Hiroshima Flower Festival and Busan, S. Korea

Well, it was Golden Week in Hiroshima and the city was booming with hanging fish flags and tents set up along one of the main roads for an upcoming parade. Andrew, Brendan and I had to show up at the stadium during GW, regardless of most everybody else in the city getting off work, because the Carp had a 3 game series. I will have to say though, this is one time where showing up to work at two different places has paid off. The radio station had very little for me to do when I went there during GW because basically everyone was out of the office, so I got a lot of time to study and to ride my bike around the streets set up for the GW/Flower Festival. There were tens of thousands of people in the streets and an entire main street was blocked. Some of my favorite things to take in were the traditional Japanese drum performances by some students from a local art college, as well as some local bands that were set up who dazzled everyone with their musical intellect, and also a hip hop dance crew. I was scolded, not once, but twice because I was doing a slow roll on my bike through the crowd (using my legs to basically walk while riding, if that makes sense), and the thought of spending time in a Japanese prison made me think again about trying my luck with these guys. So I walked my bike through, each of the three days seeing something new…and for the most part, people watching. One of my favorite hobbies. I have been taking different routes and ways home to try to fill in the blanks in my mind’s map…if my mind even HAS one. I usually caught some of the baseball games after cruising around, and Tommy (first Japanese person I met -from my first post) who is the mascot for a Tokyo baseball team was in town for GW so we spent one night going to Sado-san’s place to eat and hang out and the other night I sat with him and Yoko and cheered on the Carp, for their 3rd old out game in a row. (The Carp, by the way, are doing very well this season and are tied for first in the standings) Brendan has started full-time as the mascot and it’s been interesting to see him and Andrew communicate about things that have gone right, and wrong.

I am in a separate office than Andrew and Brendan so they usually make a lot of plans and then ask/tell me about them later. Not that I care at all, because mostly they are awesome plans that I wouldn’t have thought of. Andrew told me that for the 3 day weekend they were thinking about all of us going to S. Korea, and that it would probably only be about $300 round trip by taking an overnight bus and then a ferry from Fukuoka, Japan to Busan, S. Korea. We tossed around the idea of going to Seoul, but Andrew crunched the numbers and Busan was just cheaper and closer. The only thing about Busan that I knew was that it was a big port city. I googled it the day I heard about the plans to go, to get a feel for what the city had to offer. I liked what I saw. Once we got some paperwork lined out for our passports, we were good to go.

We left Hiroshima late Thursday night (11:30pm). We got onto our charter bus and luckily were in the back of the bus and had 5 seats to ourselves. The bus made two stops for restroom breaks, etc and we arrived in Fukuoka that next morning at probably 7:30. From there we took a local bus, that we almost couldn’t find, to the docks where the ferry to Busan was. The ferry we took was a hydrofoil boat (google it), and when we reached top speed if didn’t really feel like we were even on a boat. Although, on the way there, I was asleep for most of the 2 hours and 55 minutes it took to get from Japan to S. Korea.

We arrived at the docks and went through a quick customs check. We had to walk through radiation scanners because we were coming from Japan. We weren’t radioactive, obviously, so we continued on our way. It was hilarious to see Andrew for the first time NOT being our translator. He was as helpless as Brendan and I were, not being able to read or speak Korean. The only plan we had made before we came to S. Korea was where we were going to stay. Andrew had used couchsurfing.com before in order to stay somewhere for free while traveling. I think Brendan and I were a little on edge about the whole thing, but apparently hosts and guests both have feedback that is left from other people on the site. It’s sort of like Ebay…..you don’t buy from people with negative feedback. So Andrew found a host that seemed trustworthy, and they agreed to let us stay at an extra apartment they had. When we arrived in Busan we decided to find our place straightaway so that we could travel a little more light. We got to the apartment and we put in the code the hosts gave us for the building, and then the code for the room and there it was…our own FREE apartment in Busan for 3 days. We dropped off most of our stuff (kept our passports and tickets, in case the whole thing was a scam), and took off into the city. There was a famous temple that was not far away, so we headed to check it out. When we got to the end of the subway, we took a cab the remaining few miles. It was maybe a 10 minute cab ride to the temple and when we saw that the price was only $5 USD split three ways, we didn’t think twice about EVER taking another cab while in Busan.

It was Buddha’s birthday the upcoming Tuesday, so the temple was decorated and there were huge crowds of people there to visit and pray. We got some good pictures, any with me in them are usually from Brendan’s camera he bought right before the trip, and he has been getting good use out of it. After the temple we took a taxi back into town and stopped by a Starbucks. We met some girls there who spoke Japanese and English, so Andrew started asking where all the famous spots to visit are. They walked us all the way to one of the famous beaches and then they had other business to attend to. Another experience where hospitality was freely given with nothing asked for in return. Later that night we met up with Hank and Samantha, the couple who was letting us surf on their couch (so to speak). They were in their 20’s. Samantha was from Missouri and Hank was from Chicago, and they were both English teachers. They were amazingly nice and showed us around the city, to the market places, the viewing tower, and took us out to eat at a restaurant on the first night. I can’t imagine experiencing Busan without their help. There were a few things we had to figure out on our own before we met them though, including buying passes and maneuvering through the subway system, but that’s all part of the excitement. One of my favorite things from the first night, besides eating Korean food and getting owned in darts was having a waffle/ice cream sandwich. There are no words that I can type to explain what was happening in my mouth…

Saturday we woke up a little before 11:00 because Samantha was going to meet us to take us shopping in the marketplace and use her vicious negotiating skills on the natives on our behalf. Not the easiest to get up at 10:30 after staying up until almost 3:30 like we all did, but we knew we had to get in as much as possible. We spent a lot of the day shopping in the open street markets. We all had certain things we were looking for specifically, so if someone was in a shop, the others waited outside or went into shops close by. We had lunch at a food stand in the middle of the market place, and once again I was the slowest eater in the group. Story of my life. Samantha and Hank pointed us toward the Busan viewing tower and they went to shop at another store. The gave us one of their cell phones so we could get a hold of them after we got done with the tower, since we didn’t have phones that worked. We noticed also, that it appeared that there was a parade forming in the streets. There were thousands of people lining the streets and guys in suits with bullhorns telling us (in Korean) to get off the road. We headed up to the tower, and after several cases of staircases, we were caught in a crowd. We pushed through into the street and to the other side and into an even bigger crowd. At that point an explosion of pyrotechnics and confetti happened literally right next to us. It was the start of the parade, and we had climbed up to the starting point. We passed through dancers- dancing, and pipers- piping and finally got to were we could purchase tickets to go up the tower. ($4…wow) When we got to the top, it was a 360 degree view of Busan. It was absolutely spectacular and by no means short of breathtaking.

Busan was not letting us down.

We got back down into the city and the parade was still going on so we enjoyed that for a while. Later that day we went with Hank and Samantha to the open fish and seafood market. It was absolutely incredible to see the mass amounts of merchants with their daily catches. I saw eels being skinned alive and put into a bowl while still writhing in pain, I’m sure. Andrew held a live baby shark, and I saw the biggest octopus I have ever seen. If I didn’t smell what I did that day ever again, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. Later that evening Andrew, Brendan, and myself went to the largest department store in the world and spent countless hours in the food court/market and then made our way to the roof of the building where there was the most beautiful park area overlooking two different views of the city. It was very romantic…as romantic as it can be with 3 guys, I guess. The other two sides of the roof went up another 4 stories where there was an indoor driving range. We snuck in to check it out, and then made our way all the way back down to meet up with our hero hosts again!

We all went down the street from our apartment to the most famous beach in Busan. It was a 6 or 7 minute walk in beautiful weather. When we got to the beach, our hosts told us that we will probably be greeted soon by woman selling fireworks to set off on the beach…they were right. Seconds later we were confronted by a merchant, who was turned down because she wanted $2 for each roman candle. We found our spot on the beach, and got fireworks from another woman who was willing to deal. We fired off the fireworks and used Brendan’s camera to get some legit shots. Hank was telling us about their experience last year during a HUGE firework display that happens in Busan during October. Apparently there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who come from all around for this firework show. They shut down the main bridge and use it to fire off of. I’m thinking about trying to make it over this October. After the beach, we met some of Samantha and Hank’s friends at a local pub. We stayed and talked for quite a while and after I was ready for bed, but a local named Charlie wanted to show us some more sights. We spent the next 2 or 3 hours with him going from one place to another. One place in particular, called Ghetto, was a Korean techno dance club. We stuck out like a sore thumb, but eased in after a few minutes. I, of course, saw the hundreds of people dancing by the DJ and the fog machine, and made a B-line for the dance floor. We all worked up a pretty big sweat and took off after a while for our next adventure. The area of town we were in was almost completely foreigners (as in white people-American, Euro, Aussie, Etc.) It was weird for us, because in Hiroshima we are among a VERY small amount of foreigners. We had another late night…

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Our last day (or half day), we attempted to shop in the open markets by ourselves. It seemed more crowded, and we were exhausted. It was way easier when Samantha was helping us with her shopping skills. We toured another large shopping center and then went into an underground shopping center to get some ‘Korea’ shirts. We started to get a little worried that we were running out of time so we started booking it to the ferry dock. We made it. And we left with awesome memories, new friends, and a new stamp on our passport. The ride back on the ferry and the overnight bus provided us with very little sleep. I did get a chance to wish my Grandmother and aunt Susanne a Happy Mother’s Day during one of our late night stops, which was great!

Getting up at 8:20 after getting to bed at close to 6:00 was VERY rough, and I was recording my show that day as well. I saw coffee in my future, and I made that become a reality. Busan was awesome, and I really hope to get to go back at some point. The radio recording went surprisingly well for how tired I was, and how wired on coffee I was. I talked completely about the S. Korea trip on this last show. I am recording again this Friday, because my translator is in Tokyo this next week. I am getting to know Taka (my translator) really well, and he has actually been asking me a lot about Christianity. He is an atheist, and is intrigued by purpose and the idea of a creator. He wants to meet me a few times to talk about it. I would ask that you all please pray for him, and the journey of faith he is on.