Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fresh Air

After our pottery class in Haeundae on Sunday, we went to Songjeong Beach. It wasn't far, which surprised me. I realise in retrospect that every time we've been there before it was by car, and since separate trips to Haeundae and Songjeong have never connected, I'd never made the geographical connection between the two. This tells me I'm still orientating myself when it comes to getting around Busan.

I found some clean air on the beach, and it was more than welcome. As one might expect, the atmospheric quality of a large city like Busan is never going to be high, but the day before Korea had been hit by the worst recorded Yellow Dust storm since records began in 2003. I'd noticed it late on Saturday afternoon, when an apparently descending fog took on a brownish hue, in-between the mountains where we live. There were warnings not to go out without a mask on the next day for fear of breathing in the potentially damaging cocktail of heavy metals and other pollutants, but by the time we awoke, it seemed to have passed.

When I think about my life in Korea, weighing up the pros and cons, the increasingly severe Yellow Dust and its potentially life-shortening properties are a significant negative, although it does have one small benefit. Koreans often ask me what I like the most about their country, but sometimes the braver souls ask what I don't like. The truth is that the extreme sensitivity here to any kind of national criticism is a fact of life that I find incredibly tiresome, and it's also why answering that question unprepared is a minefield. The Yellow Dust is as perfect an answer as one is likely to be gifted with, because it's immediately something Koreans can identify as being a problem in this country while not in any way being their fault.

So a beach with an accompanying sea breeze offers the rare pleasure of non-life-shortening deep breaths in Busan, especially during Yellow Dust season. Unfortunately, it was rather cold, though this hadn't put off a number of people who were also to be found strolling along the sands, and the even braver souls in the water with their surfboards trying to find the perfect wave. As I discovered before, Songjeong is very much a beach for surfers.

We hung around for a while breathing, watching the surfers, and at one point, being buzzed by a large flock of seagulls which were inexplicably trying to claim my section of beach as their own. I stood my ground.


devon marguerite said...

Hi Mike--
I am a U.S. citizen thinking of teaching English in Busan for a year and I am eager to learn of the culture of Busan. The air quality issue concerns me, especially because I love to run and hike. Is it really all that frequent? Also, my fiancé is a surfer and is thinking of joining me. It looks as though the waves are not bad. How far is the beach from Busan City?

Mike said...

Hi Devon,

It doesn't feel like the air quality here is significantly worse than you might find in any major Western city which suffers from smog. However, I've always wondered whether it's actually more harmful than it seems because one suspects we have a lot of dangerous pollutants from China blowing over us all year round. The 'Yellow Dust' is a different issue altogether though - it's nasty stuff and on the worst days you do need to wear a mask because a few breaths of that can really start to affect your throat. There is a season though when it tends to be worse - which is about this time in spring. It's unusual during the rest of the year. Generally, as far as the ordinary background pollution is concerned, the closer you live to the sea the better I think.

That's the bad news. The good news is that as far as air quality is concerned, Busan is a much better place to live than Seoul - and I suspect - some of the smaller landlocked cities. It seems to be one of the least affected places in Korea for Yellow Dust - it can still be bad but nothing like I've seen elsewhere. Busan is also an excellent place for hiking. Mountains everywhere with lots of trails - Koreans love their hikes. To be fair, this is a very mountainous country so you're rarely that far away from a good walk. I'm not so sure about running. I'd like to go running myself but there aren't many parks, the side-roads have no sidewalks/pavements, and the main roads are more polluted and difficult to navigate for a runner - frequent intersections, crazy drivers, motorcyclists using the sidewalk as roads... I'd never dare run with an MP3 player blocking my hearing!

Songjeong seems to be the main surfing beach. I'm no expert on surfing but catching a good wave looks like hard work - although perhaps I've just not been there when the weather's been good for it. There's a bit of an infrastructure there - surf shack (photo), lifeguard, that sort of thing. It's all quite low-key though. I've seen foreigners surfing there in the past.

Busan has a number of beaches basically within the city - Songjeong is one of them - but it's towards the eastern edge so just beyond the subway routes. The nearest stop - Haeundae - is very easy to get to from anywhere in the city although travelling from the far west of the city to Haeundae can take an hour.

If you click on the location link at the bottom of my post and switch to the 'satellite' view you'll see I've geotagged it with Songjeong Beach - if you take a look approximately west-south-west you'll see the two beaches in the Haeundae area. It should give you an idea of how close Songjeong is to a main subway stop. It's not really walking distance but there are buses and taxis.


Anonymous said...

Have enjoyed browsing your blog, your pictures, and your take on things. I will return from time to time. Interesting. Good luck to you

Mike said...

Thanks Basefare.

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