19.01.2009 - 24.01.2009
I got up at a leisurely time and caught the frequent shuttle bus back to the airport. I checked in at the priority dragonair counter, headed through to the wing and got me some breakfast. I filled myself with made to order noodles, pastries and sandwiches before heading to the Qantas club as it was closer to y departure gate. I got there to find myself he sole occupant, which was nice, here again I raided the buffet. I then found that y gate had changed so I left the lounge and walked down the terminal. Boarding commenced shortly thereafter and I had the privilege of receiving the much anticipate beep when my boarding pass was scanned. The agent checked the computer and then handed me an already printed business class boarding pass. 3 out of 3 upgrades was very impressive and I was surprised as this flight was not totally full, as the previous ones had been in both classes. I took my seat to find that only 3 of 8 seats were filled so in this case I had one side of the business class cabin to myself. The seat was nice enough for a narrow body and I settled in to my copy of the Finn Review that I stole from the Qantas club. If I knew I would have the space of business class I would have taken The Australian! We took off flying right over sunny bay and the empty looking land there. The service was fantastic right from the start and I spent many minutes agonising over wether to get the western menu or the Korean one. I ended up with western though I was not anticipating a serious 3-course meal on the flight, so I made provisions by stocking up at the lounges. This resulted in feeling ill after struggling to finish the dessert. Thankfully this soon subsided and I went through the entire day without spending any money on food. There was no entertainment on the plane at all which was the only negative about the flight, though anticipated. I was ‘randomly’ (only one in business not sleeping) selected to fill out the customer survey, which I did for my free dragonair pen – I had collected my Cathay one after doing the survey last year to Vancouver. We landed and I was first off, first through immigration and even my bag was the first one (with priority tag), something that has never happened to me before – regional airports excluded. I was soon out in the cold air, hopped in a taxi and 30 minuted later arrived at my exceptionally located hotel. The hotel itself was dated and basic, but like everything in south Korea, very cheap. I went to bed full and satisfied.
The full extent of the location did not hit me until I ventured out in the morning, after a considerable sleep in. It was right in the entertainment district with PIFF (Pusan international film festival) Square just around the corner. This festival is very important here and as such there were a ridiculous amount of cinemas located within a few blocks, like in Cannes. I decided to check one out and saw The Day the earth stood still (private session) and then Yes Man back to back. Both cost less than $5. The latter featured some parts of the plot in Korean, which got huge laughs with the locals. Following this I walked to the escalators (think HK mid levels) to Yondushan park, which featured the rather puny busan tower. This provided a decent overview of my local neighbourhood and the busy port. I then proceeded to peruse the wild variety of goods offered in the substantial old market area nearby the hotel; one could fill a new house from scratch with everything you need here. I chowed down on local favourite Lotteria for dinner before calling it a night. The rubbish disposal at fast food joints here is so regimented I gave up, as one is required to separate everything into different receptacles, all labelled in Korean. At least in Japan its just removing the ice.
I hit up Maccas for their signature breakfast fare before walking the short distance to the waterfront Jalgachi fish market. This was a full sensory experience with every possible part of fish/sea creatures for sale either fresh, preserved or canned. I was on the lookout for some whale meat to try but my Korean wasn’t up to it. However I did find huge dried bats, an impressive assortment of dozens of seaweeds/sea grass and penis's. Most sellers here were old women who apparently spoke their own unique dialect. I then hopped on the subway to the foot of the local hills at geumjeongsan. Enroute I was approached by a brave young Korean who after some time conversing invited me to join him for dinner which I accepted, as he was on his way to uni and I had a mountain to climb. The plan was to take the ropeway and then walk along the fortress wall ruins to a significant temple, beomeosa before taking the local bus down to another subway station. I found the ropeway easily enough and waited for its half hourly trip. The view from the top station was fantastic and I headed off into the pine forest armed with the lonely planet guidebook. This was famously inaccurate and combined with the sporadic English signage resulted in me getting lost. I unexpectedly reached a main road and decided to wing it and went off down a small trail, which was under some sort of work. This trail was much more enjoyable than the previous large scale wide paved one I had been on though it was quite steep in parts. There was plenty of close access to the flora and fauna, many of which was stuff you can’t see in the southern hemisphere. After sometime I reached a stream which was semi dammed to provide spring water for hikers. This was next to an outdoor gym of sorts for senior citizens. From here I decided to salvage my hike, so rather than proceeded down he hill back to town I headed back up, though this time on a smaller unmarked route which proved very challenging. This trail became very hard to follow and eventually became so steep that I wondered if it was an actual climbing (with gear) route. However it was fun and finally the trees began to become less and less and a large rocky outcrop appeared above me. I managed to climb up and around it and to the top, where a mainstream marked trail was. By this time precipitation began to fall, which I had not banked on wearing only a jumper. Then snow began to fall that initially melted but then worryingly began to remain and build on the ground. About this time the wind began picking up and visibility decreasing. I was very glad to be off the now slippery rocks, however I still needed to find my way out. I kept following the ridge for some way before seeing remnants of the wall. Finally I had found the fortress ruins and to hell with finding the temple. I followed these for a bi before seeing a familiar sight though the billowing snow, a watchtower I had visited earlier in the day. I then retraced my steps back to the ropeway. Exhausted, I munched on my packed lunch and skolled my bottle of water. About this time I noticed my left leg was quite sore, almost limp inducing - I most have done something to it during the rocky section. I took the ropeway down, a journey in which nothing could be seen, and headed back to the hotel to shower off the dirt and sweat for my dinner ‘appointment’. Back down in busan there was no snow, just rain. The time soon came to get back on the subway to the centre of town/CBD to meet at the lotte department store. We rendezvoused and window-shopped a while before headed out to a local joint. We ate at a pork restaurant, which offered all parts of the beast in soup. The metal toothpick-esque chopsticks posed an insurmountable challenge (being much smaller than their fat plastic chinese/japanese counterparts), however Koreans also use a spoon for rice, which I commandeered for all my eating. We then went to his family’s home on the bus which was interesting. The dog, a ‘north Korean hunting dog’ liked me a lot, so much so that it could not stop humping my leg whenever it was near me. At first I thought it was in need of attention after being tied up in the small house all day before I decided it was just perverted. I ate some cut fruit (Koreans don’t eat whole fruit) and examined Kingston’s impressive insect collection and fish tank as he a graduate behavioural ecology student doing a research dissertation. The English lesson continued onto the local library (!), before the free tour of busan continued to Haeundae beach. After a lengthy subway trip we arrived and strolled down the sandy strip, popular still in the cold evening air. We reached the end where there was a park and point where I recognised the 2005 APEC retreat building, which looks like a UFO. The location provided spectacular views of the bay, islands and bridges all lit up. We then walked back to the main drag to find the subway closed for the night. He negotiated a good cab price for me and we parted ways after me thanking him for the generous (free) evening activities. I arrived back very late and tired.
I awoke on my final day in the Korean peninsular and began walking to the international ferry terminal. I arrived and checked in (allocated seating), paying the ‘fuel surcharge’ in cash which grated. I then converted my remaining won to yen and received only coins, which was a sign of the times. The dilapidated little terminal was depressing and I was happy to get on the kobee hydrofoil. The interior of the boat was very nice, far superior to AA economy class for instance. The vessel left a bit early and only half full. Surprisingly I had mobile reception for almost the whole voyage, with the Japanese taking over quite soon into the journey. I slept the majority of the sailing, which was amazingly smooth and quiet and awoke just before disembarking in hakata port. Immigration was unusually slow for Japan and my luck finally ran out with customs random inspections and I had a brief inspection and q&a. I changed my remaining us dollars to yen and made some profit. With no public transport options at the pier I had to take a cab, especially with luggage. The rates weren’t as bad a Tokyo, but with the dismal exchange rate, still painful. I arrived too early to checkin at the hotel, as I was informed by an ocker sounding receptionist who had studied in Melbourne. This left me with no choice but to hit the streets. I first had some brunch and then decided to walk to canal city. I miscalculated the distance and streets and ended up lost before finding my way to tenjin, the main downtown area, which was further than I had expected to be but still I place I had wanted to visit, albeit at another time. My leg was quite sore and uncomfortable by this time so I indulging in some retail therapy at my favourite store in Japan, tower records, where I picked up the Franz Ferdinand album a week before release at home, albeit for a premium. I piked and took the subway a couple of stations back to the main station where my hotel was just across the road. I checked in and went up to my room where I was able to rest my leg(s). I wrote abit before plodding down below the hotel to the underground shopping centre connected to the jr station, which was being totally reconstructed (always my luck), where I enjoyed some maccas for dinner.
I popped down to the hotel breakfast before successfully navigating to canal city. I went and saw body of lies at the discount Friday morning rate (as new movies come out in Japan on Saturdays) with the auditorium full of single moviegoers like me, which was strange. A significant portion of the flick was set in Jordan, and after visiting it was clear that it was not shot there but in north Africa, probably Hollywood favourite, morocco. The extras were too dark, the us embassy in Amman was nothing like the one shown and neither was queen alia airport; also the rural landscapes were just wrong. But I digress; the film was entertaining if a little long. It was interesting to see the Japanese pg rating was ma at home. Then armed with my yokoso Japan coupon I went to the centre customer service desk and redeemed my free gift. I then walked through a long arcade of traditional shops to the tenjin district, this time walking over some real canals, not fake ones with fountain music shows set to abba. From here I hopped on the subway to ohori park. I walked around the lake and over to the ruins of fukuoka castle. It was refreshing to see a castle that the Japanese had decided not to constantly rebuild, plus it was deserted, like most parks in Japan; ironic considering the population density. I then kept walking around the lake to a nice shrine before hitting up the modern art museum. It featured a nice small collection of great classic modern pieces from the big names plus Japanese artists work from the same time; all located in a very drab building. There was also an exhibition of contemporary works from artists currently working in the area. Continuing around the lake I cut across it along a narrow spit of land connected with bridges before taking the train back to the jr station and my lodgings just before it started to rain. On the way back I stopped under the 4-story bus station (!) for my favourite Japanese fast food, mos burger, and enjoyed their namesake burger (mosu bagu setto).
I rose early to catch my flight and proceed down to the subway after having sushi for breakfast from the hotel buffet offerings. The airport is scarily close to town being only 2 stops away, however this is limiting it to a single runway operation with a challenging approach path, though just this month plans were approved to assess two sites for the new airport either a man made island (very Japanese) or a large chunk of land ages away. The airport featured all rubber travelators, which are hard to find now, plus the cool escalator-that-goes-flat-and-then-becomes-an–escalator-again things. Skymark checkin was at the end of the terminal and was quite odd with passengers having to checkin first (get a boarding pass) and then check baggage separately at a separate counter in a separate queue. The stingy airport frustratingly had pre checkin baggage screening. I knew my bag was overweight (over 15 free kgs) and was ready to pay the very reasonable excess charge ($10) when they told me it was ok this time, the giggling Japanese girls couldn’t resist my gaijin charm. I went upstairs past numerous restaurants and saw a sign to an observation deck, which I diligently followed, to the other end of the terminal where I was rewarded with a great viewing facility incorporating a little museum/information exhibit and then an outdoor viewing deck. Once outside there were then stairs to an enclosed upper deck that was nicely heated and replete with all manner of vending machines. What more could a spotter want, with all this before security. I watched out in the increasing snowfall as my skymark 767 arrived and also the green jal plane. I then went back down and to my gate to wait boarding on this guaranteed no upgrade flight. Boarding was smooth and the plane was about 90% full when we pushed back from the gate. Due to the single runway we had to wait quite a while before we were in the air, however we made up this time with an air time of less than an hour allowing us to arrive on schedule. The interior was nice new style 767 (Lan not Qantas), complete with PTV’s (that didn’t work). However this was offset by the absence of any service whatsoever by the crew. We were seated, they handed out blankets and that was the last we saw of them, not even a free (or paid!) drink was offered which was poor. Though I could have paid triple the price for JAL and got my missing drink and a meal. We flew considerably off course over the ocean near Tokyo bay, almost up to narita, due to the high traffic volumes arriving in haneda. Bags took a while to appear though they were all neatly spaced with handles facing out when they did, so the wait was worth it. I then hopped on the lonely monorail, which was clearly showing its 20 years of age. At the terminus I transferred to jr line with my weekend discount combo ticket and was soon in the chaos of shibuya. I found the hotel surprisingly easily and dumped my bags there (too early for checkin) and headed for the metro to meet the hains’ in Ginza. I arrived at the arranged meeting point only to find they were running late due to be being a little lost. We eventually met up and went off to a nice Chinese joint for a hearty catch up.