Don't Come to Busan

I was very happy to be back to Busan after my recent trip. I remember walking out of Busan station and stopping for a moment and looking out across the plaza to the neighborhood crawling up the mountainside across the way, all of it bathed in bright winter sunlight, and turning to my girlfriend and saying, smiling ear to ear, "Busan is best." "Yep," she said.

I meant it. I have seen mountains and rivers and islands and beaches and markets and entertainment and even a little culture in Korea, some of it better and some of it worse. But for sheer ambiance and variety, Busan has everyplace else I've seen here beat hands down. Now I haven't been everywhere. And some of this might be based on my personal tastes. For one thing, the thought of living in a huge metropolis with a pollution problem and chronic overcrowding is not my idea of quality of life. Sure there might be "more to do," but what good is more to do if the subway is a sardine can. And how much "to do" is enough? That depends on what you like. If you like to club, then maybe this isn't the best. Maybe it is. I don't have any idea. Clubbing has long ago dropped from my list of things to do. If you like sitting by the ocean eating cheap fresh seafood, then maybe you should check Busan. Or if you like your choice between four or five great beaches, Busan might be for you. Temples, we got 'em. Shopping, check. World class symphony orchestra and opera? Not. But you can't have everything. I would like an English language library with current fiction, nonfiction, and a cushy reading lounge, too. But that isn't likely to appear.

I llke going to a cafe in Gwangan and having some tea by the beach and reading in a sunny chair. I like going to Seomyeon and trying something I have never eaten before. I like going to Nampodong and walking around in the market and afterwards lunching at a window table in the fish market. I like sitting quietly in Beomeosa temple and letting 1500 years of the contemplative life soak into me. I like sitting in the bar across from my apartment having deep conversations with my bartender in hand signals drinking something that looks and tastes like a cross between tequila and yogurt. I like slowly cooking the garlic over a two-gallon charcoal grill made out of a tin bucket so that it is roasted to golden perfection just as the galbi is ready to wrap up in the sesame leaves. And then I like wrapping myself up in my blanket and sitting as close to the water as I can without getting wet and going to sleep. That's livin'.