Tag Archives: south korea

Bridges, beaches and beauty of Busan

KOREA PENINSULAThroughout my first month in South Korea, friends and colleagues recommended getting out of Seoul at some point. While the country is relatively small (roughly 20 percent the size of California or about the size of Maine), there is plenty to explore: big cities, quaint villages, lots of mountains and as a peninsula, lots of coastline. For my first solo trip out of Seoul, I targeted the city of Busan for a 24 hour weekend adventure. It sits on the southeastern-most tip of the country and is easily accessible via the KTX (one of four high speed rail systems in the world).

Here are a few fun facts about Busan:

  • With a population of 3.6 million, it is South Korea’s second largest city.
  • It is the world’s fifth largest container handling port in the world.
  • The city intended to bid for the 2020 Olympics before Pyeonchang to the north was awarded the 2018 Winter Olympics. (Not to be confused with Pyongyang in the actual North.)
  • It is home to one of the most influential film festivals in Asia.
  • In 2009, the Shinsegae Mall surpassed Macy’s flagship store in New York City as the world’s largest shopping mall with a whopping 3 million square feet of retail space. (1 square mile of shopping space per resident?!)
  • During the start of the Korean War, Busan was one of only two cities in South Korea not captured by the North Korean army.

While I traveled to Busan without any expectations on what I would see or experience that would impress, I left with an admiration for the city’s beautiful beaches and impressive bridges. A little more on that here:

The 4 mile long Gwangan Bridge stretches in the distance across one of Busan’s most beautiful beaches, Gwangalli. It bridge is Korea’s first double decker suspension and its design was inspired by the flapping wings of a seagull. In 2014, a colorful nightly light show began after more than 10,000 LEDs were installed.

A guidebook stated that Gwangalli Beach is less attractive because of the bars, restaurants and shops lining the waterfront. I didn’t expect to find serenity in the middle of a city of 3+ million and found the stretch to be entertaining, striking on the eyes and thirst-quenching.

Haeundae is Korea’s largest and most famous beach. It can draw up to 100,000 people during a sweltering summer day. Most Koreans that I talked to described it as chaotic and unappealing. For me, it was a pleasant place for local people watching. 😉

The 2.5 year old Bukhang (Busan Harbor) Bridge is the 2nd longest cable-stayed bridge in Korea. At first glance, cable-stayed bridges look a lot like suspension bridges. However, they are quite different. While a suspension bridge has main cables strung between towers with support cables hanging down below, cable-stayed bridges feature cables running directly from the tower to the deck. The Brooklyn Bridge is the most famous cable-stayed bridge in the world.

Billed as more tranquil than Haeundae and Gwangalli, Songjeong Beach was equally as jam packed with parasols on a 90 degree day.

An ambitious 45 minute trip north of Haeundae Beach via a bus (or two, by accident) reveals beautiful Haedong Yonggungsa Temple clinging to a cliff-side. It offers a bit of respite from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

While there’s more to Busan, including an art museum seemingly obsessed with bosoms, and an art village with uniquely colorful panoramas, I’ll always remember it as Korea’s city of beaches and bridges.

Five reasons I loved Train to Busan

Back at home I go to the cinema on a regular basis and that’s one interest I knew I wouldn’t lose in Seoul. Not long after I arrived, I started exploring what my movie-going options would be here…

I learned that Hollywood blockbusters are shown in English, with Korean subtitles, while animated movies are dubbed in Korean (to make it easier for kids to enjoy).

I also learned that a more local experience, featuring a Korean produced film, would be more challenging to find. Most Korean movies do not offer English subtitles. The exception, however, is when a movie is intended for international release. As luck would have it, Korea’s first zombie movie, Train to Busan, which premiered earlier this year with a midnight screening at the Cannes Film Festival, was produced with wider distribution in mind. One of my fellow movie-loving colleagues offered to accompany me for a viewing, so I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to see a local blockbuster. Here are five things I loved about Train to Busan, which opened on July 22:

Korea's first zombie movie

  1. It introduced me to some top Korean actors and actresses, including the incredibly sexy Gong Yoo, the talented up-and-coming child star Kim Su-an, and the entertaining Ma Dong‑Seok, who I’ve since seen on local TV.
  2. Amidst digesting English subtitles, I got to hear some words and phrases I’ve learned in my short time here. Sure, it was only numbers (1, 2, 3) and common words like hello, thank you, please and beer, but it made me feel a little more connected.
  3. It was a totally entertaining zombie apocalypse flick. While I haven’t seen too many zombie movies, I loved World War Z and have a growing interest and appreciation for the genre. As I get older, I find horror movies less enjoyable and thrillers more so, so zombie flicks are perfect. I laughed, I cringed, I jumped out of my seat, and I even teared up a little. It was hokey at times, but what zombie movie isn’t? Overall it was totally entertaining.
  4. The movie chronicles a fast-paced, viral outbreak on a KTX (bullet train) ride from Seoul to South Korea’s second largest city, Busan (a trip I want to take). It’s a great setting to rethink a zombie thriller. Imagine Speed meets The Walking Dead.
  5. It’s playing in the United States, so my friends can (and should) go see it! I’m not sure what the appetite will be for an Asian zombie movie in the U.S., but I’d recommend it to friends living in cities big enough for distribution. It opened in 27 theaters including the AMC Van Ness in San Francisco.


What were the noticeable differences in the movie-going experience in Seoul vs. the U.S.? For one, fried squid was served at the concession stand. Also, all big movie theaters here (Lotte, CGV, Megabox) book reserved seating, in advance. You’ll rarely find first-come, first-serve seating here, which I still feel dominates the U.S. cinema landscape.

Seoul: First Five

I started this blog nearly eight years ago as a way to chronicle a two week cross-country American road trip with my friend Meagan. Over the years I’ve used it erratically to review movies, document hikes, and share music and musings. As I embarked on a 3 month work assignment in Seoul this summer, it seemed appropriate to document my adventures in some way shape or form, here.

As I cap off my first week residing in, working in, and exploring Seoul, here are five of my first impressions, in no particular order:

1: Baseball is tops.

Koreans love baseball and their 10-team national league, and they know and love the Major League Baseball teams with South Korean players on their roster. This includes the Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, and especially the LA Dodgers, home of starting pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu. In fact, Koreans love the Dodgers so much that they tried to buy a stake in the team last year.

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I met Joe and Song during one of my first nights at the hotel bar and they quickly insisted the bartender to turn on baseball. When they learned I was a San Francisco Giants fan, their Dodgers love created a friendly riff.

2: Like many other large Asian cities, Seoul’s subway is incomparable to American subways.

There are more than 2.6 billion rides taken on Seoul’s massive, efficient, and insanely clean subway system each year. That’s 1 billion more rides than in New York, which serves around the same population (both city and metro). In Seoul, you can get anywhere easily and on time, you don’t see rats running around tracks, and you can’t fall on to the tracks in most stations because of platform screen doors. The city-center stations are massive underground developments with shops and restaurants, and you can actually use the bathrooms because they’re so clean.

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I thought maybe it was an anomaly that the Anguk Station featured art all along the subway station walls, and have been delighted to find art in other stations.

3: During the last 60 years, South Korea has shined.

Following Japanese colonization and World War II, Korea was one of the poorest developing countries in the world. Seoul was heavily destroyed in the Korean War. Once established, the South had to create a government and economy more or less from scratch. Not only has South Korea leveraged an intense work ethic and resilience to become one of the most important global economies, it’s joined the world stage by hosting the Summer Olympics in 1988 and the World Cup in 2002, and will host the Winter Olympics in 2018.

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Seoul is about to open its first supertall skyscraper, Lotte World Tower (555 m) and construction will soon begin on the next: the Hyundai Global Business Center (553 m).

4: Conglomerates rule the roost.

While the U.S. has powerful multi-national companies like Comcast, General Electric, and Berkshire Hathaway, none seem as visible and dominate in our culture like chaebols, as they call them, in South Korea. Korea’s top chaebols include Samsung, Hyundai, LG, SK, and Lotte. Samsung makes TVs and mobile phones, right? Subsidiaries with Samsung in the name also build ships and power plants, offer auto and life insurance, operate a hospital and cancer center, and supply credit as the country’s #1 credit card company, among dozens of other operations. You can’t watch baseball in South Korea without being reminded of the reach of the chaebols. Teams aren’t named after their home city, they’re named after sponsors, such as the Samsung Lions, LG Twins, and Kia Tigers.

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LG is the fourth-largest chaebol in South Korea and has subsidiaries in electronics, chemicals, and telecoms.

5: It’s true what they say about Korean drinking culture, and

The two most common comments I received when I told people I was going to spend my summer in Seoul was that it’s going to be hot and humid, and that I better be prepare my liver. While I can already confirm that soju, makkori, and beer are ways of life in Korea, I’d add that I think the drinking culture is positively tied to a broader culture of being social. Koreans like spending time with friends and colleagues. Drinking is one of the most obvious and popular ways to do that. Is that really much different than in the U.S.?

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Learning how to order a beer became one of my first learned phrases… maekju, juseyo!