Some friends and I went to Busan for the weekend. Busan is Korea’s second largest city and is about 70km south of Ulsan. As most schools and large companies have holidays during the first 2 weeks of August, we expected Busan to be busy. It wasn’t only busy, it was bursting at the seams.
The only hotel we could find was a quaint, out-of-the-way love motel with rather scandalous lighting.
However, all was not lost. We found a restaurant serving real Western-style sandwiches! Real cheese (not processed cheese slices) with grilled veggies on ciabatta bread. Heaven! Thank you Buccella! (http://dynamic.busan.go.kr/upload/pdf/file/102-6.pdf) The sandwiches were so good, we went back for lunch the next day too!
Our next stop was Haeundae Beach. It’s one of Korea’s most popular beaches and it was packed. Between the beach umbrellas and the people, hardly a speck of sand was visible. According to the Los Angeles Times, on an average summer day anywhere from 300,000 to 1 million people visit Haeundae beach.
We arrived at sundown when the beach was transitioning from a paradise of sun, sand and surf to a nighttime playground for adults. We wandered along the beach, knee deep in the sea and marveled at the amount of garbage strewn about the beach. Why didn’t people take it with them when they left?
Once the inner tubes were stacked, and the umbrellas were put away, the party started. Bathing suits were exchanged for short, tight dresses and high, high heels. Nobody seemed concerned by the sand. Clearly Haeundae beach was the place to see and be seen. There were live bands, alcohol, people salsa dancing, more alcohol, and a whole lot of canoodling. I saw more PDAs in one night than I’ve seen in a year in Korea. When I mentioned this to a co-T this week, she said: “Kissing your boyfriend in public is not OK. But on Haeundae, many things are OK.” I wondered if it was OK all the time, or only once the sun had gone down.
We wanted to experience Haeundae in the daytime so the next morning we went back. We headed to Haeundae Beach bright and early, however we forgot that Korea is called Land of the Morning Calm for a reason – the beach was virtually deserted. Our beach companions consisted mainly of Sri Lankans and Chinese people, and one young Korean couple who seemed disconcerted by the slew of foreigners surrounding them.
We rented ourselves an umbrella and a mat for 6,000 won/day (~US$5) and settled in to people-watch. We were thrilled to discover that at some point during the night, beach gnomes had come and taken away all of the abandoned garbage from the night before.
We were very lucky to get an umbrella on the end of a row. Imagine being somewhere in the middle of this?
Gradually the beach filled up until it seemed that not one more beach umbrella could possibly fit anywhere on the beach. Haeundae currently holds the world record for the number of beach umbrellas on a beach at one time – 7,937.
It was a fascinating cultural experience. The foreigners frolicked in bathing suits, enjoying being on a beach on a glorious sunny day. The Koreans sat under their beach umbrellas buying chicken, beer and papingsu (a shaved ice dessert) from passing vendors.
If they ventured out into the sun, they covered every bit of exposed skin. I saw people swimming in sweat shirts, dress shirts, pants and swimming shoes (the kind normally used for kayaking). Children and teenagers mostly wore shorts and T-shirts. Bathing suit sporting Koreans were very definitely few and far between. I was happy I’d decided to wear my real bathing suit rather than my bikini! 😀
It was a bit mystifying. Why even bother going to the beach at all?