The wae-gook-in has arrived
Trip Start Nov 10, 2005
9Trip End Apr 30, 2006
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As I am an inexperienced backpacker in a homogenous country I have instantly become the minority. I have found the cultural differences most pronounced during my first two weeks in southern Korea.
I arrived in Gimhae, a suburb of Pusan, on the 10th of November, 2005. On the first full day my cousin, Todd, and I visited a tomb where we came across a family eating lunch in the shade on the grass. As we got closer the children started yelling, "wae-gook-in" (foreigner!). My cousin replied with equal tenacity, "han-gook-in" (Korean!). The kids laughed, Todd sneered and I didn't know what was going on. After Todd explained what all the yelling meant I laughed and am still not sure what to think of it all. This is a very homogenous place, even in Pusan where there are 4 million people; I only bumped into half a dozen other white foreigners throughout the day
The first week I explored Pusan and am probably now more familiar with the tourist sites than my cousin. The first few days in Pusan were truly unique, as the city was getting ready for the APEC conference. (If you saw pictures of Mr. Martin, Mr. Bush and other world leaders dressed in traditional Korean clothes recently that was from the conference in Pusan.) I admired how clean the city was but was also assured by the locals that it was only temporary. The security was most overwhelming. Guards, riot police with shields and army officials with automatic weapons patrolled nearly every major street. I even bumped into the "nuclear, chemical and biological decontamination mobile" (see picture).
The security even reached mountaintops. One afternoon I explored the Buddhist temple of Beomeosa and the Geumjeong fortress in Pusan. The temple also offered lunch, which consisted of rice, Kimchi and other foods I couldn't identify. (Kimchi is pickled cabbage and not a flavour I prefer.) The fortress sits atop a mountain and overlooks the city. I climbed to the highest peak where three army officials were posted and amused at my eager attempts to climb the rocks. Naturally, when I reached the top I took out my camera and snapped a couple photos. I was quickly warned to put my camera away by the officials. Fortunately, they decided not to confiscate the camera. To show me there were no ill feelings one army official offered me a banana and tried his best to ask me friendly questions in English
Other security precautions in Pusan included gasmasks on the subway, (see picture) but, to be fair, they were put there after a nasty subway fire in the city of Daegu in 2003. There are also books in the subway stations that anyone can pick up and return whenever they finish. No locks or sign out procedures required.
Finally, I have met many ex-patriot Canadians here and they all teach English at one of the thousand universities in Korea. Todd has graciously introduced me to his circle of friends and we have been out on numerous occasions. Soju is the drink of choice and samgyeopsal (barbequed bacon with many side dishes) is very tasty too.
I hope this has given you a feel of what I am experiencing. I'll try to create a new entry every 2 weeks or so. Annyeong-hi gyeseyo!