Day 2: Koryo Bound

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A deserted Momochi Seaside Park in Fukuoka.

IMG_9893My ferry to Korea was due to depart at 11am, and I woke up at 6am, there was nothing to do but partake in the hotel buffet. After an hour of bacon and bacon-flavored sausages, I set out for the one tourist attraction I could find within the city limits, Fukuoka Tower, which didn’t open until 9:30.IMG_9863So I walked across the street to the deserted Momochi Seaside Park. The weather was nice, so it would have been a great day to go to the beach, but still very few people were there. Besides the occasional group of Korean tourists, the only one around was Shirtless Standing On Tables Guy who kept requesting me to take pictures of him. He really only had one pose, and never deviated from it, but kept calling for me to take more pictures. This continued for about 10 minutes until my brain finally came up with an excuse to get out of there that amounted to “Uh, I have to go now.” By this time the Tower’s gift shops had opened up so I bought fish-egg covered dried fish for a few people and headed up to the tower.

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It was a decent view of the city, perhaps not worth the Y800 entrance fee, but it killed a half hour which was just enough. I headed to the port and went through “customs.” It was a little bit like flying. There’s a check-in procedure, boarding procedure, duty free shops, even metal detectors and x-rays. Though both were turned off and none of the passengers were subject to any security checks. Granted, a hijacked boat with 100 people on board isn’t quite a hijacked 747.

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The interior is a lot like an airplane too. Hideously upholstered seats, tray tables, barf bags, and safety videos. The boat was full of Korean families. I only saw 2 other non-Asians and they looked as fish-out-of-water as me. When the jet boat powers up its engines, you really get the sense that you are on a rocket boat. It sounds like you are sitting on the wing of a DC-10. Though it has to be pretty powerful. I saw one headed back towards Japan, and they must get 10 feet out of the water. It takes 3 hours to go 213km, so it’s probably not THAT fast. But it’s downright SMOKING for what amounts to a tugboat on water-skis with a jet pack. One thing I’d recommend is to get a seat on the 2nd floor near the window for the best views. Most of the 3 hour trip is just ocean, but the last 10 minutes when you are pulling into the Busan port is worth it. It doesn’t matter which side, left or right, it’s an amazing harbor. It’s the third largest in the world.

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As I passed through Korean customs and took my first steps on Korean soil (pavement), something crossed my mind. “Shit, I don’t speak Korean.” I never really thought about that fact. What the hell was I doing in Korea alone? I was to meet a friend in a couple of days, but how the hell was I going to get there? I pulled out my trusty Lonely Planet Korea book (newest edition over 2 years old) and quickly realized it’s maps left MUCH to be desired.

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I imagine that the maps they sell separately are of much better quality (I would hope) but the ones included in the book are pretty useless as a navigation tool. After 20 minutes of wandering around in circles, I decided it was metro-time.
IMG_9929Metro’s being my forte, (or so I thought) I strolled down stairs confidently and determined my ticket price and went to pay. Except the damn machine wouldn’t take my money. I figured maybe it was a problem with my (crispy clean) 1000 won bill, so I bought a drink and got some change. But it wouldn’t take my change either. Granted I couldn’t read a damn thing, but there was really only one possible place the money could go. I tried all my coins and all my bills, but nothing. I started to doubt that the one piece of English on the machine, Ticket Vending Machine, meant what I thought it did. I consulted Lonely Planet, which only mentioned that the Subway was a quick and easy way to travel. I was deciding whether to try to ask the 80 year old shop keeper or the bum sleeping next to one of the machines when someone else finally came to buy a ticket. Oh. You pick your ticket first THEN put in the money…

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After the 20 minutes to buy a ticket, the train ride was 3 minutes. All for a trip that probably would have taken 10 minutes to walk, if only I knew which direction to go (or how to ask in Korean).

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I quickly learned that most Korean metro stations don’t have escalators. They don’t have escalators and they are DEEP. Fortunately, Yongdusan Park, which sits on a very high hill, has several escalators.

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I wandered up to the park, which was pretty crowded. It was full of families. I didn’t see any other (obvious) foreigners. I still hadn’t adjusted to Korean prices, the entrance fee to Busan Tower being 3000 Won, at first I calculated it as 3000 Yen ($30) instead of the actual $3. There was a bit of a line to the elevator to the top. I stood at the end, and was forcefully dragged to the front by two ladies who apparently worked there. I think it was preferential treatment, though it made me feel really uncomfortable. When the elevator came, the woman working it had to pry the doors open with her hands. Not a very settling ride. The top was packed with people, but the tower offered an excellent view of the city and the port.

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After leaving the tower and the park, I headed back to the metro station and went to Busan station to take the KTX (Korean bullet train) to get to Seoul. I wandered around the station looking for the ticket booth but I couldn’t find it. I finally broke down and knocked on a door that said INFORMATION to find two train workers. I asked them where the KTX line was. They answered happily in Korean. Of course I have no idea what they said, but it felt good to get the benefit of the doubt. In Japan, I could ask in fluent Japanese and half the time I’d still get an answer in broken English first. The only useful thing I got from the explanation was a direction, somewhere off to the left. I wandered to the left and up some steps to find another Busan station. I was in Busan Subway Station, not Busan Train Station. Even if I could forgive the ticket buying fiasco, this was a rookie mistake.

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I found the ticket booths for the KTX. There were 20 of them lined up along the wall. My advice would be to walk to the very very very end of the wall to the last ticket counter. It should say “Foreign Tourist Tickets” which means “someone who can speak English.” I told the guy I wanted to go to Seoul, and he asked me if I’d like a train that left in 5 minutes. I asked him if I could make it in time and he assured me it was no problem. It took me 2 minutes just to walk back to the start of the ticket counters, and of course my platform was at the end of the station. I get down the stairs to see I’m standing by my train’s car 5. I’m in car 13. That’s only 80 yards, not even a football field. I start running, at the last minute jump into about car 10 when the doors close behind me. I fight my way through the crowds to my car and to my seat.

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The KTX is newer than the Shinkansen (the Lonely Planet book says the Busan to Seoul line is due to finish in 2008…thanks guys) and faster. It’s got TVs in every car, though overall it’s not as nice inside. It’s smaller, and none of the seats seem to rotate. So some people have to sit facing backwards. Some people have a problem with motion sickness so many people were sitting on their knees in their seats facing backwards.

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Though the KTX is faster, it takes longer to go a shorter distance than the Shinkansen. I imagine this is because the KTX seemed to go around the mountains while the Shinkansen just went through them. I was in no hurry and enjoyed the Korean countryside which was really green everywhere. I made friends with the guy sitting next to me, a student who spoke pretty good English. He bought me a coffee and taught me to say a few words in Korean, which I forgot nanoseconds later.

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I arrived in Seoul and bid farewell to my friend (who’s name I also forgot nanoseconds after learning it). I had booked a hotel/motel online and had the subway station, so I headed for the metro. By this time it was getting dark, so when I got off at my station and walked up the 6 flights of escalator-less stairs it was night time.

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At this point I realized what an awful map the website had provided. It made Lonely Planet’s maps look like a street atlas. It was fundamentally useless, so I put it away and started wandering around. After circling the block a couple of times, I found a police station and went in to ask them. I showed them the crude map and they scratched their head for a while. One of them was selected to try to locate it and I followed him out the door and into the back alleys. And deep in the alley it was. Now I realized what a difficult task it would be to explain how to find the hotel with any sort of drawn map, so I’ve recreated the basic steps in a pictorial that is perhaps easier to navigate.

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When you come out of the subway, you’ll see the following. Resist your basic survival instincts and head towards the light in the back.

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At this point you are about halfway there.

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At this point, turn left, trying to avoid the tuberculosis.

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Just passed these two cats you’ll find your hotel/motel. Sleep well.

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IMG_0004Despite it’s somewhat sketchy location, it wasn’t a bad place. The rooms were somewhat large (compared to Japan) and although they were old, they were clean. It really is close to the station once you find the place, a 1 minute walk. It had 4 computers with internet for free usage, a free breakfast (consisting of toast, coffee, juice, and/or rice porridge), and the staff is all really nice. They all seemed to speak passable English and more importantly, fluent Japanese. I found out that many Japanese stayed here, and once the staff realized that they could more easily communicate with me in Japanese, they gave me all kinds of tips about where to eat and what to see. Though it was getting really late and I was exhausted so I grabbed some beer at the store, came back to my room, and spent the night watching this:

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I love Korea.

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~ by foomfoom on August 20, 2006.

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