vigilant supervision of the UN. Unfortunately the locals are not really keen to socialize. They rather use their encounters for staring at each other, in rare cases for some shooting or attacking the 1 or the other with some axes.
And that’s the place where we are now. Luckily it looks very peaceful. A few South Kories are hanging around, some US guys get us organised for the visit to this area, no Northies in sight.
We cross a building and arrive at the famous blue barracks: in the center the Conference Room. In the middle of these buildings the border between the 2 countries and in front of us Southies staring poker-faced at their northern counterparts behind the barracks.
Over there a similar poker-faced Northy fixing the Southies.
And then we’re in the middle between them when entering the blue building. And we can even walk to the northen side of the room – into North Korea – so we’ve definitely been in Baby Face’s people own Empire.
This room is the very place where the Southies and the Northies negotiated on the demarcation line and the DMZ some 70 years ago. The place where they still discuss their current problems – should they arise and where they accuse each other constantly – should they really agree to meet.
Then, what a relief, we’re allowed to take pictures. Of course only in direction of North Korea. We can even take pics together with the poker-faced Southy inside the building – but should even not think about trying the same with their northern comrade.
Even if there’s not really something to see, taking useless pictures helps to overcome the absolutely nightmarish, depressive atmosphere at this place. Not to think about the 2 sides entering the barrack to accuse and threaten each other again. After 5′ we have to make space for the next tour group. A last pic of the Northy’s poker-face and everybody’s happy to have been in the blue barracks and even more happy to have them left savely to return to the south.
Out of this Joint Security Area. Back to our bus. A visit to a closed railway line over a bridge, a bombed locomotive, …
… and a newly built railway station that has never seen a train crossing to the north. Of course everywhere great opportunities to buy DMZ souvenirs. At least for those not in urgent need of a restroom as there’s no time for both excitements.
Then a visit to a tunnel. They call it the 3rd 1. As the Southies put a lot of barbed wire, TV cameras and other nasty toys along the border with their northern neighbour, pretty common tasks like secretly visiting the girlfriend in the south becomes an incredible pain in the ass for the Northies. Thus, rumours claim Baby Face’s service oriented government responsible for digging these tunnels to allow socializing over the border. Unfortunately other gossips rather tend to an invasion of the Northy army to the south. Whatever the plain truth, we can visit this tunnel, even not 2m in diameter. Of course they closed it after a few meters to avoid northern lovers or army to intrude. No pics allowed. So the 1 on the left is just downloaded from internet.
After this highlight of the tour a movie. We expect something interesting about digging tunnels between the 2 countries. Completely wrong. We get a 30′ propaganda mess the Southies prepared to influence the poor visitors.
What a shame. Therefore, we highly recommend the Management of DMZ Tourist Development to send this movie as a gift to the Northies. Instead they could show to the poor tourists some scenes of James Bond saving the world from North Korean leader Kim by converting him into Kimchi .
Then we need an overview. For that, there’s the Dora lookout. A hill a few km from the border. Many binoculars for those hoping to see Baby Face. Us too.
Nevertheless, you only can see the Southies’ Friendship Village next to the border with the Southies’ flag on a 100m high pole. Then some barbed wired. After that the Northies’ Propaganda Village with a 140m high flag pole. Whatever the names, whatever the height, the Southies’ flag looks nicer.
To make the whole issue more interesting, both sides converted the whole scenery into a kind of disco with lousy music and a DJ speaking much too much. According to them it’s propaganda to make sure either the Southies or the Northies will defect in near future.
And that’s the end of the tour. Quite impressive, quite depressive in parts. But it may only get better by making less propaganda. Baby Face – unfortunately we couldn’t see the guy that day. The next day only we’ve learned that the whole day he was digging a deep hole next to the Chinese border to prepare the next test for his very people own nuke test.
Back to Seoul. To commemorate the successful tour in a real Korean eatery: an all you can munch barbeque. Braaied fat pork belly with cold beer.
And a stroll thru Seoul’s Myeong District to admire all these incredible offers.
And now to the must-have-seen-sights in Korea’s proud capital. Of course some of the famous palaces – not all, would be too much of this stuff.
1st to the Changdeokgung Palace and it’s secret garden.
The latter really beautiful, unfortunately it can only be visited with a guided tour. According to our observations strict rules apply. Offenders are clearly warned what they have to expect.
After our tour back to freedom. A walk thru the CBD, …
… on to the Seoul Plaza …
… to admire the impressive architecture of Seoul’s City Hall.
Nearby the Deoksugung Palace. Well, another palace. Looks a little like the 1 we visited this morning. But how exiting there’s music’n’dancing – supposedly the Kories know that we’ve already seen a lot of palaces in Asia. So they add something new – just for us. Maybe it’s just an ongoing event. Who knows.
Finally to the greatest of Seoul’s palaces: Gyeongbokgung. It’s a Sunday. So quite some visitors. Many of them in rented traditional clothing.
The sensation is not really the buildings. They look somehow the same as in the other palaces: new, museum-like constructions without life in them.
No, the reasons to come are the guards and their ceremony of change: a lot of exercises – probably to stretch the muscles of the guys who had to stand at the entrance gate for 3h without moving.
There’s more in Seoul should anybody be slightly tired of buildings. As the town is quite big and some streets are pretty populated, the guys constructed a hiking trail in the CBD. Above the streets. They call it the skywalk.
Then an interesting project. To avoid the Seoulies to develop bad taste there’s the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. Whatever the intention – a great building.
Seattle, 4th September
It’s 4th September. Time to leave Seoul, time to leave Asia. In the afternoon to Incheon Airport. Delta Airlines to Seattle. A last Sushi at the airport and w’re heading for the tube. Just 10h on ½ sqm, an uncomfortable seat, gusty food, warm American beer, unpleasant neighbours and moody stewardesses. Well, maybe not that bad, but also not much better.
Nevertheless, a great chance to have some justice in our favour. Since we’ve started travelling in Asia we nearly lost half a day of our life due to the different time zones. Now it’s time for a revenge. Flying further eastwards we’ll gain half a day again!
So we start at 6pm in Korea, make a huge detour around North Korea to arrive 10h later at 12am the same day in the US. Logically half a day younger. And just to live the very same day a 2nd time. Great, isn’t it?
Thus, if you want to get younger just fly eastwards on this route. Be careful not to convert into a minor – and don’t make any mistakes, you might leave the plane as a senior if you fly the wrong way.
And that’s it for now.
Wanna know how life is in America? You’ll know it once the next post will be published.