24 September 2007

Traveling to Busan

Cyndi and I are back in Busan (southern part of Korea) visiting Cyndi's paternal relatives for the Chuseok holiday. During Chuseok, family members gather together to pay tribute to their ancestors, and more historically, celebrate the fullest moon of the year.

Chuseok is reportedly the worst time to travel, as most Seoulites head down south to visit their families. We experienced the chaos first hand. In fact, we almost didn't even make it to Busan.

There are several ways to travel to Busan: car, bus, plane, or KTX, an express train. Weighing price, convenience, and price, the KTX proved to be the most desirable option. With the help of Hyeyoung, we managed to procure tickets well in advance. As you can imagine, tickets are in high demand at this time of the year.

Our train was scheduled to depart Seoul Station at 6 pm. Seoul Station is quite aways (is that the right expression?) from Bundang, so we took the subway to Kangnam, where we then, caught a ride with Hyeyoung's cool friend, EK. Unfortunately, we encountered a whole lot of traffic. The minutes quickly ticked by as EK valiantly weaved through crazy taxis and buses. We arrived in the vicinity of Seoul Station around 5:45 pm. But as our luck would have it, the normal u-turn lanes were blocked off, so what would normally take a couple of minutes took nearly ten minutes. I think we may have passed Seoul Station a couple of times, but given the traffic and the crazy Korean road system, it was impossible to get to the station without having to run, frogger-style, through what seemed like ten lanes of traffic.

By some miracle, we managed to make it to Seoul Station a few minutes before 6:00 pm. That's when Cyndi, Hyeyoung, and I had to book it! We ran up several flights of stairs, laden with our baggage and various pieces of Hyeyoung & Joon's wedding hanboks. The station was swarming with people, but Hyeyoung managed to quickly read the board and figure out that our train was at Platform 4. We ran like madwomen to platform 4, and almost cried when we saw the crowd of people waiting for the train. After a few seconds of relief, we realized that this was too good to be true. It was several minutes past the scheduled departure time. Hyeyoung inquired with the train attendant, and learned that our train was scheduled for Platform 3. WTF?

We ran up and down two flights of stairs to get to the next platform. Hyeyoung reached the bottom of the stairs just as our train came speeding past the platform! As my sister would say, it sucked monkey. The train was actually running a few mintues behind, but we had wasted those precious minutes at the wrong platform!

If you think we had it bad, you should have seen this Canadian dude. He and his friends were traveling to Busan together to see the sights. Unfortunately, the doors closed just as he was about to step onto the train. (I'm not sure if that's accurate, but that's what he told us). It was really sad to see this non-Korean guy, frozen in disbelief. As he dejectedly followed us on the escalator, he cried, "어떻게?" ("What am I going to do...?) With the help of HY and his big 외국인 eyes, he managed to get the last remaining seat on the next train. We, however, had to take an alternate route on two separate trains, including an older, smelly train that was filled with trash and empty beer cans from the previous passengers. I could handle the funky smell, but it took all that I had to ignore the trash. It just really grossed me out.

We left Seoul at 10 pm, and arrived in Busan around five hours later. Had we made our original train, the trip would have only taken two hours.

Since we had a few hours to kill until our new train schedule, EK kindly came back for us and took us to Itaewon for some tacos at Taco Chili Chili. The burritos only vaguely resemble Mexican food, but I suppose it's close enough if you're dying for a burrito. Afterwards, we walked around the corner to a cozy little cafe called T8, where I had a delicious bowl of "chocolate soup," a bowl of expresso and hot chocolate, so good that it was almost worth missing the train -- almost. I will post a photo once I get back home.

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