If only Orville and Wilbur Wright knew how much they’d impacted the world through the invention of airplane..
Surya and I were friends in junior high school. We both went to a public school located near the northern end of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, just under the tip of Mt. Merapi. We used to take the same rotten minibus to go home, and I could imagine one day running into him somewhere around our neighborhood when he’s hunting for pictures (he takes amazing pictures, by the way) or when he’s shopping at a local supermarket. What I completely had no idea about was that 7 years later, we would meet somewhere else and by somewhere else, I really mean, um, somewhere else.
In summer 2017, I got a chance to attend a Summer School in Daegu, a city in South Korea, for a month under a short-term scholarship. At that time I also recently found out that Surya studied in another city in SK (namely Busan). So shortly before my departure, I met Surya, who happened to be back home on holiday, in a local restaurant, and I remember that I paid for his meal. I also remember that he (very casually) said “I’ll pay you back in Busan.”
.. As if it’s not a big deal. 🙄
But aaanyway. I arrived in South Korea and tried to familiarize myself with all the new things: alphabet, food, people, weather patterns (it was crazy hot in summer.) After some time, I eventually felt confident enough to embark on a Train to Busan on my own and to visit Surya for my free lunch(!). Here’s a short resume on it.
Oops. Wrong picture.
I began the day by repeating some phrases from my Korean phrasebook, something like “I want to buy a ticket to Busan” etc., just in case, but thank God they provided automatic ticket machines at the train station. With a 17,100 won ticket (roughly Rp 220,000 or € 13.5), the train trip from Daegu to Busan (88 kilometers apart) would only take half an hour, which means that the train operates at around 160km/hour in average. (That’s sick.) Interestingly though, the announcement board only showed things in Hangul (the Korean alphabet), and I had to depend on my dreadful Hangul-reading-ability to find my platform. Got to the train just in time, though.
Half an hour later, Busan station came to my sight. As the city is South Korea’s second-largest, I wasn’t surprised that the train station was also gigantic, and in a great condition. I particularly liked the rooftop deck where I could go out and smell the sea. I also spotted an interesting advertisement for the Korean armed forces which featured a K-drama-looking man in army clothing. Oh well. Way to attract people to the army..
Moments later, Surya came to the station. He looked like a local, moved like a local, spoke better than a local, and acted so casually as if we met on a street in our neighborhood back home. It may be just me, but knowing that one of my friends actually lived here really tore down the walls. The once foreign city that felt distant with me (because I was alone) immediately seemed more friendly, if not homey, the moment we talked with each other.
Our first destination was Gamcheon Culture Village, now a popular tourist attraction, which used to be a squatter area on top of a hill with steep, narrow alleys and small houses (quite literally) on top of each other. I was super lucky I had Surya with me. Otherwise the probability of getting lost, both on the way to the village AND in the village, couldn’t be any higher. I mean, just look at the photos..
As a tourist, I could say it was a nice experience (and a good exercise too). The village was so colorful with the vibe of a theme park (which our inner child ultimately likes); there were a lot of artworks; many, many cafes and artisan shops; but more importantly a good fix for the economy and general well-being of the locals. Wasn’t it rather kitsch or tacky? Well, you decide… because after all the ups and downs (heh), I was hungry.
The lunch. THE lunch was what brought me to Busan in the first place. We went to a chicken place in the downtown Gwangbokro and Surya fulfilled his promise, even outweighing it by ordering the biggest portion of fried chicken I have ever attempted eating (as pictured above). The chicken was tasty and crispy (thanks, double-fry) with thick sweet-soy-sauce glazing, but we didn’t/couldn’t finish all of them.. which meant good news for Surya’s flatmates. On the flip side, I really liked that free-flow mineral water was always provided for free in Korean restaurants and I think this should be the norm everywhere. (I love water.)(Don’t you, too?)
We hit the road again after lunch, this time to Yongdusan Park where the Busan Tower stood tall overlooking the port and the South Sea. The park is located on top of Yongdusan Hill, and we were conveniently blessed by a set of outdoor escalators going up which reminds me of a similar feature in Medellin, Columbia. Again, Surya swiftly led me through the alleys and past the busy intersections — I was a happy guest.
Busan Tower is the city’s landmark, particularly built for recreational reasons. We were there at the right time when the renovation of several rooms was just finished, so we decided to get in just for the post-renovation experience (entrance fee for the observatory was a modest 5,000 won/Rp 63,000/€ 4). We ascended to 120m altitude in less than a minute (they sure tried their best..) Nevertheless, an overhead screen on the elevator ceiling provided a cool bird-eye video of the city, making sure no one felt claustrophobic for too long, and the elevator door opened by the time the video ended.
After seeing enough of the city skyline, we went back down using the same high-speed elevator and were greeted by art installations in several rooms before going out. The first room was themed something like “Korean Old Days” in 3D line-art painting, the second one was a video-mapping room (like Yayoi Kusama’s “Mirrored Infinity Room”, but with video) and the last one was dark room with notable landmarks of Busan illuminated with fluorescent paint and UV light. More like a photo attraction, but nevertheless a nice light-and-dark sensory experience (and it’s not everyday that your shoelaces light up).
After the tower, another Busan icon was Haeundae Beach.. in which my phone decided to not take pictures anymore 🙁 I remembered well enough the abundance of people under beach umbrellas (summer, everyone) that drove us off from there quite quickly, but also the mouth-watering scent of (expensive) seafood, the sound of street music, and the sweet sight of some other Indonesians (Surya’s friends).
Bummed by the crowded beach, Surya had another idea.. to take me to the world’s largest shopping center! Shinsegae Centum City was enormous (it had its own metro station inside), a Guinness World Record holder, comprised of 16 floors and about all (higher end) brands one could imagine. The best compliment I could probably say on it though: I had a serious crush on their restrooms. Theirs were the ultimate awesomest compared to all restrooms I’ve seen in my life (or maybe I should expand my restroom vocabulary, but well). Nevertheless they also had was this amazing bookstore BANDI N LUNIS with all these reading desks. In my hometown, I would (and should) duck my way out of the security guys’ sight if I was to read a book before buying (yet they say, don’t judge a book by its cover..)
We spent a little too long at the bookstore and had to rush back to the station for my train ride back. In the end, everything worked alright thanks to Surya’s navigating ability and I was back in my dorm in Daegu within an hour. The last sentence before I ran to my platform was “See you again!”, and this time I couldn’t help but wonder where would that be.
Busan was awesome, Surya was an awesome friend, and it was awesome that I could meet him halfway around the world in what felt like his “doorstep”, his habitat, and that he somehow made me feel at home too.
On a personal scale, a lot of my friends have left our small suburb and wandered all over the globe. If these places are their doorsteps too, (and they don’t really hate me and kick me out when I visit), would that mean that my neighborhood has also expanded? Or alternatively, what is the most actual definition of neighborhood anyway, in this ever more connected world? Where does ‘my …’ stop and where does ‘your…’ start, on the earth that now we all share?
Thanks, Wright Brothers, for making this blog post possible, and making me extra perplexed with my own thoughts after a day trip. I think I need some sleep.
P.S.: Happy graduation, Surya! You are an inspiration to me (and many!)