Busan for National Foundation Day and the Busan One Asia Festival Opening Concert

Only a few short weeks after Chuseok and we got another holiday. October 3rd was National Foundation Day and we got the day off of school. So a three day-long weekend merits another vacation, right? Well, yes. Obviously. Jackie got tickets to the Busan One Asia Festival Opening Concert on October 1st, so it was perfect timing to take a mini-vacation.

Jackie and I left for Busan on Saturday the 1st after a seriously late night. Well, I had a seriously late night. Meaning, Saturday was pretty brutal. Busan is only a 45 minute bus ride away from Ulsan, at least from my apartment. Because I live in the west of Ulsan, I could catch the bus and already was pretty close. Once in Busan, we got off the bus, met up with Sara, and took the subway to get to the stadium. Have I mentioned how much I love the subway?! Yes, I have. I love it and lament everyday the fact that Ulsan is without one.

After a swift subway ride, we met up with Evelyn (who lives in Busan) at the Asiad Main Stadium – where the 2002 World Cup was held. This is where the concert would be later that night. Oh. Man. So. Many. GIRLS! Walking up to the stadium from the subway, vendors had set up small stalls with tons of K-Pop goodies. Like banners, posters, headbands with the bands’ names on them, lightsticks, stickers, and even pillows, to name a few. Of course, we bought some headbands. I got a Block B (an awesome K-Pop group that everyone should listen to right now) headband.

We picked up our tickets, then headed to the hotel to drop off our stuff. For those of you who don’t remember, Busan is where our EPIK orientation was held. Busan hugs the south-eastern most corner of South Korea and the orientation was northern-middle part of Busan. The stadium is in the middle, so we spent a lot of time in new areas of Busan. Our time outside of orientation activities at the University was limited to the bottom of the hill, so it’s not like we saw much of Busan when we were first there.  As we were walking around the area where the hotel was, there were a lot of moments when I thought, “Wow, I’ve walked this exact street in Ulsan” and moments when I thought, “Wow, I’ve walked this exact street in Seoul.”

Once we settled in, we walked around the neighborhood where the hotel was and found a spot to eat. There was an 아저씨 (ajusshi) outside a small restaurant who beckoned us in. He said, “This place – very delicious!” or something like that, so we went in and had some delicious food. He also bought us some plum juice. Koreans are so nice.

Free plum juice.

We ate, then left for the concert. The Busan One Asia Festival is a 3 week long celebration of Busan that includes performances by K-Pop groups and exhibits and other events. We attended the opening performance and 16 different K-Pop groups performed one song each. There were a few exceptions. Girls’ Generation, MFBTY, Sechskies, Psy, and BTS each performed 3 songs. Korea is so efficient. The concert time was 6pm to 8pm. It started promptly at 6pm and ended at exactly 8pm. Many of the girl groups lip-synced and nearly all (probably all) of the boy groups actually sang. I am not very familiar with the girl groups, but I ended up taking pictures of every group, hoping I’d figure out later who they were. Nope. Didn’t figure out who any of these groups are. I just don’t know the girl groups at all. But the boy groups were all so fun! I never thought about showmanship of K-Pop during concerts since I didn’t think I would ever see a K-Pop group live. It truly makes a huge difference when the group actually sings the song. Honestly, the girl groups were slightly robotic in their dancing. Because we were sitting so far away, they were tiny. Since they just did their dance routines and didn’t really move around on the stage, it was not visually dynamic. I realized that to really enjoy K-Pop if I’m going to be sitting that far away, the group needs to move around the stage to be interesting. It’s too hard to see the dance moves if they are just in the center of the huge stage that is super far away.

That being said, it was so much fun. I renewed my love of Block B and it was so great to see Psy in concert. He puts on a show. Gangnam Style was amazing and showstopping as you might imagine. I took so many videos of the songs and groups I know and only later realized that I ruined most of them by trying to sing along or saying “OH CUTE!!!!!!” or “OH MY GOD!!!!” or “SOOYOUNG! SHE’S SO CUTE!!” But it was still quite the singular experience . . . that will be duplicated in the near future. BTS (Bangtan Boys) were the last group to perform and the audience WENT CRAZY. The girls behind us were screeching almost the entire time. BTS was the only group of the 16 that actually spoke to the audience. Two of the members are from Busan and they reverted back to their Busan accent. Something about Korea that you may not know is that there are different accents depending on the region – just like America! The Seoul accent is very proper and “newscastery”. The Busan accent is very exaggerated and musical. Ulsan’s accent is similar to Busan’s, but not as exaggerated. A few different times, I tried to listen to some Busanites to try to pick out the exaggeration, but it was hard to tell the difference from the Ulsan Korean I hear everyday. It was good ear training.

After the concert, a group of 5 of us went to get Japanese food. It was one of the best meals I’d had since coming to Korea. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what the dishes were; only that I had apple soju for the first time and my life has changed for the better because of it. Japanese food in Korea is pretty amazing. Not that I’ve had it in Japan. We have not had sushi yet; mainly because it’s pretty expensive. Once we had our fill of apple soju, we made our way to . . . a convenience store. Yes, it’s become quite the pattern to buy cheap drinks at convenience stores here. Well, who can blame us?? It’s just so darn convenient.

That concludes our Saturday. Sunday morning, Jackie and I met up with Evelyn and we went to Jagalchi Market. It is the largest seafood market in Korea and boy, did it smell like it. We walked the streets of seafood stalls and then went into the actual market. Needless to say, there were rows upon rows of fresh-caught seafood. None of it looked appealing to me in the slightest – I have never been a fan of seafood. One man in the market stopped us to explain how it worked (in English!): You buy any seafood you want on the first floor and then go to the second floor to have it cooked up for you. Talk about fresh. We did not partake in any of that, though. Evelyn did partake in touching one phallic looking fish, however, which made the man happy (gross haha).

Our plan had been to spend time at the market and then meet up with Sara and her friend, Liz, who were shopping in Nampo. Nampo is a large shopping area in Busan that has many designer shops and a Lotte Department Store (this is one of the two large department stores that is also in Ulsan – think Macy’s or Nordstrom’s only taller). It took us a while to find them so we had a long walk around. It was hot. We were sweaty and felt slightly miserable by the time we finally met up with them. But all that changed after a delicious lunch at a family-style Italian place. We walked around Nampo  for a few hours then headed back to Evelyn’s place. After I bought a “sojuice box” (soju in a small juicebox sized box) and a K-Pop endorsed sparkling water, we sat on her rooftop for a bit. The views I’ve seen in Korea have been like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s astonishing to think that I’ve never lived near mountains before. They are everywhere here and I love it. Busan, itself, is nestled in between different peaks and it’s so cool how if you’re up high at all, everywhere you look is a “view.”

After our sightseeing on top of Evelyn’s building, we met up with some friends from Ulsan and went to dinner. We had 삼겹살 (“samgyeopsal” = pork belly) and 막창 (makchang = chitterlings). I was not a fan of the makchang because it was too chewy and I did not like the taste. But I seriously love Korean BBQ. I wish that I could have it everyday and I suppose I could if I bought a grill pan, but I think I just really enjoy sitting in the BBQ restaurant and having the burner fans sucking up all the smoke and hearing the chattering of the Korean people sitting 3 feet away and downing shot after shot of delicious soju. Wow, Korean BBQ is awesome. And as most Koreans I’ve met have said: Samgyeopsal and soju are best friends. Almost immediately after downing our delicious BBQ, we headed to a 치맥 (chimaek = chicken + beer) place and had two chickens. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an amazing night of food. And yes, the night before, I had the best meal I’d had in Korean, but the night after was my favorite Korean meal thus far. So. Much. Food. And. Beer. At about midnight, we headed back to the hotel, had a (small) dance party, and went to bed.

We decided not to do anything the next day since we were pretty tired, so when we woke up in the morning, we headed to the bus station and headed back to Ulsan.

Reflections on Busan:

  • It is 90% nicer traveling with only two or three people than traveling with 11.
  • A 3 day trip is the perfect amount of time to have a relaxing, yet meaningful time in a new place.
  • I need to go back to Busan and see more of the cultural areas.
  • K-Pop is amazing, but I think I need closer seats next time.
  • I really want to see a legit K-Pop concert – where it’s just one band playing. One song is not enough!!
  • I really take for granted the fact that I live and hang out in a super young neighborhood. In Busan, I got stared at a lot more because our hotel was in an older person neighborhood. It was jarring to be in such a different environment. Even though the actual buildings and streets looked the same, the people definitely were much older and had qualms openly staring at me.
  • Ulsan. Needs. A. Subway.
  • K-Pop is amazing. Oh, did I already mention that?????

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