Saturday, May 7, 2011

Back to Busan: Part 1


I had originally thought that this post would be the first of three so that I could allow enough room for a detailed daily travelogue of our trip south. But, you and I both know that's boring, so here are the highlights...

KTX - I was pretty dang impressed with the ride. The rabbit and I had to be up early in the AM to catch a 5:45am subway to Seoul Station in order to catch the 7:10 train. But we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed - hell, we were going on a Busan trip! As a guy who grew-up in land-locked Calgary, any trip to the coast is a little slice of magic for me. If there's a promise of the smell of the sea, and if there's boats, chances are you're going to get a lot of smiles out of me. The train ride there was just under 3 hours - reaching a top speed of 303km. 5 or 6 stops there and back, and a smooth ride. It's not the Shinkansen, but it's pretty damn close. Of course, trains always make me think of my dad. It would have been a great way for my parents to have seen more of the Korean countryside.

Sajik Stadium - the rabbit was able to secure two tickets to a sold-out Children's Day game pitting the hometown Busan Lotte Giants against the visiting Samsung Lions from Daegu. Sajik is commonly referred to as the "Mecca of Korean Baseball" and before you laugh at the thought, remember that it was South Korea that won the men's baseball gold in Beijing and it was Korea vs. Japan for the last World Baseball Championships a couple of years ago.

Korean's take their baseball seriously, but they also love to make the game viewing experience a lot of fun. With only 8 teams in the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) and all of them prominently sponsored by a recognizable Korean corporation, it's easy to follow what goes on in a season. The Busan Lotte Giants are my team - admitting complete ignorance about most of the team's history, they won the first baseball game I ever attended (Giants vs the Doosan Bears back in 2009 at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul) and they have the best fans. For example, what likely started as a couple of zany fans being creative with their team down in the bottom of the 9th has now blossomed into roughly 30,000 biodegradable orange food garbage backs being passed out by stadium staff at home and visiting games so that fans can inflate them and tie them atop their heads for a make-shift rally cap. The uniqueness is gone, but everyone gets goofy together and has a garbage bag to take home at the end of the night. It's win-win.

As for the game, it was hot as hell (zero shade available in the open-air stadium and the sun was fierce. But, the atmosphere is second-to-none. Every hometown player has their own cheer in the form of an altered song as they come to bat. For example - Giants slugger Lee Dae-ho steps up to bat to the echo's of Harry Belafonte's "Day-O". It's not particularly creative, but as with most things surrounding Korean baseball fans - outward displays of goofiness equals a good time. Going to this game felt like a real treat and a rarity and I' going to do my best to follow the team as best I can through the summer when they come to Seoul to play the Doosan Bears, the LG Twins or the Nexen Heroes. I've become a Lotte Giants nerd, and I'm clearly unapologetic about it. I need me some live sporting events, and there aren't enough K-League soccer games to keep me invested day-to-day. For the record, the Giants went down 1-0 in the 3rd inning and it stayed that way until the top of the 9th when their pitcher loaded the bases twice and allowed 6 more runs to lead the home team to a 7-0 loss, but the Giants have come back to win their next two games here in Seoul. I might be attending the game tonight.

Gwangalli Beach - Second only to Haeundae, this is probably the second most popular beach in all of Korea. Between the two though, I would have to say that I prefer Gwangalli. It's smaller, it's a more rounded cove, and it's less of a shit-show than the more popular beach a bit west with it's own eponymous tsunami disaster film. We were happy to be there early-ish enough on the long weekend to secure a place for the night at a pretty cool little jimjilbang over-looking the beach and the Gwangan Bridge - another attempt to solidify Busan's reputation as the San Francisco of Korea, aside from the baseball team and the general hilliness, I mean. Jimjilbang's are all pretty much alike, but they vary in cleanliness - as expanded-upon in a recent customer service exposé which showed some lack-of-sanitation nastiness that would have shut the entire industry down in Canada. I'm happy to report that this particular jimjilbang though was clean as a whistle. But its the view that makes it a winner. I mean, just look at what we woke-up to. The problem for me though comes in the fact that you need to sleep on a heated marble floor. That shite just isn't comfortable. I mean, it makes sense as far as keeping the place clean goes, but dang. I either need to toughen-up or pad my skinny self with far more fatty tissue than I currently have.
Next up: The city itself, Geoje Fail, and a Temple by the Sea...

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