Insadong, Seoul, Sunday morning 17 February: an early start for the 9:05 KTX to Busan. I am met at the other end by Nam-hee and Min, who have taken it upon themselves to show me round.
First, a foaming Samgyetang in Seoul Samgyetang in the Nampodong area. I reckognise the environs from a previous stay and demand to be taken to a CD shop. The one I remembered from three years ago had closed, but another one nearby had good stock. The sheet music of the Wonder Girls’ Tell me was available for 1,000 Won, but I was more interested in Nam-hee’s recommendation of a live concert by Yang Hee-eun, which hasn’t left my CD player since. There’s a rousing performance of Morning Dew, with audience participation, and a very moving song called 사랑 — 당신을 위한 기도. What an amazing voice1.
Sunday afternoon 17 February: off to Taejongdae park on Yeong-do, the island closest to the centre of old Busan, for a 40-minute boat trip from Pebble Beach. The sun is warm, but the sea breeze is chilly. The tour operators hand out anoraks for those inadequately dressed. The guide highlights all the landmarks on the way, including a lighthouse and clifftop building which could easily be the lair of a James Bond villain, but it’s just good to be out on the water. Soon the guide shuts up and puts on a Ppongtchak medley instead which lifts everyone’s mood. Soon we are all dancing as we head back to the quay.
As we land, a donkey and a nearby temple provide photo opportunities.
We cross back to the mainland for a very fine restorative cup of green tea in a teashop behind the Lotte department store, then at my request I am taken on a guided tour of Busan’s finest beauty academy (Michae Beauty. Chairman and CEO: Kim Nam-hee – with sister Min (right) inside the academy). A very stylish and well-appointed place it is too. Finally we head off to Saha-gu where we stuff our faces at the Centrum all-you-can-eat buffet. When I think of Korean buffet I’m afraid the Young Bean Kwan in London’s Barbican comes to mind. The Centrum is different: superbly fresh and well-cooked dishes on display or cooked to order. It’s a place where people go to celebrate their child’s first birthday and other family occasions. Very functional and spacious: a very public place. You could not conduct a clandestine affair there.
The day is at an end, and I am taken back to Nampodong where the rather down-at-heel Phoenix Hotel awaits. It’s not luxury, but when it’s only KRW 55,000 a night I’m not fussed.
- You can find a version of Yang Hee-Eun singing Morning Dew on YouTube here