Korean Adventure Day Three: The Solo Job

Posted by Stephanie on July 1, 2019

General

Day Three, guys! This day finds our team separating for the first time since arriving in Korea, the ladies on a temple tour and I (accompanied only with my squeaky sneakers, tourist map, and a dream) on a solo trip across Busan. I figure out public transportation, learn that Google Maps perhaps isn’t the best thing to use in a pinch, hike out to seen the wilds of Busan, jumped head first into KBeauty in Korea before venturing out on a tiny bus up tiny streets to a tiny village up on top of a mountain then back down in order to catch a viewing of thousands and thousands of dead fish.. A busy day indeed. 

Let’s get started! (Alert, copious amounts of photos ahead)

In the scheme of the trip itself, it was a big day, in the scheme in the evolution of Stephanie, it was even more significant. While we were planning our trip, or when I was thinking of going to Korea, knowing I didn’t speak the language, I was daunted with the idea of going anywhere by myself. If we haven’t met, I’m Anxiety Girl with my own personal special power being the ability to overthink and stress out unobjectively over any situation. 

Or I should say, I used to be. 

It’s actually something I’m working really hard at getting better at. It might be a product of getting older, it may be the fact that as much as I stress about a situation, I always managed to figure it out and come out the other side. This being said, my gut instinct is to always go with, “I can’t do that.” 

So when we were planning this trip to Busan, and we were booking out our tours, thinking about what we wanted to do, luckily a lot of it aligned with everyone in the group. With the exception of a temple tour experience. Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at temples, but for something about this tour made me go eh (It wasn’t ‘something’ it was the part about going to this ladies house for lunch. While my friends went, had a great time, I was weirded out by going to this strangers house where she would then feed you kimbap.) but that gut instinct held me back from making my own plans. The more I thought about it, though? The more I sat down and had a conversation with myself about the difference between nerves and reality, reminding myself that I moved from a small town in New Hampshire to New York City without knowing anyone and made it out just fine, that I took the chance, quit my job and moved, sight unseen from NY to Colorado and everything worked out just fine? The idea that maybe, just maybe I need to give myself more credit for bravery than I actually do took root. 

That thought in mind, when it came down to the day to book? I jumped ship, deciding to spend the day by myself in Busan. I didn’t have a plan. I decided I could either figure out one there and if I managed to have a great adventure, awesome. Or if that was too big for me and I only managed to get as far as a local coffee shop with my computer to write, and people watch? Either way, I would come out a winner. 

I had the thought to go up to the ruins of the Japanese samurai village, but, looking at my wildly inaccurate tourist maps, it seemed too far away, so it was quickly scrapped. I spent the evening pouring over my options, trying to make plans.

We all got right up and got ready as their ride for the temple tour was early. We went to the local Paris Baguette to get pastries for breakfast. Mine had copious amounts of mayo, corn and cut up hotdogs. An experience not to be missed!

Knowing I was going to not only tour on my own, but I was also going to be venturing out on public transportation, I knew I needed to get a transportation pass. You know that thing they beep on the busses and subways in dramas? Yep, that’s the one! 

You can get these in pretty much every convenience store. I popped into the one closest, this being my first solo test — trying to get a card that I didn’t really understand, and to get it filled. Enter who I’m guessing was the manager of the convenience store. Referencing last week’s post, he fell under the column of utterly delighted to see us. He was super excited once he realized what I was looking for and instantly took me to a rack that had a variety of cards, some with cute cartoons, plain ones with just text, some with actors or idols emblazoned across the front. He pulled those out to me and, no lie, said. “Look! Very handsome man!” 

I think I disappointed him a bit when I chose one with those cute line cartoons on them, thinking I could send this to Jr. McFeeley at the end of the trip in her souvenir bag. (This was also a theme for the journey, picking up this or that for my favorite little kpop fan. There got to be a point where I told the ladies if I said one more time, “But this would be great for Ry!” to slap whatever it was out of my hands.) We when to the counter, and tried to get the card to work, ie to load it with cash, but unfortunately, for reasons explained to me in Korean, I couldn’t use that particular card, and they could only sell me a plain black one.

Which I have in my wallet to this day.

He wished me luck on my day, and I joined the ladies outside, my pass to adventure in hand. Over our hot dog breakfast, we discussed our plans for the day and decided on an itinerary. They were going to go on their trip which they figured would end about 1 and then we’d meet up in Gamcheon Villiage which was high on a lot of lists, visit that, then head down and do the Jagalchi market, apparently the biggest fish market in all the land. Awesome. 

Plans made, breakfasts washed down with a variety of americanos, banana milk, and liquid yogurts, the ladies started out first. Good luck, friends! 

A little while later, I, empowered by my BeWhy powered playlist, gathered my passport, phone, and egg, and left the house to find the bus stop, which was, handily, right across the street! I had trouble seeing the bus numbers, so I actually stood there through two rotations of buses, allowing the first one to pass as, while I thought it was my bus, I wasn’t sure, decided not to get on only to realize as it left, yep, my bus. That’s okay. It was just more time to fortify myself. More time to be gawked at by the people headed off to work, waiting at the same bus stop. 

It’s cool. Whatever. I’m a strong independent woman. I can do this.

The next time the bus came by, I braced myself, pretended I knew what I was doing and mounted the steps, beeping my new pass as I marched by the scanner. I was in a kdrama! The bus even had those little valances all across the windows like you see in shows. What Kdramas won’t tell you? Korean buses smell like mothballs. Not sure why. And it wasn’t just this one. 

Anyway, I found a seat and sat down, where I had my first mini panic when I noticed there were no pull cords to signal a stop. Luckily, Lisa, friend, and current resident of South Korea was there to help and calm me down. 

Whew. Crisis averted, I managed to watch the passing scenery as this bus took me from the beaches of Haeundae to the heart of Busan. Where I needed to get off to swap buses. Usually, Google Maps is my JAM. It’s gotten me around everywhere I needed to be. Turns out? In South Korea? Not so much. It works a little bit but isn’t as updated and will randomly turn from English to Korea and will not know the names of streets. Not helpful for a nervous person in a country where she doesn’t speak the language. I used a lot of data actually watching the bubble that was me in the bus on the map travel the roads to guess what stop was mine. (Note to future me, download Naver maps already!)

First attempt? Success!

I chatted with Lisa in South Korea and Thea and Jami on the east coast. It was so fun talking to them throughout my trip as their excitement, wanting to know what was going on, really bolstered my drive to push forward. I had to succeed, I had to report back!

Changing from the bigger commuter bus to one of the small locals, I spent most of the rest of my trip on my feet as I kept giving up my seat to the older ahjummas who while they seemed surprised and happy when I did it. However, if a younger Korean person did not? Ooooh, the side eye they got! It was funny how they didn’t expect me to know what was expected of me.

The bus got more and more rural as we got closer to our destination, which, I just now realize I totally skipped over in my narrative. What I had decided on was Oryukdo, per Wikipedia, a group of islands located in Yongho-dong, Nam-gu, Busan. It had nature trails and a skywalk. And, according to, what we all know now was my highly inaccurate tourist map, is relatively close by to Gamcheon Villiage. 

Turns out, I didn’t have to worry about where to get off, this location was so far out, it was literally the last stop on the bus. Also good to know as that solved the other worry, how was I going to get back?

Oryukdo is beautiful, all craggy and rocky. It was me and a lot of Asian tourists and people just out for a hike on their day off. It was also me and a lot of older people, a lot of ahjummas in sun visors. Awesome.

Like any good tourist, I popped first into the gift shop/information center. Two girls were working the desk, each standing in front of a sign proclaiming one was fluent in Japanese and the other fluent in English. I squeaked my way through the building, catching the marvelous views of the sea. Deciding to purchase my postcards for my coworker (Known to Kchat as Boulder Girl) after I’d explored the area, I headed off towards the direction of the skywalk. See here, it’s essentially a large platform over the cliff edge, which, just for giggles, also had a glassed-in bottom. YIKES!

The weather was sunny and warm, perfect for this sort of adventure. I made my way up to the platform, where I was told by the smiling man at the gate of the walkway to put some cloth booties on over my shoes, so we don’t scuff the plexiglass. (Or that was my summation as, really the man just smiled, pointed to the box filled with cloth shoe baggies then gestured to my feet. Sometimes words just aren’t needed.)

The views from the top were pretty amazing with the bright sun and the slight breeze. I photographed everything and took an inordinate amount of time selfie-ing. Though not quite as much as those around me. Korean girls have selfie-taking down to an artform. Really, watching them was pretty interesting, and I learned I have got to step up my selfie game.

(Yes, I’m wearing two coats here, I was COLD most of the trip.) After, I climbed down, closer to the water, and around the rocks.

I had about an hour to kill before I figured out I needed to be on my way to meet the ladies in Gamcheon as, turns out, Gamcheon was way further away than the map led me to believe. Earlier in the day, I’d had the thought, oh, I could totally walk there, and turns out? Nope, it’s over an hour bus ride from point rock where I was to point hill where I needed to be. I meandered down to the old ladies cooking and selling that day’s catch. (various things in shells.) 

While my gumption got me through a lot on this trip, it didn’t get me enough to go up to them as they were pretty irritated by a girl standing right over them taking photos. The oldest of the group kept waving her away, but she wouldn’t stop. Ugh.

So I moved on. Back to the gift shop, I bought and filled out a postcard that, weirdly, the girl (the English speaker was on break so it was just me and the one who could translate Japanese) tried to explain to me that if I mailed the postcard there, it wouldn’t’ get to where I wanted it to go for a year. STILL not sure why this is a thing, but it’s now over 3 months later, and Boulder Girl is still waiting on that postcard. With the time remaining, I decided to follow the hikers up the hiking path, hoping I could get to a rock formation that was supposed to look like an old woman. As I’m from New Hampshire, the land of The Old Man In The Moutain (look it up) it seemed fitting that I pilgrimage to her.

In this time, I poked at my travel companions and got an update that they have been all over Busan and were, in fact, still alive and having a blast. After, I realized that, unfortunately, tourist maps being what they were, and me on a schedule, decided to give up the old woman. I turned and started hiking back, where I met up with my first foreigners of the day, two young white girls who gave me the nod as we passed each other.

Deciding to go back to wait for a bus as I figured it wasn’t best to trust Google Maps when it said the next bus was coming. Along the way, I realized I was actually a little hungry and, though I hadn’t been brave enough to go talk to the old ladies, the ahjumma in the back of the van making something that smelled delicious? Count me in.

Turns out she was making something along the lines of fish bread (the fish-shaped snacks with red bean in the center) except these were actually flower shaped – so cute!

I got to watch her make the whole batch and bought enough for myself and to bring some back to the ladies as I’ve never seen them in this shape before! (Spoiler alert: I ate the whole bag.)

Hopping on the bus which surprisingly enough, arrived almost as soon as I got there, I look at my phone. A new message from Alix along the lines of….enjoying your snack? 

WTF. 

Turns out? Their tour took them to Oryukdo! HAHAHAHA. I just imagine the surprise Alix must have felt when she saw me standing there, waiting for my snack. Bumping into someone you know halfway around the world.  As I was already on the bus it was too late for me to get off to go see them, I decided to push forward. The bus became more and more packed until we were all crammed next to each other. I sent a message to Alix letting her know I was on my way, and I received one in return saying she wasn’t sure they were done yet. As the people and the mothballs were starting to get to me, and I was close to my stop, I decided to get off the bus and walk the remainder of the way to the bus stop. 

In fact, the impetus to get off the bus? BEAUTY SHOPS!

I was in a university area, and the street was lined with shop after shop of K-beauty. Knowing the other ladies were probably going to be running late, I figured this would be the perfect time to wander, kill time, and go into the beauty shops in honor of the friends who taught me everything I know about K-Beauty, Thea and Regina. 

Though embarrassed by my shoes, I tiptoed around Innisfree, deciding to focus on something I actually needed, something, that by looking for and purchasing directly, they’d somehow know I actually knew K-beauty and therefore was really one of the cool kids. My point of access? The Canola Honey Lotion, which is actually really great and I was scraping the bottom of my container at home. Downside? I couldn’t find it anywhere in the store! I circled and circled, squeaked and squeaked as the sales girl followed me, not two steps behind (its a thing there, get used to it). I felt my plan beginning to crash and burn, second-guessing myself about the product…until I actually found a lip balm with the same label. Finally my in! I screwed up my nerve and turned to the girl, still at my shoulder. She looked concerned that what was about to happen was actually going to happen…I asked a question.

With my negative Korean and her limited English, it was mainly a bunch of slow talking and hand gestures until finally, she whipped out her phone, frantically typing, before turning it around for me to see. Discontinued. Noooo!

I purchased the replacement, Ginger Honey Lotion, and a couple of other things in my first 1+1 sale. From there I went into Etude House, Face Shope, Misha. At Etude House I picked up a mascara that is, by far the best mascara I have ever used. It’s a mascara you only put on if you’re ready for a long term commitment as once you put that sucker on it’s not coming off until it so chooses. This mascara laughs in the face of oil makeup remover, chuckles at face wash, and sneers at beauty water. So I bought another one later on in the trip.

The college area was a big shopping center, so I popped into a GIANT Daiso (a Japanese dollar store) looking for a bag to carry my purchases in as I didn’t want to travel around with shopping bags and my travel purse was only so big.

I found a Miniso which had actual EXO and Wanna One bobbleheads on the cheap. I messaged Jami, Jr. McFeeley’s mom to see what member of Wanna One was Jr’s favorite, but time differences being what they are, I moved on.

While I hadn’t heard from the ladies, I’d killed a good hour and change so I figured I should probably find a bus and be on my way towards Gamcheon. Wandering, I found the stop, hopped on the bus, quickly pinging my badge against the sensor, and was off.

In the wrong direction. 

Yep, I’d gotten on the right bus, but in the wrong direction. GAH! I hopped off the next stop, found the correct stop in the correct direction this time, and waited for the next bus. Srsly, Stephanie, get yourself together! I was a little concerned I had was running low on funds on my card with all of this travel and decided to pop into a convenience store on the next stop. 

Remember that thing I said about google maps? How I couldn’t always tell when the next stop was going to be? Here’s where that bites me in the butt. When I pop off my bus and look for the next one? Turns out I’d gotten off one, possibly two stops too early. Irritated with myself again, I decided to just hoof it to the next bus. 

Unfortunately, that’s where I got the text from the ladies saying they were finally back at the apartment and had decided not to come. Ummmmm. Okay. But, as I was literally one more bus ride away, and giving up then would have been a waste of the afternoon, I decided to push on. so I popped into a convenience store, recharged my transit card (by pointing to it with a questioning smile) bought myself a triangle kimbap and moved on.

I found the bus, which was like one of those small school buses. We took twists and turns through narrower and narrower roads until finally we were on the last stop and we all got out. (It was me, some old halmonies and some school kids in their uniforms. One of the fascinating things about the Gamcheon Cultural Village is the fact that people still live amongst these tiny houses turned tourist attraction. 

Here’s the description of Gamcheon from Culture Trip, where I first learned of it, and it immediately got put on my must-do lists. 

Gamcheon Village, once a dilapidated neighborhood that housed refugees following the Korean War, was transformed in 2009, when the government’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism launched an initiative to turn the area into a creative community. Under the theme, “Dreaming of Busan Machu Picchu,” painters and sculptors added their artistic touch to the streets, homes, and businesses of Gamcheon. 

I wasn’t really sure what to expect or what to do when I got there. Did you just go and look at the views? At the bus stop, there was a sign and a community center, and some pretty mosaics made out of colored pieces of wood. I snapped some pictures and then followed some of the others until I found the entrance.

Guys. No lie, Gamcheon Villiage was one of the highlights of my trip. If you ever go to South Korea, and you ever make your way to Busan, please, do yourself a favor and go to Gamcheon. It’s an experience like none else. Not only is there art everywhere, but the whole place was turned into an art piece. You can wander the streets and see something different every time. There were little businesses, yes, some of them filled with the usual tourist crap, but around the next corner or in the next alleyway, there would be an artist in residence, selling their crafts. There were little food stalls. There was a little boy who was captivated by the squeaking of my shoes. Me walking and stopping when he turned around became a game we played. There were places where you could actually rent vintage costumes, so the streets were filled with girls and guys in hanboks.

There was even this, these boys in front of me, obviously mortified, surrounded by people taking pictures and laughing, wearing the female hanboks. Obviously, someone lost a bet the way they were trying to hide their faces. I’m absolutely convinced that somewhere out there a youtube video exists of some trying to make it idol group doing team challenges at Gamcheon.

It’s a maze of streets, alleys, and staircases, with periodic views over the mountainside. The sun was bright and made the colors of the houses pop.

It was selfie mania there, with tons of photo op places, friends and couples mugging for the cameras, selfie sticks at the ready. I tried my best to up my selfie game, but I was no match for these giggling teenagers.

You wind your way down the mountainside, poking into little alcoves all decorated differently, signs warning you that people do still live there so be considerate. There was laundry hanging out and cats laying in the sun. 

Here was a pathway inspired by books, one of my favorite nooks, even if I did fall in a hole that had been covered by a welcome mat. (I recovered gracefully.)

Partway down, I stopped at a Little Prince themed coffee shop (Little Prince is HUGE in Korea) and there were three very old women working the counter. Cleaning the machines, fiddling with the cash register. I decided to feel fancy and went with a Ginger Latte that was spicy and delicious, and sat there to drink it. It was there I learned that the coffee shop was made specially to give seniors jobs.

Sadly, it was time to come off the mountain. I wound my way down and back towards the bus station.

I, back onto the tiny little bus and was hurtled back down the tiny little roads.

Deciding in for a penny and all that, I should continue on and do the Jagalchi market, as it was right by one of my connecting bus stops. It’s a really famous fish market, and I was hitting it just as the sun was going down and right before the rain started. I loved seeing the aisles and aisles of fish stalls, again with their ahjmummas in rubber gloves and boots, their brightly colored vests, bundled in puffy coats, against the backdrop of Gamcheon. I wandered, looking at all the fish, some of them I’ve never even heard of before.

The incoming rain didn’t stop anyone here, no, it was business as usual.

As I walked, umbrellas began to pop up around me, until it was like I was being followed by a canopy. Alas, there is only so long you can look at dead and not so dead fish before you get creeped out and have to move on. Since I was a solo, I didn’t feel super comfortable trying my luck eating by myself, Ieft, hopped on a bus and headed back for the apartment.

It was time for everyone else to go home too as the bus was tight and required a two-handed hold as we buzzed down the streets. Note, Korean busses are not for the un-surefooted! Or for those who don’t care to be mushed in next to your fellow rider, standing room only. As we hurled our way back to Hongdae, I tried to text the ladies that I was on my way back, but I’m pretty sure it was all gibberish. 

Don’t let go of those handles!

Back at the apartment, we decided it was time to eat some bbq in the Korean BBQ homeland. The ladies had done some wandering in their time back at the apartment and had found a street which was the home of many such restaurants, each proudly proclaiming which type of meat it specialized in by a big picture of said animal on the sign. Did we want cow? Or did we want pig? 

Wherever we ended up, it was tasty. I’d show pics, but I forgot my phone in the apartment…whoops! Breaking the cardinal rule of leaving the house: Egg, passport, wallet, phone. While there, we did learn a trick to actual Korean restaurants though…get this! The stools they sit on? They are actually empty bins you can put your jackets in so they 1) don’t get in the way and 2) don’t smell like grilled meat when you leave! We were astounded and remain so this day. I’ll never look at one of those restaurant scenes in a drama the same way again! Thanks, Random Stranger sitting next to us who clued us in! 

So this was my epic day three! All in all, I’m so proud of myself. If you made it this far, thanks so much for reading! Tune in for next week’s post for Day Four where we battle the elements and take a tour to the ancient ruins of the Goryeo Dynasty. 

4 Comments

  • Reply Temple Connolly July 1, 2019 at 8:53 pm

    Gamcheon Village is delightful, isn’t it? There are a few mural villages around Korea but that is my favourite, hands down. I love Busan! I’m so happy you guys all went exploring. Some of my friends chose not to visit Busan and well, I give them the kind of side eye usually reserved for Korean high schoolers who don’t give up their seat to old ladies on the bus.

    • Reply Stephanie July 10, 2019 at 12:22 am

      It was so lovely! I would totally go back there, and I’m sure if I did, there’d be so much to see that went unnoticed the first time. We had always planned on going to Busan, but last minute swapped from doing it second to first. It was a great choice, such a nice way to start the trip!

  • Reply kfangurl July 1, 2019 at 11:13 pm

    You strong, independent, adventurous woman, you! YAY that your solo adventure turned out to be so much fun! 😀

    • Reply Stephanie July 10, 2019 at 12:23 am

      Thanks, friend! Sometimes you just have to let go and see where everything takes you. I’m trying really hard to remember that! <3

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