After being hired on as an English teacher in Japan on a three-month tourist visa, I had to leave the country in order to pick up a one-year working visa. South Korea is the closest option being only a few hundred kilometers to the west.
South Korea is a land of extremes -- climatic, visual, geographic, taller than average citizens. Here is the last vestige of the Cold War with it's hostile northern neighbors -- the Korean Peninsula has had a long history of inner-fighting and invasions. Maybe that's the reason for the rough persona.
Port of Pusan -- Not a pretty sight.
I took the overnight ferry because I wanted to see the beautiful scenery of Japan's Inland Sea by day and wake up in Pusan the next morning. My first impression pulling into the bay was of a heavy industrial city with dirty air. Strike one. Stepping off the boat and going through customs my second impression was run-down buildings next to boring modern skyscrapers with garbage piles scattered along the curb. Strike two. My next impression was aggressive and loud people shouting at each other over a cacophony of honking horns. Strike three! Top it off with cold and rainy weather and I wanted out after the first hour. Not so easy. I submitted my visa at the consulate and they told me it would be a three day wait. What to do in a dirty and ugly city for three days? Wander aimlessly and attempt to find if Pusan had any redeeming factors.
Women shaving pig's feet.
Koreans are very hardy people -- Old women sitting squat style in the rain carving up animals and gutting fish. Men hauling heavy crates on their backs. Kids helping with chores after school. Then there are the wealthy businessmen cruising around in their fancy cars. Perhaps the most unusual sight was a leg-less man lying on the wet sidewalk singing into a microphone accompanied by a monk playing bongos. The markets were a colorful scene of haggling and hawking. An hour or two of verbal pestering was all the battering I could withstand.
Fish for sale: just pick one up off the pavement.
The only redeeming factor of my three day experience was an hours bus ride out to the rugged coastline. But even there I was hassled and heckled by the merchants and the general population. When the boat set sail back to Japan it couldn't have been any sooner. I was very happy to leave. Now, I can't pass judgment on all of South Korea because of this one lousy city, but from what I saw in Pusan, that's enough to say I'd never care to return.
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