Or maybe it’s just that I’ve been happy with my place in life. That’s not a feeling I’d come to associate with life in my nation of birth. I thought it was just exclusive to my Korean experience.
So, I was in the process of working myself up for a few months spent in Australia. I’d talked with my friend Dave about him being my wingman and I’d agreed to tag along to a speed dating thing with my friend Brendan. After what is probably the most sober year I’ve had since I was old enough to tip back suds, I was looking forward to painting Sydney red and experiencing it from a different angle.
But that wasn’t to be.
When I’d first decided to head back to Korea midway through this year, I had two locations that I wanted ahead of all others. One o them, Gwangju, had the plus of being a place I knew well – but the drawback of a place that I spent a considerable amount of time exploring with Fallon.
My other choice? The very cool city of Busan on Korea’s east coast. Korea’s second largest city, Busan is perhaps most famous for Haeundae beach. But there’s more to this massive port city than a stretch of beach that comes to resemble an organized orgy every summer. There’s a vibrant foreigner scene, a world class aquarium, the requisite number of temples and ruins, an easy three hour ferry ride across the Sea of Japan to beautiful Fukuoka, and all of the history associated with being Korea’s ‘second capital’.
Y’see, during the Korean War things were pretty grim for the South – and at one point virtually all of the peninsula had fallen into the hands of the North. All, that is, except for resiliant Busan.
I’ve been to the city twice before – once in a hit and run trip across to Japan to arrange my second Korean visa, and once in a posse with a group of friends for an escape from Gwangju and its ex-related drama.
Not really knowing too much about the city we made a beeline straight for the beach. Koreans don’t really do the beach right. Where Aussies would be out dodging chest high breakers, surfing, body boarding, and sunning themselves – Koreans seem intent on doing the exact opposite. They wade around in the timid surf and wear more layers on the beach than the average foreigner would in winter. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a Korean surfing. But I do like that their beach culture lasts well beyond the setting of the sun. Where Aussie beaches basically become ghost towns once it’s no longer hot out – Korean beaches remain a hive of activity even at 9 or 10 at night. Families sitting out underneath the stars and vendors peddling fireworks give it all a bit of a carnival feel.
The rest of our weekend in Busan was what you would expect from a bunch of young, single foreigners. We drank far too much at bars ranging from the empty Thursday Party to the criminally sleazy Bar U Two where the girls were set upon by ever desperate loser in the joint. We ate delicious Indian food at Ganga, sang noraebang into the wee hours, and spent our recovery day exploring the aquarium and wishing we hadn’t made the mistake of mixing poju (Powerade + soju) with whiskey.
But I’ve gotten way off base here. Suffice to say I had a good time in Busan and I’d heard very good things about the place ever since. My friends Marilize and Anne both live there and have both told stories of their nights out watching the Lotte Giants baseball team or spent sunning on the less crowded beaches. In short – if I couldn’t be in Gwangju, I wanted to be in Busan.
I celebrated my 27th birthday with the news that I’d been given an offer from a hogwan in Busan. The initial offer was a generous one – but I sent back a few requests and half expected to be shot down. Still torn between spending more time in Australia and returning to my old stomping grounds, I was actually surprised when they replied mere hours later with a new contract incorporating every one of my requests.
I ummed and erred about it a while, but Fallon talked some sense into me. In a nation where finding an understanding and flexible boss is a rare feat – it would be criminally stupid of me to turn down a job that sounded good and had a boss who would make changes to ensure I was happy. I’d replied within the hour.
In the past week I’ve begun to assess just how little time I have to get everything organized. I’ve got a quick visit to my family this weekend and then it’s off to New Zealand next Friday. After that it’s Fiji, the break-up, and more Fiji – and I touch down again in Australia on January 14th. With my new school wanting me to fly out again on January 20th – that gives me a damned small window to work with. I’ll basically have to drop off my visa documents on the Monday and fly out on the Thursday, and I don’t think there’ll be time to see the family. That turns this weekend’s Christmas visit into a big goodbye as well, and means the task of packing begins now.
I spent my afternoon going through our room here and deciding which things would stay, which would stay with a view to going to Korea, and which could go into storage on the family property. Being limited to cramming your entire life into one 20kg piece of checked luggage and one piece of carry one makes for some hard decisions.
a). Amusing t-shirts that Koreans won’t get? Home
b). A year’s supply of Australian Four Four Two? Home
c). Weighty D&D tomes? Home
d). Letters from Fallon and photos? Home
e). That pair of ugly underpants Fallon insists I throw away? Oh, you best believe they’re coming to Korea with me.
In addition to the packing and the arranging of my documents to send off for my visa – I’ve also been lucky enough to exchange mails with the American guy I’m replacing, and it’s been a big relief to find out that the school is a pleasant work environment; the apartment is big (and has a double bed and desk); and I’m close to the subway. Close to the subway means close to the night life – and that’s where I want to be.
So my travel calendar just got a little bit more hectic. Looks like the next relaxed weekend I have won’t be until mid January. Crikey!