It’s a Small World

22 Jun

It’s a Saturday afternoon in Paju and I have to say… I feel lighter today than I did just a week ago.  Why is that you ask?  Well, I recently took a two-day journey to Busan and a quick escape was just what the doctor ordered!  This wasn’t just any excursion, however.  I met up with a friend from elementary school who I haven’t seen since about the 6th grade!  She is Korean-American and her parents recently returned to South Korea after living in the US for 40 years!  We reconnected through the magic of Facebook and the rest is now all history.

Busan is located in the Southern-most part of South Korea.  The “B” in Busan actually sounds more like a combination between a “B” and a “P” but because of the limitations of the English language in expressing Korean sounds, “Busan” is the best we can do.  I was told it is the second largest city in South Korea, but it’s less crowded, more easy and laid back than Seoul.  Still, it has a population of three million people! Despite it’s more Southern location, it has a breezier and lighter temperature then the now thick humidity moving into Seoul and Paju with cool breezes moving in off the coast.

My elementary school friend was traveling for two weeks in a quick visit with her and her husband’s family living here in South Korea.  I was lucky enough to connect with her at the tail end of the journey and spent two days with her and her parents at their new apartment home in Busan.  I received stellar Korean-style hospitality and got the special  “mom and dad” tour of Busan.  It was great!

I took the KTX from Seoul to Busan, Korea’s high-speed train.  I read that it reaches speeds of 300 km/hr (190 mph) but to me it didn’t feel as fast as the bullet trains I traveled in Europe.  But it was fast enough as it only took me three hours  to make a journey that by car would take at least five.  I read a little, took a nap, listened to some music and before you knew it… I was there!

When I arrived off the train, my friend and her son and mother were there waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs.  After nearly 30 years I could still see reflections of my fun young friend in the grown Korean woman standing before me.  Her mother, who I instantly recognized, whisked away my bag and led us in the direction of the parked car.  As she lead the way she called out “bali bali,” Korean for “hurry, hurry”.  We quickly made our way to the parked car with my friend’s dad at the wheel and within seconds we were off on our quick adventure.

As my trip was to be short, they wasted no time in beginning the tour.  First stop was Haedong Yonggunsa Temple, a beautiful temple by the sea.  It was a maze of winding stairs, beautiful colors and patterns, and lovely views.  It’s known for its large gold Buddha and a place where many still come to pray.  We stayed long enough to explore a bit, begin to reconnect, take some pictures and then we were off to our next destination, Haeundae Beach!

At the beach we took in the sand and the beach nestled in the busy scenes of the city.  My friend’s father told me that the beach used to be much larger than it is now, but over the years has gotten smaller and smaller.  Today sand has to be imported from Vietnam just to fill up the beach.  My friend’s son enjoyed a little wading and playing in the water while we did our best to stay clean and dry.  When we had our fill of the sand, we cleaned up a bit and soon made our way to dinner.

My friend and her family were so generous and gracious with my “no-sugar” needs and general diet concerns.  We decided on a Korean family style barbecue restaurant.  Her parents were wonderfully thorough in being sure that everything we ate didn’t have any sugar in it. We all ate and talked till our hearts content and then we went home.

Her parent’s apartment is in an apartment complex in what seems to be modern Korean style – a collection of high-rise apartments.  They were very proud of the beautiful landscaping in the complex with green space and fountains intertwined in the pathways beneath the towering buildings.  When we arrived at their 19th floor apartment I was impressed by its simplicity and spaciousness.  It is a four bedroom apartment home with a spacious kitchen and a view in the living room looking away from the city to the  surrounding green hills. I was generously offered my own room for the night and slept deep and restfully in the graciousness of their hospitality.

The next day was an early start with a tour of the apartment complex grounds and then back in the car to travel to “the best rest-stop in South Korea”.  My friend’s parents are just mesmerized with the contemporary rest stops in South Korea.  They are complete with plenty of places to eat traditional Korean-style snacks and foods and comfortable places to rest and relax… way beyond the standards in the States.  This particular rest area was indeed beautiful, nestled above expansive scenes of the water and islands in the distance.  There was even live musical entertainment!

Next on the tour, we took the worlds “deepest immersed roadway tunnel” and bridge on our way to Geoje Island.  Within minutes we arrived on the island and made our way through the small island villages to pebble beach.  At pebble beach we spent a little time collecting the beautiful stones and pebbles and tossed some of them into the water.  There was still a cool breeze in the air and it seemed it wasn’t tourist beach season just yet.  By late July when Korean students have a break from school the beach will be filled with guests indulging in the warmer summer air.

We continued to wander by car through the hills of the island, stopped and enjoyed a few scenic views and then once again we were off.  We returned to Busan and stopped at a local store with traditional Korean food for lunch.  I haven’t eaten much Korean food as much of it has sugar added to it.  I am still uncertain which Korean foods are okay for me to eat.  With the help of my friend and her family, I selected bibimbap (with no added chili paste) and happily enjoyed the popular Korean dish.

My elementary school friend and I had a good time catching up… recollecting childhood stories, our grade school teachers and classmates.  She told me that the first time she ever had french toast was when my mom prepared it for her at our house and that today it is still one of her favorite breakfast dishes.  She also shared that I gave her first record album, Stix Mr. Robato.  A true classic.  I told her she was the inspiration for me beginning to take piano lessons.  When we were children she played Fur Elise on the piano and I thought it was so beautiful I just had to take piano lessons and learn how to play it.  She confessed that every Korean child learns how to play Fur Elise.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other… but as we talked I saw glimpses of the familiar friend of 30 years ago.  She currently lives in LA close to the large Korean community there, Koreatown.  She had some interesting and helpful perspectives to share on Korean life, culture and beauty.  Raised by Korean parents who moved to the US, she clearly identifies herself as American… but also has obvious close ties and connections with Korean culture.

In no time at all… it was time to leave!  It was so great to reconnect with a childhood friend, receive a little ‘taste of home’ here in Korea and be hosted by the generosity of her parents.  It was a relief to spend a few days where I had to make no plans or decisions and just go with the flow.  We nearly lost track of time before we departed for the train station.  The KTX arrived in timely fashion and in the next minute I was off!  A good visit with a childhood friend… in South Korea!  Who knew?  Indeed, it is a small world!

One Response to “It’s a Small World”

  1. Mary Anne 06/22/2013 at 13:49 #

    Really enjoyed this saga, Nanci. Thanks for sharing. I may even make a copy for my Korean golfing friend. Happy summer!

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