February 12th, 2012
The sky was bright blue and speckled with fluffy white clouds as we headed towards the Seoul’s central railway station. Even the giant pollution monitoring units broadcasted that it was going to be a beautiful day.
The ride to the train station was just long enough to really get the blood flowing, and burn up whatever was left of the eggs and toast. When we arrived, we noticed quite instantly that the station was huge. There was a decent amount of time spent searching for the hall in which we could buy tickets for the trans-Korea trains, but with only some minor scolding from security and a few mistaken rides in glass elevators, we found our selves in a huge shiny hall, filled with flat panel displays and orderly lines of Korean people.
Our beloved Schwalbe big apples squeaked comfortingly against the waxed floor as we wheeled our fully loaded cycles into line. In spite of some rather disparaging looks from a few of our fellow passengers, we deftly purchased two tickets on the next slow train to Pusan.
With that out of the way, it was time to eat a little more. We selected a crowded and efficient looking restaurant across the hall from the ticket counters, and made a huge pile out of our bags and folded bicycles, which angered the staff just slightly less than the amount which would have prevented them from serving us.
We ended up ordering a couple of soba meals, which were delicious, and came complete with a couple rolls of sushi (suspiciously similar to kim bab), some tempura, and some random Korean salads. We never quite deturmined if this was a Japanese or a Korean restaurant. We know there is some overlap. But the food was tasty enough, I guess. Ok, to be honest it was not great. But AsiaWheeling can’t bat grand slams every meal. In our defense, we were in the train station. I dare you to get soba in an Amtrak station.
The next task was to acquire snacks to fuel us during the train ride, which would take most of the remainder of the day. Luckily Korea is a great place to buy interestingly packaged products.
Laden with snacks (well, to be honest, mostly laden with cans and paper cartons and little bottles of coffee drinks), we made our way to the platform.
When the train came, it was time for the old how-will-AsiaWheeling-fit-all-its-stuff-on-the-train hustle. Lucky for us, we had the rearmost seats in our car, which gave us just enough space to cram the bikes in. Inevitably, we would eventually get seats in the middle of the car, but we’d cross that bridge when we came to it. We’d managed to get the bikes on board in Uzbekistan after all.
The subsequent ride gave us some much needed time to catch up on correspondence for you, dear reader, a task which we relish. We took breaks from writing and sorting through photos to do shtick with the Wikireader, speculating about all manner of things (not least among them the White Stripes) and reading about Pusan in the lonely planet PDFs.
It was night when we finally arrived in Busan. It felt good to get off of the train and unfold our bikes. It was a warm night, and there were plenty of people out for a гулять. Not only was it nice outside but this was a tourist-town of sorts and we were fresh with energy from being cooped up on the train ride (the canned coffee helped too). We could afford to be picky with hotels, we thought, and so we started riding around, ducking in and out of inns, and comparing relatives prices/amenities.
A few things began to become obvious to us as we rode conducted this research: price fluctuation in lodging was high, fluctuation in amenities less so; our blood sugar levels were plummeting, and this was unlike any tourist town we’d ever been to. It was much more like a border town and though I might have been mistaken, I think I even detected a hint of Hekou, mostly in the concentration of brothels and strip joints. While the less than savory establishments of Hekou had catered mostly to the traders who crossed between Vietnam and China with goods on everything from semi-trucks to wheel barrows, Pusan seemed to cater to sailors on shore leave, a fair number of which were probably Russian, for we saw more Cyrillic writing here than we had in Harbin, a place much closer geographically to the federation.
Eventually, we found a place to stay. It was a “love hotel,” which I think technically means a place designed for a customer of one of the brothels to bring his …er… service person. The room reeked like smoke, and the woman who ran the front desk was almost certainly a demon, but it seemed clean enough for AsiaWheeling, and the price was right, so we threw our things down.
Without any more dilly dally, we headed out in search of food. We were hungry enough that we just ate at the first restaurant we saw, which was literally two buildings downhill from the hotel. It served over-priced and under-portioned fish and, much like the soba place earlier this day, was underwhelming. We vowed to get back on the epic-feast-train the next day, but for now just felt good about being full. We even indulged in a quick after dinner stroll, which was effective in solidifying our suspicion that we were staying right in the heart of Pusan’s sex industry district. Someone had even slipped literature featuring lewd portraiture with corresponding phone numbers under our door. We could have been missionaries! Shrugging it off, we rested for another day of a different type of godswork.