Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Monday, July 20, 2009

Busan/Haeundae Travel Guide

I wrote this for a job ap, and I'm gonna move it to a new forthcoming blog soon. I'll just leave this here now.


Korea’s most popular beach lies on the peninsula’s southern coast, on the eastern side of the city of Busan. Dalmaji Hill and the mountains beyond gives Haeundae a Mediterranean feel, or at least as close as one can get in Korea. The rough white sand beach stretches for 1.5 kilometers between Mipo Wharf on the east and the Westin Chosun and Dongbaek Park on the west. The beach is taken over by enormous throngs of Koreans in July and August, and downtown Haeundae-gu has enough hotels, restaurants, bars, and karaoke rooms to handle them. Fortunately for the traveler, this means that hotel rooms are both inexpensive and easy to find throughout the rest of the year. Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF), Korea’s largest and one of the biggest in Asia, takes over Haeundae the first week of October. This is an excellent time for film buffs and Hallyu (Korean Wave) fans to head to the beach.

Arrival, information, and accommodation

Trains call on Haeundae Station from Ulsan, Gyeongju, Daegu, and ultimately Seoul, However, these trains are infrequent and slow, taking 6 hours or more to arrive from Seoul. You are better off reaching Haeundae by using Busan Station. It has better connections to Seoul via KTX train, which whips to Seoul in under 3 hours ( www.info.korail.com/2007/eng/eng_index.jsp). Subway Line 2 also stops at Haeundae Station, which is the easiest connection from Busan Station, the bus terminals, and central Busan. Use exits 3 or 5 from the subway to reach the beach, a ten minute walk from the station. The city Bus stops at Haeundae Station. Bus 302 connects Haeundae with downtown Busan. The Tourist Information booth at Haeundae station is a bit difficult to manage for non-Korean speakers, but there are free maps in English. The Busan Station Tourist Information kiosk is more user friendly. You can also call 51/1330 for tourist information in English.

Not surprisingly, Haeundae has a surplus of hotels in every category. Novotel Ambassador Busan (51/743-1234, www.novotelbusan.com/eng/index.php) is in the center of the beach. The Novotel boasts Murpii (51/743-1234 Ext . 6071, www.murphys.co.kr/) , the most popular dance club on Haeundae. The Westin Chosun (051/749-7428, www.westin.com/busan) dominates the western edge of the beach, and is still considered the standard of Haeundae luxury. This hotel features great sunrise views and posh O’Kim’s bar, along with top end restaurants. Hotel Riviera (51/740-2111, rivierahotel.co.kr/EN/index.html) is a midrange hotel five minutes off the beach, halfway along the main road between the Novotel and Haeundae Station. Gangnam Motel (no phone listed) is located just off the beach. Follow the main road away from the beach, with the Novotel on your right, turn left at first stoplight, then left again at the first alley. Outside of peak summer season and early October, rooms run about 30,000 won per night. Rooms are clean, though small and drab. Several dirt-cheap motels stand a few blocks west of the Novotel, some as low as 20,000 won a night, though they are definitely on the seedy side.

The Town

Chock full of restaurants, entertainment options, and the best people watching in Korea, it’s easy to see why Haeundae is so popular. Busan Aquarium (51/740-1700, 10am-9pm weekdays, 9am-10pm weekends and holidays; adults 16,000 won, children 11,000 won; www.busanaquarium.com/eng/f_main.html) is Korea’s largest and best, featuring a large glass tunnel through the massive shark tank. Glass bottom boat rides over the shark tank are also available for 5,000 won. Dongbaek Park lies on the west end of the beach, near the Westin Chosen. It’s a great place to walk or jog past sweeping views of the Gwangan Bridge, Korea’s longest and most beautiful. At the east end of the beach, Mipo Wharf offers boat rides along the beach and around a nearby uninhabited islet. The Haeundae Open Air Market is a couple blocks north of the beach, and offers all kinds of goods. After the sun sets, several impromptu peddlers along the beach sell Roman Candles and other fireworks for your pyro pleasure.

Eating, drinking, and entertainment

Haeundae is a top dining and nightlife destination, and has the largest culinary variety of any neighborhood in Korea outside Seoul. Along with all manner of Korean delights, you can also choose from Thai, Indian, Turkish, Mexican, Italian, as well as American chains such as Outback Steakhouse and TGI Friday’s. Nightlife ranges from trendy clubs and posh bars in the high end hotels to soju and Roman Candles on the beach. For gamblers, try your luck at the casino in the Paradise Hotel, next door to the Novotel on the beach.

Beers Plus A few blocks north of the beach along the main road. This is a Korean-style hof, which requires the purchase of food to buy draft beer. Decent nachos. This hof is on the 8th floor of its building, and features a roof deck.

Dairy Queen Located in the concourse under the aquarium, which has stair access directly from the beach. Korea’s only outlet of the franchise, so it’s the only place in the country to get a Blizzard. Ice cream only.

Mipo Wharf
On the far east side of the beach. Take your pick of seaside raw fish restaurants. On the pricy side, but you can’t find fresher fish.

Starface On Dalmaji Hill, the best way to get there is via taxi (2-3,000 won). Ask the driver to take you to “kim-sung-jong joori-moon hak-gowan,” which is next to the bar. Cheap drinks, nice views, and live music.

Taco Al Puebla A little difficult to find, walk away from the beach on the main road, turn right through the market, cross the street and turn left after the market, turn right in the first alley. It’s tiny, but may have a line out the door. Possibly the best Mexican food in Korea, and quite cheap for non-Korean food.

U2 Bar Just north of the beach, across the street from Novotel. A rowdy expat bar that serves delicious free popcorn, a rarity in Korea. Live music occasionally.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Korea 1

originally posted on 10/1/06

I don't even really know where to start. I don't have the Internets at home yet, so I'm at an internet cafe. Maybe I'll start there. Internet cafes here, they aren't like the type you run into in the U.S.. or Europe. The chairs are comfortable, the lights are dim, it's loud, and you can smoke. And they are cheap, like a dollar an hour.

When I landed here Thursday night (Wednesday night so far as I was concerned, because the sun was out for the entire flight), I was picked up by driver holding a sign that said "Tobb xxxxx." I got in his van, and headed off from the airport, without a clue as to where I was going. At some point on the aimless drive from Incheon to Seoul, he got a call on his cell phone, and it was for me. Somehow, this made sense.

Anyway, I ended up at a motel that the school had put me in for the first couple of nights. It was clean and tasteful, but I'm pretty sure it was a hooker motel. The massage oils and condom (wrapped) on the dresser table was a pretty good giveaway there. Plus, the TV got free porn. Two different channels of free porn, in fact.

I haven't started work yet, I start tomorrow. It sounds like it won't be too bad after the first few days, plus this is only a 3 day week, Thursday and Friday are holidays.

I am already 85% sure that this country will kill me. The bars don't close. Ever. Any of them. Neither do the liquor/convenience stores. I've already had a night where i was out until 7 a.m. It's like a Vegas or a New Orleans, only there's 11 million people. Plus, you can smoke everywhere, and cigs are 2.50. I am also learning the evils of soju. It's this rice wine, it's 20% alcohol or something but feels like more. It's fairly bad straight, but I mixed it with juice, and discovered that the ratio of the drink can be like 90 percent soju and 10 percent juice, and it just tastes like juice. Oh yeah, and the bottles of it cost like 90 cents. And apparently, the Koreans don't drink like say, the french. It's not a bottle of wine with dinner. Everyone is out to get completely shitfaced. You see guys in business suits passed out at the bar, and nobody cares. From what I've heard, the entire city's policy on kicking someone out of a bar makes the Replay look draconian.

Lots of other cultural things I can talk about here, but I'll save it for later. Like, environmental stuff, I guess, is taken a lot more seriously than in the U.S. Like, you don't get bags at the grocery store, you bring your own, like Aldi. Which is a weird way to end a blog, but is the way this one ends.


originally posted on 10/6/06

Well, we're coming at you LIVE, from the belly of the beast at Itaewaon. Obviously, this night is not too exciting, as I am in fact on the Internets and ripping off Bill Simmons introductions.

Anyway, so last night was awesome. I came out by myself, and ended up meeting like 20 people, including the cliche gorgeous long haired brunette that, inevitably, ruined my life, if only for a short period of time. These things happen, I suppose.

Tonight, not so much on the interesting action. I still can't quite figure out the bars here. I was at a joint called Spy Bar, and drinks were abnormally expensive (like 5 bucks! fucking hell) and the place was chock full of ridiculously gorgeous girls, and generally schlub dudes, like myself. I figured, surely I must be in a ho bar, so I immediately left (well, after my overpriced beer). Now, if I were in a smiler bar in say, Chicago or LA or Paris or whatever, where all of the girls are basically model quality, and all of the dudes are the type that I can compete with, and well, defeat, then there's no way in hell I'm leaving. But, I've never been in such a bar in LA or Chicago or Paris or whatever, so I just assumed it must be a ho bar. Anyway, I ended up making friends with some dude that owned a bar down the street, and he said that it's not a ho bar, that it's totally legit, and that abnormally hot girls like to hang out in said bar.

Wait, why am I telling you all this? I'm going to fucking Spy Bar. End communication.

It Continues

originally posted on 10/7/06

I've been to Itaewon for four straight nights. Which is like being at the Replay for 4 straight nights, if the Replay was open until 5 or 6 a.m. or something. I'm not going tomorrow though, I swear.

Last night, after posting, I ended up going to like 5 or 6 more bars, including the eternally evil Polly's Kettle House, where they serve up these horrible drinks called kettles. These basically consist of 15-20 ounces of soju and some mixer, for 5 bucks. Brutal.

So, hilarious thing about Korea, and I guess many countries in general - the gangsta wannabe type dudes. I was at The Loft tonight (a bar where girls drink free, yet tonight, no cute girls) and there's all these Nigerian dudes wearing random U.S. sports jerseys, clearly influenced by hip hop/rap videos. Yet, these guys have no knowledge whatsoever of U.S. sports, and all of the jerseys are fake Korean street vendor fare, so there are lots of dudes wearing jerseys of, like, Eddie George and Merton Hanks, and other random players like that that had 5-6 good years several years ago, but that nobody back home wears ever.

In a more serious and sad note, I am infinitely depressed by the death of Buck O'Neil, and all the more angered by the idiot hall of fame committee that decided a long dead Newark secretary was more worthy of enshrinement than baseball's greatest ambassador. For my own very small effort, I did spend much of the night telling rabid Korean baseball fans about Buck. I'd like to dedicate tonight's blog entry to Buck O'Neil, but I won't, because he deserves far better than a dedication here, on the interweb's most bush league address. I will say this: though I didn't know him, I feel like I have lost a friend. The world in general, and Kansas City in particular, is a worse off place today.

Good night (or good morning?) from Seoul. I'll write more about random hot Canadian girls later, but right now, I want everybody who reads this to think about Buck. Read Posnanski tomorrow (kansascity.com), I am sure it will be the column of his life, and one that i am not looking forward to reading.

Fearing North Invasion and Fan Death

originally posted on 10/14/06

It's a beautiful day in Seoul, so of course I've been spending the afternoon sleeping, watching Korean MTV, and sitting in the subterranian interweb lair. Just thought I'd write on a couple random things I've learned so far...

Fan Death - I'm really excited about this one. Apparently, in Korea, fans can kill you. Ceiling fans, oscillating fans, anything, I guess. You can't run a fan in a room without the window open. It's forbidden. Obviously, the fan will suck the oxygen out of the air, and you will die.

Kim's Club - this is what a grocery store should be. I love this place. It's huge, and underground, and beats the hell out of any U.S. or European grocer. First off, there's a veritable army of hot girls in short skirts and knee socks that work there, they are set up with samples of free shit in every aisle. There's free samples of, like, everything, including Heineken. Yes, that's right. Kim's Club has a hot girl in a short skirt giving you free beer. Not much of course, but I think it's really the principle that matters here. I've yet to make it out of the store in less than an hour. I can't find the salt and pepper that I seek there, and nobody speaks any English at all, but what the fuck, free beer.

The job has been okay. A couple of the classes are really bad, chock full of bad kids. One class has this horrible, possibly evil kid, and when he gets going, he's a bad influence on another student, whom I'll call Lou here. Lou is really dumb. He's like, the Kerney of the class. I think he is probably 24 or so. He speaks almost no English. One of my co-workers theorized that he probably can't speak any Korean either. Yesterday, he got 100% on his test, so I am positive he must have cheated. He handed me his test book and said, "me smart."

Some of the textbooks are awesome. In one passage, in a dialogue about eating unhealthy food, one of the characters says something along the lines of "I don't care if I grow bigger eating sweets. I must satisfy the desires of my mouth." I actually have to not laugh at this in class, which is really hard. There's a ton of other hilarious Engrish examples in these textbooks as well. There's a pronunciation book, which is just speech drills on certain sounds. The other day, it was the -ar sound we were doing, so of course, I couldn't resist getting the kids to do it pirate-style. good to see that pirate humor is international.

I've been pretty low-key in the going out scene this week, so I have no stories there, but that should change tonight. Hopefully, I should have something interesting to say.


originally posted on 10/24/06

A few random notes on my brief stay in japan:

I noticed, and maybe this is a new development, that when I flew to Japan on Monday morning, (okay, Sunday night in my book, since I didn't sleep and I left for the airport at 5 a.m. after winning the Madden Superbowl) that flights can be quite hair-raising and scary when you are sober. I mean, you are flying in this enormous (and I don't know what the deal with Korean Air is, but I was in row 40 yet I was on the wing. There must have been 900 people on this flight) plane, and it's an hour flight, so pretty much the whole time its either taking off or landing, which I'm used to on a 737, but on this behemoth of a plane (an Airbus, which I don't know much about. I think an A-300) it's all the more scary. But then, I discovered, on the return flight, on the same type of plane, in perhaps worse weather, the trip was an absolute beaute, and I wasn't remotely nervous. The difference? Well, on the return flight, I was absolutely hammered. I think I may be onto something here.

Fukuoka, by the way, has a fine airport, in my opinion. The international terminal was totally empty. My flight was the only one leaving from it. And in this case, international is like 400 miles. 2 cool things at the Fukuaka airport: there are two observation decks, outdoors-ish, so you can watch planes take off. Which, despite my problems with flying, I enjoy doing, because it re-assures me to see planes not crashing. Plus, though I could not find a bar, at least in the international terminal, I found something better. There were convenience stores that sold beers for like a dollar. And it's totally kosher to walk around the airport drinking them. At least, I assume it was. I mean, hell, they sell them past security, and you can't bring liquid on the plane, so where the hell else are you going to drink them? Plus, on top of that, the beers are 7% alcohol, and they sell them in weird flavors like lemonade and orange, so you can knock one back in like 20 seconds or so.

Don't get me wrong, I like beer, beer that tastes like beer, and I am totally opposed to the "flavored malt beverage" thing, like your Mike's Hard Lemonades and your Smirnoff Ices, but the Japanese have managed to get around all possible issues with such drinks and their effete nature by taking 5 key steps, in my opinion:

-They really do taste like lemonade, and lemonade is good
-They put a higher alcohol content in these than regular beer
-They make it the cheapest drink available
-This is key – they put it in cans – no queer yellow or cloudy liquid in a clear bottle
-They sell them for nothing at the fucking airport

Other funny things about Japan in general include the fact that you can't smoke while walking. It's the law. It's perfectly legal to stand on the street, pretty much anywhere, and smoke, but if you walk down the same street, it's illegal. CC told me it's because it goes against the Japanese notion of the group dynamic, which makes smoking in a restaurant or bar or with others on the street perfectly okay, but that walking down the street while smoking is going too much your own way, and it upsets the group dynamic, to the point where they actually made a law against it. So far as I'm concerned, this is the equivalent of the internet being legal, and porn being legal, but internet porn being illegal. I mean, doesn't walking and smoking go together like the internet and porn? And don't kill me for having a lame punchline here, I honestly was trying to make a point rather than set up a joke.

Speaking of CC – for anybody who has read this before, you know that I don't usually use this space to, ah, what's the opposite of make fun of people? But anyway, I just want to re-affirm in public what most of you know already – that CC is awesome. She's the type of kid who would in fact give you 3 grand, no questions asked, after a desperation 4 a.m. phone call from, say, an Indonesian jail cell. Or, as she did, give you a fistful of yen after a frantic phone call from the American consulate at 4 p.m., which is the same as 4 a.m. so far as Japanese banks are concerned. And then buy you beers all night to boot. So, props to CC.

Just a couple more funny things : at the airport in Seoul, there's an ad for SK Telecom, which is a pretty big company here. But the ad says: "SK: The Ubiquitous Leader." I don't think even Microsoft would have the balls to pull off that slogan.

And finally, for Wiley, a little drunken patriotism: so on my flight home, the pilot gave his announcements in Korean, Japanese, and English, and in English, he said that our current speed was five hundred MILES per hour. Yeah, that's right, miles. So basically, he was saying, suck it Brits, Kiwis, Canucks, Aussies, South Africans, and whoever else speaks English and deals in metric. Oh beautiful, for spacious skies…

By the way, I really do kind of want to write about airports. Fukuoka was my 8th in 2 months, and 12th this calendar year, both of which I believe are personal records. If I did write about airports here, would anybody other than Wiley read it? And this questions goes to the giraffe people as well. Answer in comments, yo.