Today, Busan people have proven to be aggressively friendly. And in another astonishing fact, more people have willingly, and usually unpromptedly, spoken to me in English these last few days than the entirety of my time in Seoul.
It really calls into question all the times Seoul people have said “How will you survive outside of Seoul? It’s so inconvenient.“
I took the bus which was frankly too efficient and attempted to find some workout clothes at an UnderArmour outlet. Then I took myself on a self-led tour of my soon to be campus. Well, due to the recent COVID outbreak I’ll be having classes online so my theoretical campus.
There were so many restaurants around the university and I ended up having an incredibly delicious salmon rice bowl and dumpling lunch. The menu featured an image of fried chicken skin which had me incredibly intrigued but the kind and helpful young woman manning the small Japanese style restaurant told me that it would be a lot. She advised I try the smaller portion of dumplings made from chicken skin instead.
“How is it made? The skin is inside?”
“It’s outside. The wrapper.”
What surprised me most about her is that I asked about menu items and she must communicate with non-native speakers or is just a very patient and smart person because she explained in very simple terms like “it’s made of pork“ or “skin“ while pinching her forearm.
Never once was she shy or uncomfortable or impatient. By this point I’ve been conditioned by Seoul people so I still find outgoing behavior to be a bit surprising.
After sweating and getting a sunburn walking around campus, I asked one of my new classmates if she wanted to meet for coffee. She turned down the offer since she had just woken up and I couldn’t help but remember that my other Chinese classmates from last year also tended to be a bit flaky in this regard.
I’ll just pester them into friendship like my usual M.O.
Nevertheless, I took myself to coffee and had a green tea ice cream cream puff.
There seems to be a good variety of restaurants so I’m excited to eat my way through once classes return to campus.
Yesterday I signed up at a twenty four hour (but closed weekend nights) gym on the advice of my roommate.
He was not exaggerating when he said it was bare bones. The place doesn’t even have AC! It looks like a homemade fraternity garage gym from 1988, complete with warped and pixelated images of various toned white and Korean fitness models pasted around the room like crown molding.
It was the cheapest gym around by far although overpriced by American standards. Possibly not even legal by American standards.
But it has a squat rack so I’m satisfied.
When I checked in this evening, the check in is me writing my name and body temperature on scrap paper, I dropped my bag in the makeshift locker room then proceeded to drip sweat through my mask and onto the floor. I’d normally be embarrassed at my foreign sweatiness but other Korean guys there also soak through their shirts and stand in front of the big industrial fans like my parents’ dogs after a long walk.
Next to me, a grunty McLatPull bro paused his workout to hand me a 2.5kg weight. I already had one but accepted anyways and suddenly felt a lot less judged.
As I walked to the other room to find the bench press in this maze of questionable equipment, an older woman with a gym polo said 안녕하세요 which I ignored, because no one actively tries to talk to me.
I was wrong.
I heard it again more loudly and looked up. She was, in fact, talking to me. I assume she was the attendant on duty and aggressively greeted everyone.
A young gym worker who signed me up yesterday and who I incorrectly guessed was in her twenties said, in English (it appears I will have to specify now since Busan people don’t have the same English fear as Seoul people), “hello Abigail! This is my son.”
“Hello, son,” I directed towards the obnoxious eleven year old who had spent the last fifteen minutes loudly talking to his older peers in casual language.
This gym is definitely a far cry from my nice one in Seoul but I just received a text that the Seoul gym had to close yet again for corona. Restaurants in Seoul and Gyeonggi are now also required to close dining by 9pm. It appears I left just in time…
When I exited the gym, a man who behind his mask really resembles Daniel Dae Kim from Lost bowed to me and I confusingly returned it.
(I just searched and found out Daniel Dae Kim is from Busan. So what’s the likelihood a Hollywood Star is my gym manager?)
This same man also bowed to me yesterday but I had no idea who he was.
Now I can only guess he’s the gym owner and his wife, I assume the younger gym attendant/trainer, alerted him to the new foreign resident.
As the gym doesn’t have any air-conditioning, I sweat through my mask in the grossest way possible and decided to buy a replacement so I wouldn’t have to walk all the way home with a dirty rag on my face.
I stopped in one small mart… Or convenience store? And accidentally scared the woman and we had a laugh. She told me that she doesn’t have any cloth masks but I should try one of the convenience stores down the street and pointed me in another direction.
Then at GS 25 some masks were on sale, buy one get one free, but I couldn’t figure out which brand since they were in one big, messy pile. The cashier helped me out and scanned a bunch of them so we could figure out which brand it was.
I haven’t even been in Busan for a week so I don’t want to falsely attribute characteristics but… so far in this limited experience Busan people seem to be generally more helpful and outgoing. And generally less afraid of foreigners.
I had to pull teeth just to get a cashier to look me in the eyes when I was checking out in Seoul.
I was texting C about these little adventures and she attributes part of it to the more individualistic culture outside of the capital. I also think it has to do with Seoul being ultracompetitive to the point that if someone cannot do something 100% perfectly then there’s no attempt made whatsoever.
I think again about Seoul people being concerned over my move down south. It’s true, there are far fewer emarts here.
At the same time, I would trade several emarts for someone to look me in the eyes and say hello.
Things are looking up.