My week in Busan is fairly whizzing by, thanks, I think, to the amazing hospitality of our hosts and also to the onslaught of experiences that have nudged me ever-so-slightly outside of my comfort zone.
I’m no stranger to East Asia, but this was my first trip to both South Korea and Busan. The port town itself is a kind of chilled out, beach-side Sim City, steeped in history and surrounded by tree-covered hills, topped with surprisingly low clouds. The area I’m staying in is called Haeundae – a name that literally breaks down into ‘sea’, ‘cloud’ and ‘mountain’, a perfectly pithy description of Busan.
It’s not any sense of culture clash that I’m experiencing. I’m inordinately proud of navigating the city’s public transport system for an adventure at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, a Buddhist temple hewn into the cliff side and which contains some very specific shrines for people concerned about road safety, hoping to do well in their exams or birth of a son. The food is – of course – amazing. And everyone is super friendly and pretty patient with my mangling of the rudimentary ‘hellos’ and ‘thankyous’ of the Korean language…
But the change of scenery and assortment of quirky experiences provided by the hosts has certainly given my brain a little jolt (though that might also be the jet lag and doomed attempts to go running in 70% humidity). New – and unexpected – experiences too.
Yesterday I accompanied the Ad Stars judges to a Fish Cake Museum. A whole museum dedicated to the Korean fish cake – whoddathunk of such a thing? A little sceptical at first, the whole thing got deliriously silly when we discovered we’d be making fish cakes of our own. It was a dreamlike mash-up of your high school Home Economics class and… people you know from the advertising industry… conducted in Korean. And then the hairnets came out.
Next up was a visit to Jagalchi Fish Market, which really was about as far from my comfort zone as I care to get. I deeply distrust animals that have neither a skeletal structure nor a face… they all seem a bit Lovecraftian for my liking. Tank after tank, bowl after bowl, filled with anus-y sea cucumbers, strange tubes the colour and shape of hotdogs that one of the Chinese delegates translated as ‘penis fish’, and all sorts of other globular monstrosities. One stallholder was playing a game of dockside Whack-a-Mole as she attempted to stop her little octopi escaping the too-small tank she kept them in. And I’m kind of surprised at myself that I managed to stay still enough to take a video and didn’t just run away screaming… But then I’m glad I didn’t. The whole place had a beauty to it; ordered and industrial, filled with primary-coloured plastic.
And I don’t think I’m the only one who is using the trip as a mental pit stop. Whether they’re fiddling with their cameras trying to get the perfect long exposure shot of the Busan skyline or letting off fireworks on the beach at 3am in their pants (I couldn’t possibly say), it seems like the judges are also finding something about Busan to capture their attention.