Friday, June 15.
The exhaustion of travel knocked us out for the night and we awoke on Friday AM relatively refreshed and looking forward to new sights and sounds in the area. Our first adventure was the previous night trying to figure out how to turn off the light system (a console by the bed finally was discovered) and getting the air conditioning to work. That accomplished, we next discovered the modern bathroom (complete with a heated seat and bidet) and two heads in the shower. Such creature comforts were welcome and appreciated!
Breakfast in the restaurant gave us two choices of an American breakfast and two choices of a Korean breakfast. The former included coffee, orange juice, two eggs any way you choose, sausage and bacon, toast, and some fruit, all expected for that kind of breakfast. Less expected was the salad and French fries, and even more so a warm, green soup that tasted a bit like Vichyssoise, which we were told was “absolutely” part of the American breakfast. (Our server acted surprised we didn’t know!) Leslie chose “A” on the Korean side, Miso soup, sticky rice, a fried egg, and assorted side dishes including Kimchee. Both were quite good and helped us welcome our first morning in Changwon.
After breakfast, Choi met us at a Starbucks (yes they are ubiquitous here along with 7/11’s, McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, and many more of the usual suspects.) Choi tells us coffee is a big deal in Korea and there appear to be as many coffee shops as there are in Hanoi. Choi and I walk over to the offices of the Changwon Arts group which not only has a full-time symphony orchestra, but also a traditional instrument orchestra, a choir, and a producing agency with guest artists, both Korean and international. I meet the Executive Director, the PR manager and few other people, before we set about some business and the schedule for the following week.
After that we retrieve Leslie from the hotel (it is right across the street) and head to Busan with Choi for some sightseeing. Driving is civilized in Korea. People for the most part follow traffic patterns and rules (save a few pesky motorbikes) so traveling is generally a smooth endeavor. However, traffic is heavy and there are many tunnels and bridges as Korea is almost all mountains to its shores. Getting from one place to another takes time and there is a tremendous amount of construction that adds to the delays. Although the trip to Busan is about 30 miles, it often takes one to two hours to make the trek.
After more than an hour of driving, Choi takes us to some scenic cliffs where the wind is rather stiff. We notice that most of the population lives in high-rise apartment complexes. These may have 3-12 buildings as part of a development. These days most are over twenty stories and can be quite spacious. We also notice that Busan is a major seaport with dozens of international ships moored just out of the harbors and rows and rows of shipping containers (guessing thousands) stacked three to four high found in some yards.
Lunch was a traditional Korean BBQ where you grill meats on a heating element with an exhaust fan hovering over the grill found in the center of the table. We ordered three different meats and they came with onions, garlic, and many other sides including the ever present Kimchee in a variety of heats and fermentation. Choi showed us how to take a sesame leaf and load it up before eating. Even though we were full from this part, soup arrived at the end to cap a terrific lunch.
After the meal, we headed to what claims to be the largest department store in the world, that housed “Spaland”, a wonderful place to relax in their wide variety of saunas, steam-baths, and whirlpools. Upon entering, your shoes are put in a small locker with a number that has been assigned to you. The key from that locker is then your key to a larger locker inside where you change into provided “spa-wear” of a brown V-neck teeshirt and stretch shorts. You then meet your friends in a central area before going in to the main gathering area. After soaking our feet in a mineral bath, trying out several rooms at various styles and dry temperatures (there were at least twenty to choose from) Choi bought a shaved ice, fruit, ice cream, and sweet black bean concoction that we sat down on a heated floor to eat. It was clear an entire day could be spent in this relaxing space. On the third floor there was a nice cafe, but of course, dress would always be extremely casual.
It was just after five before we left Busan and as expected, it took a full two hours to return to our hotel with Leslie and I zonked out for most of the ride. We bid Choi adieu for the night and went upstairs for a quick catnap before dining in the same restaurant we began the day. It is called Cubers Grill and serves up Japanese/Italian fusion meals. We settled on sharing a rather spicy pasta and a Caprese salad. We quickly discovered wine is rather expensive as is any imported alcohol. More about that later. The day gave us a lay of the land of this wonderful region and we were looking forward to more experiences.