One of the best things about this trip thus far has been Neil’s compatriot ex-pats (I couldn’t resist that word combo.) From literally my first full weekend here, I’ve had invitations from an awesome group of ladies simply because I’m a fellow “waygook” (foreigner) living in Korea. The bonds of friendships made when living abroad run deep; there’s a level of intimacy to learning how to navigate a foreign country together that just can’t be duplicated in other situations. It’s amazing to be invited into that so openly and unreservedly.
So the first full Saturday I was here I headed out on a 45-minute walk to meet up with eight total strangers, go to a Korean Arboretum, and do some yoga. Like you do. I figured, I like plants. I like yoga. I’m in. We arrived, did exactly two sun salutations, and were promptly kicked out. Because, according to the security guard via a translator, “This [referring to a big field with people lounging about and running around] is not a park. It is a place for children to learn about plants.” Also known as “We don’t want you bending over in public.”
And that’s fine–it’s a different culture. Things that seem fine to you may be unacceptable in your new environment–and things that are totally unacceptable to you may be no big deal in your host country (more on that later). But needless to say, it wrecked the yoga vibe. We decided to give up on health and just go back for some art time. Though the reach of my art skills extends only to drawing a tree, the time was filled with laughter, good conversation, and the sincere efforts of friends to welcome a newcomer. Which is what matters, in the end.
Yoga and art night led to an invitation to go to the beach the next weekend. WELL. A girl can’t pass up that opportunity. When would I get another chance to go to the beach in Korea? So, alas, I abandoned Neil once again on my second full Saturday in Korea and headed to Busan. (He’s such a good sport!)
This trip led to my first train ride (minus the ride from the airport, but it was dark then). Watching such beautiful scenery go by, I was struck time and again by the novelty that I’m actually in Korea.
I loved the beach at Busan immediately. The weather was spot-on, the sand was perfect (many of you know how much I love sand), and the water was deliciously refreshing. But rather than wax poetic about a beach–I mean, what can I really say that hasn’t been said a thousand times over?–here are things I learned during my first experience of Korean beach-ing:
- Koreans* do not go out into water. In fact, it’s a bit strange if you do. You might get some weird looks. There is plenty of wading and playing in the shallow waters, but not much action further out than that.
- Koreans** do not wear swimsuits–at least, not in the Western definition. I saw one person get wet above the knees, and she was sitting in the water fully clothed.
- Many Korean men see no problem in taking photos of you if you are wearing your swimsuit.
- My favorite illustration of this fact is as follows: Our newfound friend Simon was acting as photographer while we took the obligatory jumping-in-the-air-because-we’re-on-the-beach-and-are-too-pumped-to-stay-on-the-ground pictures. While this was going on, a Korean man in a full pink suit–complete with pink shoes–came up, stood beside Simon, and whipped out his phone–covered in a pink case, of course–to take his own photos of us.
- Late September is the perfect time to go. Most people stop heading to the beach around the end of August/beginning of September, so there’s much more room. There’s also much less of the aforementioned staring and photographing.
- The beach is the ideal place to perfect your handstands, headstands, and generally all gymnastic activities.
- Obvious foreigners want to talk to other obvious foreigners. In my short month here, I’ve already learned the magnetizing pull of hearing someone simply speaking English.
But lest you think Neil is getting no attention while I’m in Korea (ostensibly for him), I did come back that evening in time to meet him downtown to experience Daegu nightlife. It can all be summed up in this picture:
*Obviously this is a generalization. Don’t get up in arms.
**I repeat, this is a generalization. Stay calm.