Welcome to Korea!
Moving right along I embarked on the next "leg" of my journey hopping a ferry from Fukuoka in Japan to Busan in South Korea (which I will refer to as Korea). I have never had any real interest in visiting Korea, but given it was just across the "ditch" and I do have a great friend who live's here it seemed appropriate to go.
I hadn't done any research, my arrival point was the most convenient given my location in Japan and the advice I received from my friend Jin, so an overnight bus ride from Hiroshima to Fukuoka was the beginning, I had tried booking the ferry online but to no avail, not that it wasn't possible, just that I couldn't translate the web site, so on arrival in Fukuoka I figured I'd just make my way to the port and take it from there...
Of course nobody told me it was peak holiday season in Korea and as a consequence the cheaper of the two ferries I was aware of was fully booked, "you can't fit one more on"? I pleaded, "sir, we are licensed to carry 640 passengers and we are fully booked"! Trust me to come across the only person that worked for the company to speak English, how could I dispute such eloquence? She advised that if someone didn't book in she would advise me, of course the "other" ferry was available but it was another 4000 yen, and that buy's a lot of beer!
So I waited, watching the crowds flock in, at one point a passenger collapsed on the escalator, his luggage continuing it's climb while he floundered at it's entry, could this be my chance? Nup, he recovered, of course I was happy for him...
At the designated cut-off time she came and informed me that one passenger was yet to check in, but that they would wait just a little longer, it was all I could do to remain calm, thinking there is just one chance to save 4000 yen, of course it's not a huge amount of money but when you are traveling money issues take on a lot more importance, not that I'm on a budget, as such, but I try to minimise all my costs, and hate unexpected blow-outs!
So, minutes later she came towards me, "sorry" she said, "the last passenger has checked in", but then announced that there was a third ferry company I had never heard of who did have a seat available, and that it was actually 4000 yen cheaper! Buddha be praised, in a matter of moments I had achieved an 8000 yen turn around, what luck, I was tired after the overnight bus, but damn I felt like doing a jig right there in the middle of the terminal, happy days indeed! And in an amusing piece of irony the third company was called "Dream", mine had come true!
So after paying port taxes and the fuel surcharge (wtf is that?) in cash I had enough yen left to buy lunch and an ice-cream, beautiful! I boarded and found myself in the second row of seats, but, inexplicably, the entire front row on the other side was empty, so when we launched I wandered straight over and settled in, this was becoming something of a habit, when leaving Hiroshima on the bus I found myself in the very front seat of the bus, with a wall in front of me and wedged against the window an unusually large gentleman, with one leg! Jeebus, there was no way I could play the sympathy card and complain about a lack of leg room now, was there?
But there was also no fucking way I was gonna spend the whole trip in this seat, so after we departed I leaned over and asked the driver if I could move to one of the empty seats behind, he didn't understand and waved me away, I stewed and thought no, I have to make a move, so I climbed over my one legged friend and made for an empty seat, I didn't know if we were picking up more passengers but thought I'll worry about that if it happens.
Sure enough the bus pulled off the road into another terminal, uh oh, the driver made straight for me with his clipboard and, although he spoke no English, I knew he was telling me I couldn't stay there, but damn, I'd come this far, so I waved him away and gestured that it was too cramped and I wasn't going back, he was totally exasperated and appeared to ask if anyone on the bus spoke English, there was deathly silence so with that he marched off, moments later he re-appeared with a cute girl from the bus behind (we were traveling in convoy) who I had heard speaking English earlier..
She inquired as to the problem and I explained, she exchanged this information with the driver and after some chat she announced that I would have to go and sit on the other bus, YES! You beauty! So I grabbed my luggage, headed for the other bus and settled into a vacant row of seats, I could even put my feet an the seat opposite and almost lay flat, a great result! Then, amazingly, the driver from the first bus boarded, walked up to me, smiled, and bowed! Now some may think I am an unspeakably boorish man with no regard for order and process, to those I say, you are right, but ask yourself, would you just accept such inconvenience when there was such an obvious alternative?
Now I had made the move on the ferry, but I was unchallenged, with that others gained the courage to join me and stretch their legs, nervous smile's all round, I wasn't sure if these were Japanese or Koreans but either way they have a lot of respect for order, which is great for a boor like me because I get first crack at any superior options..
So I arrived in Busan, of course there were more obstacles to face, first I had to find accommodation, Jin had suggested a place text moments before I disembarked, but after being blessed again to find an English speaking girl in the Information booth I discovered her option to be a little on the expensive side, wtf? I text' back, "you think I won the lottery"?
Fortunately the Information girl had another idea, she rang a guest house and yes, they had a vacancy, she explained a taxi would be no more than 4000 won (about AUD$3.30), great, all I needed now was cash! But it also gave me a sinking feeling, in Japan there was only one bank which would accept my card (Citibank), she explained there was an ATM in the terminal but I knew it wouldn't be that easy, so I asked if there was a Citibank around? Yes there was, and she even knew it's location! This was all going swimmingly, she marked it on a map for me, I really had been very lucky, so far..
Yes, sure enough Citibank was a no go, I tried a few others, no luck, I was faced with walking back to the terminal and throwing myself at the mercy of the dreaded money exchangers...oh perish the thought, but, I figured while there was an untried ATM i would persist, and in another piece of good fortune i found one that worked, it had been a remarkable day of up's and down's. Now I had to get a cab to the guest house, probably my greatest hate when traveling, the first taxi ride, particularly when it's blindingly obvious that you just "got off the boat"!
But it all went very smoothly, 2900 won, I gave him 3000 and told him to keep the change, it doesn't hurt to be generous...the guest house was a revelation, (as was the area), on the 7th floor overlooking the port, above the famous Jagalchi (fish) Market..
And the guesthouse/hostel was awesome, the best I've ever seen, marble floors, all the mod cons..
but the best part was the area, it might sound surprising but, after Japan, I had the feeling that I was back in Asia again, street food, organised chaos, cheap "knock offs", rubbish in the streets, tout's, all the great stuff that makes Asia such a wonderful location, but best of all, the most amazing fish market..
Some amazing creatures, and all for sale, just take your pick upstairs and they'll cook it for you, or, of course, you can eat it raw, but that's a story for another time, so far, I like Korea, it's all a bit crazy, maybe I'll fit right in
Til next time..