Back from Busan; Back to Reality

As predicted, the rest of our stay in Busan flew by in a blur. Some of it was a blur of revelry, some was a blur of frustration in public transport, but it was all a blur nonetheless. This blurriness soon faded for the harsh edginess of the week back at work, and it has been a slow two days to contrast the rapidity of our joyous weekend.

The morning of our Sunday in Busan was soothing and enjoyable. We started with a visit to another local temple known as the Water Temple. After a number of flashbacks to an assortment of Water Temples in the Legend of Zelda video game series, I was left mildly disappointed that I didn’t have to dodge spike traps or watch for a rise in the water level. The only dangers that reared their heads were the army of selfie-stick bearers, around whom you had to be careful to avoid getting winded by the contraptions. The temple itself was nice enough, but we were a little jaded from the magical experience of our temple visit on Saturday evening. While the lanterns the previous night had given off a magical quality, they only served as an annoyance in the more cramped and daylight-filled setting of the Water Temple.

After leaving the Water Temple behind us, we ventured to the famed Haeundae beach. It is famed for being frequented by Korean celebrities and the well-to-do, and it is relatively easy to understand why. It is located in the middle of Busan, a very popular travel venue. The beach sand is very fine, and the beach itself is gloriously clean. However, the Korean beach culture (at Haeundae at least) is bizarre. In South Africa, we go to the beach to wear our bikinis and swimming costumes, get a tan, and enjoy the sun. In Korea, apparently, you go to the beach to wear all of your good clothes, take photographs, and…just…be on the beach? It was puzzling to us, as we stood and threw an Ultimate disc around.

There was no option to swim, however, as the water is apparently entirely out-of-bounds at certain times of the year. To enforce this rule, there were floating barricades a little way out to sea, and a lifeguard on a jetski who grumbled angrily at anyone who waded in further than their ankles. We simply made the most of the beach, and left for Busan Station to catch our train with plenty of time to spare. Or so we thought.

The bus ride to the station was supposed to take 40 minutes all told. We gave ourselves an hour and 40 minutes to get there. There were no transfers, and the station was within walking distance of the beach, so it was not as if we could get lost. What we did not factor in, however, was that the first two correct buses simply raced past our stop without halting, with people almost bursting out the windows due to the fullness of the buses. Once we boarded the third bus, we sat in traffic for what felt like an eternity. The time ticked by, and our buffer began to melt away.

We eventually reached the station with 10 minutes to spare. However, we still had to confirm our reservation, collect our tickets, and get to the platform. Kris and I agonized over what to do. After standing in the line for 5 minutes, I raced as fast as I could to the platform, to try stall for time. I walked up to the first person in the correct uniform that I could find, and begged them to halt the train for even 2 minutes. She simply smiled an apologetic smile, and told me in surprisingly good English that there was nothing that could be done. When the time came, the bus doors began to close. I desperately tried to stop them, putting my arm in between them, trying to keep them from closing. I was not stronger than the machine, than the system.

Dejected, frantic, I ran in a panic back to the line. I indicated roughly in gestures that the train was gone, before crumpling down into a chair to cry pathetically. I punched the metal pillar near me in frustration. We did nothing wrong, and yet we were simply spat out by the public transport system. While I was enjoying a moderate-temperature wallow in self-pity, Kris was getting things done. After I told her that the train had left, she got to the front of the line and booked standing tickets on the next train. In South Africa, a missed train would mean you would have to pay for an entirely new ticket. In Korea, however, this is not the case. Your ticket is automatically cancelled, and you are actually refunded most of the value of the ticket, depending on how soon after your missed train you apply for it. In our case, we only paid 15% of the original ticket, and the full price for the new ticket. All in all, we paid only about R80 more than our original ticket. While standing on a train for 3 hours was uncomfortable and there was more than one child in the same cabin letting the air out of their lungs, it was not a horrible experience, and I was just happy to be on our way home without paying double price.

The last couple of days at work have been nothing out of the ordinary, but it has been slightly more difficult to get into the working mentality. We are still physically drained from our weekend of running around, and emotionally in another place – the beach, or the temples, or an imaginary amalgamation of the two. We shall soldier on, looking to the next major event and our happiness horcruxes to give us the drive to get through each day. And we will get through. And maybe even enjoy work a little.

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