I have a confession.
I woke up this morning with only a slight headache and thought to myself, I kind of miss Seoul.
But let me start from the beginning.
The local expat group here is pretty active and seems less cliquish than that of Seoul. To drink wine and eat some tapas I ended up meeting a few young women in a more central area of the city.
We started out at a Spanish tapas place where one bottle of wine, croquetas, and paella did not suffice for dinner.
Our next stop was a western style bar with cocktails under six dollars (no tips required) and a fried food platter.
The night was still young and like ajushis we then hit up a rice wine and pajeon restaurant that was still bustling at 11pm.
One of the women was delighted to have found this restaurant for its very special decorative statue: a giant penis.
Our longest Busan resident explained the history:
“In olden times, when virgin women died, terrible things happened right after. So to gain luck, people used penis imagery.”
“Why wouldn’t they use a vagina?” Asked one woman in open confusion.
I’ll admit my first thought was, if virgin death brings bad luck then why focus so hard on maintaining purity culture? Seems counter productive.
“And that’s why there is a statue outside. It’s for good luck,” our historian continued, ignoring our questions.
The restaurant had a full list of flavored rice wines to choose from. Mango and kiwi went down like a smoothie. Rice wine isn’t complete without pajeon, of course.
There was a brief conversation about marriage during which I had an out of body experience. I had honestly forgotten this was a thing people do. It’s especially uncommon among expats.
When is the last time I met a woman during my time here who was actively seeking marriage? When was the last time I had thought about it? Marriage left my list of goals a long while back and most of my Seoul friends are already married or have a similar “whatever happens, happens” attitude.
That was a tasty little bit of culture shock but more flavor to the experience of life.
We headed out and into a photo booth, took the classic four photo strip, ran into some young men who wanted to hang (we left them soon after), and entered a bar only to leave a few minutes later when the bouncer came around to make us put on our masks while we were sitting at a table.
No other bar or restaurant had done that, and at eight cases a day in Busan, we didn’t have the energy for that level of stringency.
It was nearing 2am by that point and our buzz was wearing off in the search for another bar.
The area around Jeonpo station is filled with cafes, restaurants, and alley upon alley of bars and college age people milling about.
But with corona the area wasn’t super lively and we eventually parted ways in our own taxis.
And that’s when I thought, the blogs were right. Seoul does have better night life.
Busan nightlife can’t compete, it isn’t even in the same universe.
This then led me to thinking about parts of Seoul I miss like Iksandong, a maze of alleys with traditional tea shops. I last went there on a crisp winter evening with my Thai buddy and her extended Thai friend group (Thai are so friendly, I love them) and we almost broke a paper door. It’s a beautiful memory.
Then I shook my fist at corona again because everything I had known, everything good and exciting about Seoul had been canceled halfway through my stay.
One of the women had lived in Gangwon province for four years and her small group of fifteen foreign teachers took trips Seoul to party and sightsee.
“We were really tight.”
I told her how jealous I was— I had just two friends from the teaching program in Seoul.
The other two women had also lived in Seoul and echoed the sentiment of cliquish behavior and competition.
The difference between Seoul and Busan was easy to see just in the setting. In Seoul it was like pulling teeth to find new foreign friends and here I was, one week in Busan, out with three new women who were all sweet and fun.
One told me, “I lived in Seoul for a long time and really thought I was going to stay. Then things fell through and I ended up in Busan and honestly, now I can’t ever see myself in Seoul again. Too crowded, too competitive.”
Our historian from earlier is also a professor at a university and it was so refreshing to meet an English teacher who wants to be here for teaching and who is passionate about education. She did four years in public school, got her Master’s in TESOL while working, and through a fateful connection and hard work landed a professorship. It helps to have a blueprint for the future, especially when so few foreign teachers have long term plans to teach.
So yes, even though Busan nightlife leaves something to be desired (although miles and miles ahead of my hometown), and I miss parts of Seoul, I’m glad for the experience last night.
It was the perfect kickoff to life outside of Seoul and the next Korea chapter.