Surprise South Korea

Truth be told, I wasn’t really looking forward to South Korea. I didn’t know why but my expectations were really low. I planned to get off the boat just to check out the market and thought I would be back on the ship an hour later. But I was in for quite a surprise.

The port was modern and well kept even more so than Japan had been. There was a digital message board welcoming us, displaying the time and weather forecast. It called for rain but I had my doubts as I squinted up at the hot sun smiling down on us. We boarded a shuttle bus which drove us 20 minutes to the center of Pusan.

First thing I noticed was how crammed the streets were with signage. The Korean characters are much blockier and heavy than the Japanese. Also there were so many stores that were Western including Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and the Body Shop. There was also Krispy Kreme, Outback Steakhouse, and every brand of sportswear you could imagine. Then there was the market.

This has to be my favorite part of the trip thus far. The market consisted of stalls, tables, makeshift vendor wagons, and stores for as far as the eye could see. I am talking miles of shopping. There was everything for sale from delicate bookmarks adorned with the Korean flag to cutesy socks to ladies stirring large vats of bean soup which could be had on the spot. There were pails of live fish and knock offs of every designer brand you could think of. Entire stores filled with ginsing, shops dedicated to dog costumes, and others with apples the size of my head…no joke! If you could dream it up, I am sure you could find it here.

What really impressed me was the lack of chaos that usually goes hand in these types of marketplaces. In fact, it was eerily quiet and orderly in Kookje Market. The Koreans seem to be a very gentle and delicate people who value beauty above all else. I caught lots of woman checking their faces in a mirrors which just so happened to be everywhere. Many of them didn’t know very much English but were quite impressed when I stumbled with my attempts at their language.

My senses were on serious overload bombarded with spicy aromas like kimchi in the making, older ladies chatting to each other gingerly as they tended to their stalls, and the brilliant colors displayed in their wares. I ended up doing a bit of shopping here. I got some cool souvenirs that I could mail home. They even came with an envelope.

I found some wrinkle serum made with real gold and caviar extract. I supposed that if I were going to get on board with the skin care regime, here would be the place to start. The sophisticated Korean women are well known for their fair complexions and flawless skin.

Perhaps my favorite purchase were the socks for 1000 won (equivalent to about a dollar) in every style and color of the rainbow. I skipped the Hello Kitty, Obama, and Spiderman in favor of Winnie the Pooh, Mushroom, and Bear ankle socks. They are adorable and just wearing them make me smile. And most importantly, they are made in Korea, not China.

We encountered an underground mall which gave us a bit of reprieve from the sweltering sun. One strange fad I noticed here was the matching mens and womens underwear. I debated with my crew whether this was cute or creepy and at what point in your relationship it would be appropriate. The prices were pretty decent but the sizes were small. I guess it makes sense considering that the general population of Korea is short and thin.

We visited the serene Yongdusan Park where there was a gigantic iron bell I really wanted to bong. There was also a little exercise park that had a bunch of elderly locals hanging around pulling on the equipment. It was quite comical to see Darren jumping on the bars and swinging around like a monkey. The park regulars just stared at him with their mouths hanging open. They were not even half his size and certainly not as agile.

Next we paid the four thousand won to go up the famous Pusan Tower. The views were gorgeous and you could see all the way out to the ships on the sea. Luckily we had a clear day and even the mountains were visible. It was also a great sampling of the various kinds of architecture of this country. I admit I was pleasantly surprised by how modern and geared towards the arts they are here. We will just miss the PIFF (Film Festival) which begins in a weeks time. It appears to be quite an event as there is an entire district dedicated to it.

We got sucked back into the market once more before we were to catch the last shuttle bus back to the ship. We climbed up the steps and through security after cleaning our hands with the wet face cloths. After a snack, I decided it was high time for a workout. After my exercise, I met the others for dinner before turning in for an early night.

Grateful for markets.

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