Busan in 1999…

One of my favourite side dishes, KkarTuGe, pronounced ‘cartoogay’. I asked them what it was in the fall of 1997 while I was downstairs where we ate and they said it’s pickled radish with spices similar to kimchi and it’s always cut into cubes. The radish is very delicious when pickled and spiced.

Pusan in Oct 1999….

The city of Pusan was the second largest city in South Korea at the time of our vacation, with a population of around 3.6 million people. Pusan is found on the Southeastern coast of South Korea at its furthest Southeastern point. It is a huge port city as there are many, many, many containers of merchandise landing in or leaving Korea every day. I chose to go there because it was such a big city and because it was close to Kyeongju, although my husband thought it would be interesting to be in a city with such a large Asian port. Kyeongju, where the Sokkuram Grotto is found, is just north of Pusan but somewhat inland.

I am calling the city Pusan, as that’s what everybody called it back then. In recent years the way you are supposed to spell certain Korean names and words in English has changed. Places like Pusan are called Busan and spelled Busan if you’re searching for it anywhere now. My old neighborhood, Karak Market is spelled Garak Market. (Actually, it’s now called Garak Bon 1, having to do with the subway stop). If I am talking I still try to pronounce those ‘B’s like part ‘B’ and part ‘P’ and I try to pronounce my ‘K’s like part ‘K’ and part ‘G’ the way they said I should. It’s so difficult I can hardly do it now. What I mean is it doesn’t matter that they want us to spell the words differently because the pronounciation is the same as it always was. We spelled Kyeongju as Kyongju. Now it’s really Gyeongju instead. I find it’s all hard to get used to.

We took a bus from Kyeongju to Pusan one morning and arrived downtown. I found an ‘inn’ that had a large room upstairs in a building in the main busy streets. It was cheap, like $23, for the night. But during daytime and early evening hours there was a jackhammer in the area making a loud racket and I didn’t like that. It was more crowded and dusty here than in Seoul. Recently while searching online, I found out that Korea is much more densely populated than Japan is and I was surprised. For our second night in Pusan, we tried to go and stay at a hotel I thought would be nicer. It was called the Royal Hotel and it was beside the main park associated with Pusan Tower, in the heart of downtown.

Pusan Tower at dusk in Oct. 1999. We never visited up inside it but were near it for a few days.
Robert is ahead of me here carrying our bags. We were on our way to the Royal Hotel in the main part of downtown Busan. This is a famous fashion area where there were expensive foreign clothing stores.

We had to wait outside on the pavement on the street in front of the hotel for a while before they let us check in, which is hard to do when you’re weary. However, it was great to be staying there because there were places to go outside at the end of the hallways of the hotel that were like shared balconies.

Here I am at one of the outdoor areas of the Royal Hotel. It was a good way to see panoramic views of the city. The trees on the right are part of the park with the tower – it’s a small mountain, YongDuSan.

While on this small balcony area outside at the hotel, I took pictures of the downtown and the harbour. People always marvel at my pictures of Pusan, saying the buildings and houses “are on top of eachother!” It looked like they squeezed what they could in an area that was too small but left the mountains uninhabited. A lot has changed now and there are new huge bridges to islands, an astoundingly large yachting complex, more museums, bigger shopping centres and taller elaborate condominiums to live in. I found it difficult because normal amenities were lacking like buying a cup of coffee or even getting a meal easily somewhere. I think there were less public restaurants there at the time and I looked for vending machines to buy a little cup of coffee like I found everywhere in Seoul and there weren’t any. At that time in Seoul, many places had vending machines outdoors where you’d put in 35 cents and get a small hot drink in a little cup. These drinks were a prepared instant coffee or lemon tea or job’s tears tea (‘nut’ tea) drink. These little hot drinks helped my sinuses a lot when I lived there, as I was sick some of the time with an infection. The pollution and lack of heat in my building didn’t help.

It was interesting to see these crowded buildings downtown near the harbour.
This and the picture above are views from the Royal Hotel outside balcony. The Pacific Ocean is beyond the island in this picture. There is a bright orange bridge in the middle of this picture that goes to the island and you can see the water on the right.

We went to the park that had the tower in it that was beside the hotel and we walked up a long, winding tree-covered road for pedestrians-only to get there. The trees hung over this road so you couldn’t see anything but branches above you. Everything was dark and shaded while you went up the hill. I loved it because there were big birds that seemed to be similar to mockingbirds calling out and flying in these trees while we walked up the winding road to get to the park. And we had to wave to many people and say “Hello!” here. On the main street leading up to the road to the park, outside of the park, the mood of the people was lively and so happy. There were families and children everywhere. A group was cooking outside and asked us to try the treats they were making. They told us they were making ‘pumpkin treats’ that seemed to be like frothy, sweet-tasting blobs. It was nice and good of them to be so friendly. I had never heard of Koreans doing this or making such food.

Many parks have traditional structures holding large, iron bells, and this park was no exception.
The park was called Yongdusan if I remember correctly, and there were a lot of pigeons the people seemed to really like.

Perhaps things are not the same today, but we found that the people in Pusan looked a little different on the whole than the people in Seoul. Many had darker skin. We thought it was remarkable that the distance from Seoul and warmer climate made a noticeable difference in people’s looks.

While we were in Busan I wanted to see the Fortress from years ago that was in the area. It was similar to the NamHanSanSeong wall. We got in a taxi and asked to go there but the taxi driver brought us to the wrong place. We were dropped off way outside of Busan on a rural road surrounded by mountains. We met an old couple that was hiking to the fortress. I realised we were let out where Koreans would make a long, long hike for many hours to get there.

This was a town in the valley where we were let off by that taxi-driver.

While we walked along the road when we were basically lost outside of Pusan, Robert asked me, “Is that a rooster crowing?” I said “No, it wouldn’t be a rooster out here….!” and as I watched the edge of the property beside us, a goat appeared. Another goat appeared beside him. They were looking at us curiously. I could not believe how lost we were and thought it must have been a rooster that Robert heard after all.

These are the goats!

While we were trying to sleep that one night at the Royal Hotel, I heard horrible loud music. There was a nightclub in there somewhere underneath us! And the booming racket went until 3 in the morning! We had trouble getting any sleep or rest that night. When I looked down at the street at the many signs from our window I saw we were in a kind of entertainment area. I saw signs for “no rae bang”, which is common to see in Korea. It’s karaoke. The ‘no rae’ is a ‘song’ and like I mentioned in a former blog post, ‘bang’ means ‘room’.

There were many karaoke places all over Korea and there still are. I went to one in Karak-dong with Sang Hyun in the fall of 1997 and it was nice to see what it’s like. We got a few beers and no one else was there that evening. You could choose songs from the list of songs available. Most were Korean pop songs but a few English songs were available at that time – these were the few old Elvis songs approved by their government, a few Anne Murray songs and a few John Denver songs, ha ha! I asked Sang Hyun to sing a popular Korean song by a kind of a Korean rap singer. I didn’t sing. What was different was that while all the songs played (just tacky music) you had to look at your own screen to read the lyrics, and the screens showed half-naked women the whole time! Women, Korean and caucasian, in bikinis making suggestive poses, changing to another picture and another one on and on. Over and over and over. I was kind of angry and it ruined things for me. I don’t think Sang Hyun understood my feelings and I did not mean to take out my anger on him but I kind of did. I wonder if they still do that nowadays there? For a while around the millenium karaoke became popular in the U.S. and Canada and many businesses sold karaoke machines so people could do karaoke at home, but it’s gone out of fashion. I see many NoRaeBang signs in videos of Korea now when I look. Karaoke was a big part of Korean culture back then and it still is.

(I’ll finish my Pusan story in my next blog. Thanks for reading!)

Korea in Late 1999; Changdokgung

A beautiful postcard someone gave to me.

As far as getting Robert’s luggage back when we were in Karak-dong during his visit in January, 1998, we had to get Anthony to get it back after we waited a week. He called Korean Air and was on the lounge desk phone for a long time speaking Korean. We were going to give up when Anthony said excitedly something and “…Han Shin Apat…!?!?!!…”, and I knew if they could find those apartments they could find us. Not long after, Robert’s bag was dropped off. We never could have gotten it by ourselves.


Many people I saw on the streets had little white, yellow or blue masks over their noses and mouths in the late 90’s and often the Korean people mentioned “pollution”. When I said I liked the yellow moon, Anthony had scoffed and said it’s yellow because of the “pollution”. They say I couldn’t see the land of North Korea well at the observatory because of these particles in the air. I did learn they had gas burning in their cars that wasn’t refined as well as it was in Canada and they said it made more bad air. Many times there was a haze in front of what you wanted to see. One businessman told me the pollution is worse in wintertime, and I think it’s because of the colder air. The particles in the air are moving more slowly in the cold air and they can’t move away as well as in the warm weather.

While I was still teaching in Seoul, I read a magazine about how it’s common for some people in Delhi, India or Mexico City to have a ‘carbon ring’ inside their noses. It means if you put a tissue to your nose you will get a black smudge on the tissue. It’s because a person has a black powdery deposit inside his nostrils due to breathing such bad air from the exhaust and emissions everywhere. I had a carbon ring inside my nose while I lived there! Honestly!

Learning the Language….

Even though it’s a good guess to say this is a bar because of the neon lights, I can read that the characters in the middle say ‘maek ju’, which is ‘beer’. I love to be able to read their language.

Once I had gotten lost a week after I arrived in Seoul for the first time and wanted to be able to say Thank You to that bus driver, I voiced my wish to learn Korean to Miss Park downstairs. Soon afterward she gave me a small English-Korean phrasebook. When I travelled to and from classes later I would look at a character on a sign anywhere and find it in my little book and gradually form a word in my head. I learned their 24-character alphabet that way in the next few weeks. What a great relief to learn what the signs said : “…B……….A……….N………” “…….G……..” “Bang!!!” One meaning for “bang” is bread….. It was a bakery! They were everywhere. It was only a Korean bakery and it was harmless. What are these places??? “….B….I……D…….I…..O……” They were just ‘Video’ stores that rented out movies! Being able to read relieved my anxiety while I was living there. Even now, I can read what most of it says but I don’t often know what it means as my vocabulary is lacking.

Also, many Koreans told me they were surprised at my pronounciation being better than they would have expected. I had realised right away that their vowel sounds are like French vowel sounds, and not like English vowel sounds. I could pronounce their words better because I used that French pronounciation of their I’s, A’s, E’s, O’s and U’s instead of English ones. Knowing French helped me speak a third language. And twenty-two years after I learned the words for “garlic” and “onion” I remember to say Man-eul and Yang-pa like it was yesterday….

When I was planning to go there for our vacation in late 1999, I readied myself to say “…..Do you have a/any _________…” This can apply to “…Is there a _________ ?…” as well. So I could easily find out if there was a bathroom where I was or if the merchant had any, let’s say, batteries. I had to know “…issoyo…” I just had to know and say, “…Battery issoy-o…..??…” or “…Hwa-jang-shil issoy-o…” Do you have batteries here? Is there a bathroom here? Of course knowing “hwa-jang-shil” meant “toilet” helped too. As far as being ready to travel there and speak Korean, it helped me to learn that “bang” also meant “room” and it helped me to get my husband and I a room in a hotel or cheap inn. You can’t say “bang” like we would say the bang bang of a gun; you have to say it like you were pronouncing it in French, almost like “bung”. And even Sang Hyun’s name is pronounced “Sung” in English and not “Sang”, like “Sang a song”.

Vacation in 1999….

I wanted to travel in Korea once I had gotten back to Canada in 1998. I planned a 2-week vacation during October 1999 for me and Robert. I read my Lonely Planet travel guide over and over and dreamed of all I would see. And Sail told us to stay with his wife SoJoung in Seollung while we visited Seoul. Unfortunately, Sail was living in the US setting up LG sales of cellphones while we visited, and I had lost touch with Sang Hyun at that time. It was my own fault that I hadn’t been communicating with Sang Hyun because I was afraid my husband would be too jealous of him. I got in touch with him later when I was back in Canada in the year 2000. For our vacation I planned an affordable big trip and used my travel guide, which people don’t need to look at now, to find places and transportation and affordable inns.

Changdeokkung Palace…

All the Korean people said Changdeokkung was the nicest palace because it wasn’t open to the public until recently because it was considered to be a “Secret Palace”. The commoners weren’t allowed to know what it looked like for a long, long time. There was a pond inside the grounds that was scenic and calm and beautiful, with special structures around it. This was called the “Secret Garden”. You couldn’t go and see it by walking around freely. Everyone had to be part of a guided tour at Changdeokkung. The day Robert and I went we could only get in on the Korean tour, so I have no specific knowledge of what the buildings were for and I have to use my imagination about them.

Waiting to go into the palace grounds. I bought Robert a small, cold can of Korean coffee.
Just inside the entrance. I had our money and passports under my shirt in a money-belt so my stomach looks bigger than it was. It was hotter there than in Canada for October.
The king’s throne was in here.
Markers for where certain servants would stand.
It was beautiful. I like this picture because of the old Korean man with his hands behind his back on the right. See his funny pants and shoes? The man behind him was a Canadian we spent time with after.
This and the next few pictures are of the ‘secret garden’, where the pond is.
The sun is so bright there it makes pictures faded.

The wonderful thing was that at the end of the tour the Canadian man started talking to us. His name was Merv and he was from British Columbia and was on a self-planned trip all over Asia. He had been to Taiwon and liked it best. We walked around with him and had lunch in a little ddokbogi (the pounded rice cakes in red, spicy sauce) restaurant. The teenagers ate ddokbogi for lunch commonly so there were many young Korean students sitting there in their school uniforms. These ones were all guys. We only paid around 3 dollars each for our bowls.

More at Changdeokkung Palace.
This was nice at the palace.
This Korean man could understand what was said about this building during the tour, and he’s looking at his pamphlet.


Buildings at UnHyeongGung. We came upon it unexpectedly.

While we walked with Merv, we came across another palace called UnHyeongGung. It is small and was really a ‘royal residence’ for some relatives of kings years and years ago. Today it’s a museum of Hanbok clothes and other traditional items. The wonderful thing about this palace was that it was a day that school children and other children had been brought there for lunch. I got 2 special pictures of them in Hanbok dress that day.

Here are some of these children who were dressed up at UnHyeongGung. Merv is on the left.

You won’t believe it, but during our vacation, in most places we went, there were large groups of children on tour to see those sights as well as us. They were all in school uniforms and they all were so excited to see ‘foreigners’ like us. They all waved each time we all were in the same place and they called out, “Hello…!!!…” We both smiled and waved and answered back, “…Hello…!!!…”. We did this all through our vacation and our hands were sore and aching every evening when we were in our hotels or inns or at SoJoung’s. We felt a little like royalty, as Lady Diana, for example, had said one time her hands ached at night from waving and shaking hands all day.

The group of school children, or kindergarten, at UnHyeongGung that day.

Central Post Office, Etc…

Looking out of the window where we bought some stamps….

I do believe the picture above was taken up in the old Central Post Office where Robert and I bought some special stamps. There was an underground stamp market below here and we got some other stamps in it. The picture has a traditional-style gate and I liked the area very much.

SoJoung brought us to the Wedding Hall she designed gowns for. Robert is missing the black belt that is part of his costume.

We were very lucky as part of our trip to dress in traditional wedding clothes! Sojoung was a wedding dress designer and brought us to her place of work in Samseong-dong near the Koex Building. She had the costumes there and we were allowed to put them on. She was scandalised that I couldn’t fit into the tiny white wedding dress she also had there, as Korean women are all built much smaller than many Canadians. Everyone who gets married in Korea has 2 ceremonies: one with traditional clothes and one with a white dress like in the west.

This is across from the Koex Building in Samsung-dong. You can’t recognize the area now, except that the ‘clock’ building is still there in 2019.
We went to Olympic Park and this time the grass was still green. I used to love going over the bridge and continuing up over the hill. It was an exciting view to me.
The East Gate

I specifically wanted a picture of the East Gate to have all the four gates photographed by the end of my trip. I dragged my husband to Dongdaemun on the subway to get the picture, which turned out very nicely. We didn’t stay there that day but tried to. I asked if they had a room at a western-style hotel near the gate but they didn’t. I had been near there one time with Sang Hyun in 1997 at Children’s Grand Park. It was another wonderful complex in Eastern Seoul. Sang Hyun brought me on the ferris wheel. It didn’t go like our ferris wheels! It slowly, very, very slowly made ONE turn. That way you could see a lot of Seoul and all those granite-covered mountains well, especially when your booth is at the very top for a minute. I find they do things differently and better. In Canada we want the sensation of the ride but over there we’d want the view.

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