Saturday, October 14, 2006

First Day

Korean father was keen to get the day started and turned up on the doorstep first thing in the morning armed with a combination of enthusiasm and a sense of urgency. He'd also brought our apartment keys, which no-one had remembered to give us the day before. In my haste I forgot my watch but remembered my camera - this is the view up the street from my apartment.

The NHS had decided that I didn't need a Malaria shot before I left, which I'm a little nervous about. Unfortunately then, it was always going to be war, and the first victory against the mosquito menace went to England today in the bathroom of the Korean parents' apartment where I was taking a shower. I cleaned the suspiciously red blood off the wall and decided I really hate these insects.

Back home, LG make TVs. OK, I know they build ships and generally have a hand in many things, but apartment blocks? Anyway, Korean parents' apartment is filled with nice wooden frames with LG logos stamped on each of them, lest you forget you're living the LG dream. Curiously, while LG do quite nice wood it seems they can't align electrical sockets straight to save their lives, and the silicon finishing in the bathroom would have stopped me buying a British apartment in a similar condition. The apartment is beautifully furnished and neatly ordered in a TV-set type way and between this and the brand craziness I feel like I could be living in Hollywood if everyone spoke English. I had Korean rice, tuna, cod and omlette - aside from the tuna a fairly typical breakfast here.

Modest Shoes, Cheap Watch
On arriving at the station yesterday Korean father almost immediately checked out my boots - a process which involved squeezing them with my feet still inside - before pronouncing them to be 'modest'. It's OK to call them cheap - at £45 I'm beginning to realise I'll probably be wearing some of the lowest-cost footwear in the whole of Busan. Today he checked out my watch, but I think this time we called a spade a spade - with a £13 Timex Expedition what more can you say? He showed me his Rolex. Yes, very nice. I think my lack of branding is viewed as a delightful eccentricity by my hosts and yes, being a foreigner affords me that luxury! I wonder how long it will be before it begins to be perceived as an embarrasment? Or maybe I can get away with living my generic 'Westerner' brand and not have to worry about the clothes?

Things I never knew about Korea. Today is an 'off-Saturday', so there's no school and office workers aren't doing a morning shift. Every second week is an off-Saturday so this morning is quiet, insofar as relatively busy passes for quiet here.

Shop 'Till You Drop
My girlfriend bought a second-hand mobile for 50,000 Won (about £28) from an SK Telecom shop around the corner, and she'll probably have the oldest phone in Busan. Then we bought a new TV, microwave, phone and kettle from an electrical store equally close to us - they'll deliver them tomorrow (on a Sunday!) - everyone delivers here. It cost around £134 - but I don't know what it will be when it finally appears adjusted (i.e. screwed) on my credit card bill. I'm not sure it was much cheaper than in the UK where we pay an extra 7.5% VAT. So far this place is a crazy mix of apartments and shops, unlike the UK where we tend to divide our shopping and residential districts. Jet-lag began to catch up with me and resting outside another store against a tree a couple of non-English speaking Korean bible-bashers attempted in vain to convert me to Christianity. Rescued by a Korean girlfriend who also suddenly couldn't speak Korean, we returned to the house - I barely made it back I was so tired, and slept for an hour oblivious to the Korean landlord banging around fixing the problems we'd found already.

University District
In the evening we went to the local University district for some food, and ate at an excellent upstairs restaurant. I had spaghetti bolognese (or 'oven spaghetti' from the menu) which cost about £3.65. The entire meal for three people came to about £11 which might have been the cost of one dish back in the UK. It included drinks and they don't tip here - I'm in heaven! No more endless antagonising over how much money to leave on the table just because the waitress has hovered around during the entire meal to make you think you've had good service. And we sat on couches around our table - apparently this is quite common in Korean restaurants - and something we really need to look at introducing in the UK - so relaxing.

The City Never Sleeps
On our walk back from the restaurant - at 22:00 - we stopped by a shop selling plants, went into a shoe-store, and then a hardware store where we bought a low table for the apartment, an extension socket and a battery charger. Despite the increasingly late hour on this off-Saturday, most shops were open - although the opticians I passed weren't doing a lot of business. Who wants to get their eyes tested at 22:00 on a Saturday night?

I've spent a day walking around my local area in Busan, and it was never busier than this evening - thousands and thousands of people and traffic that would put the rush-hour back home to shame. And yet, I realised this evening, I haven't seen another Westerner since I arrived here yesterday which was not what I expected. I don't feel I'm being stared at though, which is good. Maybe it's because even as a Westerner, without any brands I'm invisible...

More Photos
Taking photos isn't really my thing and I'm still coming to terms with using my new camera - haven't worked out how to turn the flash off yet for night-time shots. Still, more pictures here:

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