Busan, Korea Rep.
After two days doing little, I figured I should see a bit more of Busan than Haeundae beach. Yesterday I had taken myself off for a long run around 11, which wasn’t as big a mistake as it might have been, given a cloudy day, though the heat was deceptive and I was soaked through by (before) the end. I ran along the coast, as I has on Saturday, reaching a natural turning point at ‘the view’, a restaurant on top of a hill, just behind a large area enclosed by green netting that had puzzled me for a while until, with the clarity of thought that comes from a long run, I realised it was a driving range. There are several around town. I turned, just after the hour, ending up running for 17 seconds longer than last week, for exactly the same distance. Hmmph.
I had lunch in one of the touristy restaurants almost outside the hostel. The owner pointed to just one thing, octopus and something soup, ‘the best for stamina’, it said. Whether that was her speciality or the only thing she could be bothered to cook, I don’t know, but stamina is the right word for me, we agreed a price and I ate it and accompaniment right up.
I spent the afternoon on the beach till rain drove me in. It ended up raining for the duration and I found a comfy spot. The hostel has an upstairs, rooms up there unused as it is quiet, but with a kitchen and, on the mezzanine, mattresses and cushions. Later the manager treated the three of us knocking about, my korean roommate and a French girl, to a beer. He is from Osaka, so reminisced – he misses it, over here just to run the place while the owner is in the US.
Monday morning I headed to Daeyeon to see the UN memorial cemetery. Volunteers everywhere, one happily hit play on the video in the chapel, which have some background on the Korean War and made clear their gratitude for UN intervention though the shiny UN logo and, to my eyes, slightly amateur text overlays combined with repeated mention of “invaluable sacrifice” and other overly adjectivised phrases to give it an overblown feel. By the end I was in the mood for some Starship Troopers. The art of the overblown.
From there I took the metro to Nampo. The metro has four well organised (in that very few stations are close to each other) lines. Music plays in the station just before the train approaches – I think the soundtrack differs by line. There’s also a musical intro for stations at which you can change onto other lines – the guide I read mentioned birdsong, which is the soundtrack for the seaside line to Haeundae, other lines differ. It’s all charming, and a single ticket is a maximum of 1400won (80p), a day pass 4000 (£3.2). Nampo has the shopping area and is by the port, a great spot to wander. There’s a web page on ‘awesome Busan’ giving you a decent two day programme, which sensibly points out the Jagalchi fish market is not for everyone, but I loved it. I wandered through the first hall, impressed by the variety of sea critters wiggling around their tanks. I assumed this was it, watching stall holders expertly gut and skin fish, but outside were dead, prepared fish, tiny stalls at which to eat, full ones with four people on stools talking to the owner, larger restaurants with owners temping you in and, gradually, stalls selling items other than fish.
It smelt of fish, obviously, but not so overwhelmingly as you’d expect, I don’t know why. A strong breeze, perhaps, though I did notice some stalls burnt incense by the fish, as much for smell as keeping away insects, I guess.
I’d missed out on a baseball game in Japan for reason only of indolence, but the Lotte Giants were at home and I was determined to see them, so headed for the stadium, there before 5 for a game starting at 6.30. Hopping off at Sajik station I saw my directions were right and I indeed couldn’t miss the stadium, and I was at the front. The football stadium is somewhere off behind this one from that direction. The ticket office was up a ramp and closed, with a cluster of people round it. It soon opened and I paid not 7k for the back of stadium seats, but 10k (£5.75) for a spot nearly in line (a bit closer in) with first base and the home plate. The next section was only 2k more, but I remember fondly being in Barcelona and a group of us deciding the cheapest seats would be fine and gradually – “it’s only five euros more…” – working our way up to the second most expensive on the grounds we wouldn’t be back to the Nou camp. No regrets about that, but I stuck with my initial thought here.
Once I’d got my ticket, curious, I wandered round the back of the stadium, grimy at ground level with disused gates betokening better times. I could hear a distinct noise, though, like a not quite rhythmic banging, and with a glimpse of light and green through slats I realised the practice area was just inches away, the sound that of balls hitting gloves.
I was very excited. The team have something like a 57-56 win loss record, which puts them in mid table – better than the ‘perennial bottom feeders’ tag that lonely planet gives them, though perhaps it’s not the despair of being at the bottom but the hope of climbing the table that really gets you. I found my seat, at least I think it’s the right one – it hardly matters, you can see the size of the crowd from the picture. I’m not sure why people queued at the ticket stand, unless they have one particular seat they want – no area is so small that 10 people getting ahead of you will prevent you getting in. As I sat in my seat, finishing the grim Rabbit, Run and watching adorable small people do some kind of warm up song I was interrupted by some university students who wanted to ‘interview’ me, which was entertaining. They are studying English literature, which gave us kinship at least, but whether my talking about being at my first baseball game will be of interest, I don’t know. They and the fried chicken sellers outside (one of whom more or less chased me, as if once I understood she had fried chicken I would be a guaranteed sale) would be forgiven for spotting a white man and expecting an American, given the sport, so maybe thought we could compare notes on our teams. Instead I had only “um, I’ll look it up – I hope you will too” in answer to “can you tell us some English baseball teams?”
I loved the game. The next section over, section A to my B (and I could easily have strolled in there) had the voluble fans in, addressed by cheerleader and man with microphone and whistle, quiet for the opposition innings, musical accompaniment for the home. Plenty of k pop, I’m sure, but I was playing spot the song for the western songs with korean lyrics – by my reckoning we had “Obladi, Oh Carol, Lady Gaga, Loving nobody but you for all my life, I love rock and roll, Cum on feel the noize, Super Trooper, If you’re happy and you know it (lotte!), Glory glory Tottenham Hotspur and Pretty Woman, each one I think attached to a particular batter. The home team did well, too, scoring in inning 3, loading the bases thanks to a couple of second base steals in inning 5 and picking up 3 more, and cementing it in inning 7 with another 3, making the Wyverns’ solitary point at the end irrelevant. Apparently the standard is high minor league, but the crowd much noisier. Official attendance was only 3287, but they did make some noise. Lotte are fifth, but can’t make fourth at this late stage. Two more home games in the next two days keep them all busy, though, I hope they get the same all energy whistle blowing lunatic I had, I loved him and was singing along by the end, though without more practise I couldn’t quite inflate the orange plastic bag they gave me to let me stick the handles round my ears and wear it for the end of the game.
Tomorrow, to Geongju, a smaller city on the cusp of a national park.
“In fact he has hardly listened; it is too complicated and, compared to the vision of a sandwich, unreal.”