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Jim-jil-bangin’

As nice as our Busan love hotel was, complete with grouchy bicycle-sceptic staff, hallways jammed with cardboard boxes, malfunctioning coffee machines, and a “four ashtrays per room” policy, we decided not to stay another night. When we headed downstairs to check out, we found the grouchy hard to communicate woman from last night had been replaced by a younger and much more reasonable lady. She permitted us to store our baggage in her office (which was already quite cluttered with a bed, a dresser, a ton of posters of J-pop groups, and the business’s cash register) while we wheeled and charted our next steps. We thanked her heartily in both Korean and Russian (both of which we found she could understand) and headed off in search of coffee and food.
We selected a lively looking restaurant not too far from the hotel and sat down at one of the squat china-style tables. We quickly noticed that we were not alone it our table. Just behind us was a large candy apple red coffee machine. It seemed to be leering at us provocatively. You can imaging our delight when we found the price was 100 Won per paper cup of joe! This was less than ten cents for a serving of that sticky sweet heavily caffeinated instant sludge we had come however strangely to love. This was a huge boon.
The paper cups were just beginning to pile up all around us in a somewhat conspicuous manner when our server came by with our food. We looked at him sheepishly wondering if we had an obscene level of froth all over our mustaches, but he just smiled approvingly, and laid down a feast. Today was going to be great.

Our two sizzling blows of seafood stew were delightful and the proprietors really piled on the Banchan, as well as a gift-dish of scallion pancake. After we’d finished it all, we sat around for a bit, savoring another couple more paper cups of coffee and puzzling over some bugs in the interface of the wikireader which were preventing us from settling a wager as to the nature of Country Code Top-Level Domains.

Back on the cycles, we headed out to explore what Busan had to offer other than sex workers. I was glad to see that Uniqlo, asiawheeling’s preferred provider of undestressed trousers, was advertising heavily here.

The streets were wide and smooth, traffic was present but not overwhelming so, and the air smelled great. The city felt nearly as prosperous as Seoul, just a little smaller, cuter even.

Busan, as you no doubt already know, dear reader, is a port city. The urban area is spread across a number of craggy islands and rugged peninsulas, many of which have been modified to interact in some way with sea vessels, either unloading freight, building or repairing ships, or processing fish and other sea-products. This meant a few things for asiawheeling: there would be frequent elevation changes on this wheel, as well as quite a few bridges bridges; the air would alternate between refreshing sea-breeze and oceanic rot mixed with diesel fumes; and it was was likely going be totally gorgeous.

We began by taking a large bridge across to a picturesque residential area. Stately houses clung to the rocky cliffs and smooth new roads wound around the edge, sea below and lush foliage above. We rode hard, the sea to our right and the rock to our left, passing cars occasionally on the downhills, as they lazily putted along, taking in the view. Once again, Busan felt a little bit like it was on vacation, a little bit sleepier than we had expected.

The uphills were a little tougher than the downhills, for on this side of the city there were no bike lanes. Drivers seemed happy to give us space though, and at no time did I feel unsafe.
The sea was sparkling blue and filled with boats, from giant container ships, to trash barges, to fishing boats to Russian dry goods vessels. It was glorious. We stopped at a small park by the cliff-side to rest for a moment and take in the splendor. It was truly a new environment for us, and we were drinking it up.
As you can tell from our expressions, we were totally unable to contain ourselves.
When we next stopped it was for water, at a place which advertised a Brown University Kids English program. Your humble correspondents, being graduates of an American school by the same name, were interested to learn if it was indeed a program associated with our alma mater. We are still a bit in the dark in that regard. Speculation is welcome of course in the comments.
With a couple fatty 2 liter waters strapped onto each bike, we headed uphill towards the top of this island. From the top we had a great view of a strange manufactured driving range that was nestled between condominiums and port facilities.

We idled there, at the top of the hill for a while speculating about the size and importance of this port to Korea and global shipping in general before heading back downhill.

We were somewhere around a giant dry dock facility in the port of Pusan that Scott’s bike began acting up again. It was his front wheel of course, the only thing that ever gave us trouble. The spokes had gone spaghetti again, and to make matters worse, tightening them up with the Syrian wrench didn’t seem to help. We pulled over to the side of the road and began inspecting the wheel. The longer we inspected it the more our stomachs sank. It looked like the collection of bearings that we had used as spacers in the wheel to fill up the space left by the abscent dynamo apparatus that we’d removed in Uzbekistan had begun to rub on each other and generate heat. The heat had not only deformed the stack of washers and caused them to rub against the wheel producing even more friction, but it seemed to have compromised the plastic and metal plate that covered the compartment where the dynamo used to be and which held the axle into the wheel. In short, Scott’s wheel was in bad shape. I was not even sure whether given new washers and plenty of lube the wheel would spin straight enough to not rub against the brakes.

Just then a character emerged from one of the factories down the street from us, presumably to smoke a cigarette. When he spotted us, he placed his cigarette back into its package and, looking interested, came over to see what the trouble was. He was a man of few words, but, seeing our predicament, beckoned us into his machine shop. We then watched, struck with awe and gratitude, as he flipped the bike over and began to take measurements.

He measurements taken, he proceeded over to a large pile of metal chunks that looked like scraps from a larger machining project, and selected one which appeared to be the right size. He blew on it a few times to remove the many small flakes of metal that clung to everything in this machine shop, then put it on the lathe.

We struggled to believe our good fortune as he carefully and expertly shaped the metal on the lathe into a new part for Scott’s wheel. He moved deliberately, but removed the piece often to test it’s fit over the hub. Once it fit perfectly snugly, he presented it to us.

We couldn’t have been more grateful, but the man refused to accept any payment from us. He insisted only that we all take a picture together to commemorate the day. We were happy to oblige.

And then we were back on our bikes. Not even an hour had gone by and we were riding smoothly again, sporting a brand new custom machined part on Scott’s Speed TR.

We worked our way out of the dockyards slowly, enjoying the rusting majesty of the many vessels moored there.

We crossed a different bridge than the one that had brought us here and found ourselves back in the more cosmopolitan neighborhoods of Busan. We wheeled right through the red light district where we had been staying and were getting into a more china-esque section of the city, dotted with electronics shops and indoor flea markets when we realized it was well past time for us to have eaten. It didn’t take us long to select a pork soup restaurant, lock the bikes outside and stroll in. The place had only one thing on the menu, so it was not difficult ordering. And, as an added bonus the food came out almost instantly. Each of us was given a frothing bowl of milky looking soup filled with all manner of unidentifiable pork parts. We were also each given a tray of condiments and ingredients to use in the spicing and doctoring the soup to our satisfaction. It was a delicious meal, even if it wasn’t quite as filling as we’d hoped.

Back on the streets, we felt that wonderful rush that accompanies a resumption of blood sugar. And so we put foot to pedal, stabbing further westward, hoping to gain a better understanding of Pusan.

Unfortunately, our ride was once again cut short as Scott’s spokes grew wobbly and his wheel went out of alignment again, rubbing against his brake.

We pulled off the large road we had been riding on and into a back alley, stopping across from a mattress emporium.  I proceeded to give Scott’s Dahon a little more love with the Syrian adjustable wrench.  I tightened the spokes as heavily as I dared, and then re-aligned the wheel.

Meanwhile Scott examined a nearby fresh orange juice vending machine.

Doing all this the the adjustable wrench took quite a while and by the time we returned to the road, we realized that we were running low on remaining sunlight. There was plenty more riding ahead of us before we would sleep that night, so we high tailed it back to our love hotel in the brothel district to pick up our luggage.

Now fully loaded, we headed off north, crossing our fingers that Scott’s front wheel would hold up until we reached our destination, some 35 km away.

We were heading for what was rumored on the inter-webs to be a magnificent Jimjilban facing the sea in one of the suburbs to the north of Pusan. It was high time we stayed at another spa, we figured, since it had been days since our relaxing stay at the Siloam, and Jimjilban visits had been a distinct goal of our time in Korea.

The sun sank low as we continued to ride north. About twenty kilometers into the ride, we found ourselves siphoned into a kind of marina, wherein we stopped, confused about the correct way forward. As best we could tell, we had misguided ourselves a few kilometers off track. The sun was sinking low now, but there was still time left. The temperature, at least, would stay warm enough to ride comfortably for a few more hours. We scrutinized the poorly drawn tourist map and struggled to make a decision as to how to get back on track.

It was then that we realized we had not eaten for way too long again. Depleted of sugars, our brains were hampered and fuzzy. To make matters worse, our last meal had been the less than filling pig soup, so we decided to just throw the brick more or less randomly at a northward route, and kept pushing on in search of a good looking restaurant, and signs that we were back on the path towards this spa of ours.

The city around us was indeed growing ever more suburban, and with it ever more wealthy and western. There were a lot of lit signs on huge steel pylons, reminiscent of rest stops of US I-80. Feeling somewhat out of place, we rode by just about every American fast food chain restaurant you’ve heard of, forsaking them in search of something a little more authentic. When we finally spotted a somewhat down-to-earth looking fish restaurant clinging to a the side of a cliff overlooking the sea, we decided we had better eat there, before we found ourselves forced to dine at the Pizza Hut.

We ordered a few squid dishes, which seemed to be the specialty of this place. Our wait-person proceeded to remove a number of squids from a nearby tank and fillet them live. It was all very dramatic. The squid were delicious, if not super filling, and we did our best to fill up the rest of the way on our rather small bowls of rice and the assorted side dishes, one one on which was some heavily salted, deep fried beetles, which were quite delicious on rice at first but hard to finish later on.

It was dark when we left, and we were still a bit hungry. As you can imagine, dear reader, the next few miles began to feel a bit raw. The temperature was dropping and a cool wet sea breeze turned our sweat soaked shirts to ice. As we rode our internal body heat eventually won the battle, and we pulled up and out the the suburban valley that we had just ridden through and began to climb a forested hill. We were feeling warmer and energized by the calories we had eaten. Part way up the hill we got confirmation that we were on the right road.

We were forced to enter a rather long and deafeningly loud tunnel, the use of which was plainly denied to cyclists via signage. There seemed no other choice however, so we rode on, using the slight downhill grade in the tunnel to achieve a high enough speed that we felt comfortable taking up the entire lane. The drivers behind us refrained from too much honking.

Needless to say, we were happy to finally emerge into a seaside resort town and make our way to the Sea Spa Theme Park, a large Jimjilban, and our final destination. We were still slightly unsure if this was the same place we’d read about online, but decided we did not care. We ate another meal of grilled skewered meats from a street vendor across from the spa, and washed it down with a cold bottle of Cass beer. What a day it had been!

There seemed, at that point, nothing more appropriate on earth than soaking and sauna-ing for the next three hours before collapsing into a dead slumber in a huge tatami mat filled room packed with sleeping Koreans.



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