The spontaneous itinerary that resulted in an obscure 1-month Korea trip of varying degrees of difficulty was not without its fair share of…misery. But misery is exactly what makes my style of travel my style (and exactly why I always end up traveling alone). With a grasp of the language about as strong as Aaron Ralston‘s right hand, and absolutely no idea where I was going to go, the only thing I knew was that I had carried far too much rock climbing gear 1/2 way around the world to let it sit stagnant.
After nearly two weeks of work–yes, work–scriptwriting, voice recording, and acting (see this video) in a Korean TV studio, it was time to move. I struggled to get myself to a train station and eventually figured out how to board a KTX bullet train to Busan. The train seats were sold out, and luckily the nice employees of the national train system allowed me to stand in the between-train-cars luggage compartment for 3 hours of 160 m.p.h. vampire-sleep.
In Busan, after successfully calling from the first pay phone I’ve used since 1999, I was greeted by two random people I met on the internet.
That isn’t entirely true.
Well, yes it is.
Sonia and Jean have been working together tirelessly for a number of years to create the first English-language Korea rock climbing guidebook. Online, I read that they sought a trad climber for a route they wanted to feature photos of in the guidebook. Having no climbing partners within 7,500 miles, I quickly obliged.
But I couldn’t quite meet them, because with 100 pounds of gear on my back (and front), the subway turnstyle was about 50% too small for me. Oh, and the fact that I had lost the ticket stub that allowed me to actually activate the exit-turnstyle. Blatantly holding up the entire line, with only about 5,000 people within earshot and eyesight, I slyly tumbled my extremely top-heavy way overtop the turnstyle, nearly decapitating myself, breaking the turnstyle, and spilling the valuable American-made contents of my backpacks in the process.
How, though, did I even GET to a subway station?
My destination, where the strangers were to meet me, was Busan. So when I awoke from my vampire-slumber to the train attendant screaming a bunch of Korean jibberish into the microphone, Pusan sounded a lot like Busan. Unfortunately, they are about 75 urban miles apart. As I jumped to retrieve my heavy bags and scurry off the train before the bullet train’s bullet-doors bullet-closed, I saw the platform sign reading Pusan. My apologies to the Korean-Australian sitting beside me, also BUsan-bound. Hopefully you made your way to your friend in Busan after realizing you got off at the wrong station.
Straddling the doorway, I returned to my standing-seat, hoping that Busan was actually a stop, and that I hadn’t simply misunderstood the name. But with such similarity, the odds of misunderstanding were strikingly high. I decided to take the risk, though, and resumed napping.
Soon, I woke up to about 100 people violently pushing my sleeping self out of their way as they tried to repossess their luggage before the train doors closed. Excuse ME. How would YOU like it if I barged into YOUR bedroom and forced YOU to wake up. Looking at the platform through a heap of sweaty Koreans, I saw an elbow, a big lump of this, and finally a platform sign reading Busan. Holy cow. I had gambled and actually won. I should go to Wendover more often.
In the station, I tripped over my gear bags for an hour until I finally found out what I needed to do: take a subway to where I was to meet Sonia and Jean. After a lot of sweating and pathetic attempts at communication, I found the subway. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I found myself sweating, upside down, with climbing ropes and chalkbags falling out of my backpack, attempting to jump over a turnstyle in southern South Korea.
But, seriously, WHO puts a Pusan and a Busan in the same country, let alone make them neighboring towns!?
…Probably the same country who thinks that these statues are a great idea in their capital city’s public park: