What I Learned in Busan

Busan - koi

South Korea is such a small country that Busan, the southeastern tip of the peninsula, is just a 3-hour train ride away from Seoul. After a week in Seoul, I loved how placid the pace of life felt in Busan. It probably felt especially so because I had gone down to spend time with my grandmother, though the few hours we had together weren’t enough. I left wishing I’d been able to see her more often while growing up; or could at least take a 3-hour train ride rather than an 11-hour flight to see her every so often.

It’s such a wide world, and the US alone is such a huge country that I only see my parents once a year. This has become the norm for me and is also often the case among my peers, as we move to cities like New York and San Francisco to pursue career opportunities far from home. I haven’t been home for Thanksgiving or celebrated my birthday with family in years; instead, my friends become my family for “orphan Thanksgiving” dinners and birthday celebrations. I’ve even spent several Christmases away from home. It’s just part of life, right?

Busan - halmuni

The first time I ever realized that this might not be normal as compared to other societies was while I was living in London. The town completely clears out for Christmas; even the tube stops running because everyone leaves the city to go home and spend the holidays with family. That the tube would stop running seemed completely off the rails (no pun intended) until it struck me: the UK is small enough that ‘home’ is usually within 2-3 hours by train. Korea is similar; the majority of the population lives in the greater metropolitan area near Seoul, within an hour’s ride on a very well networked public transportation system. Whereas for me, seeing my parents requires a full-day ordeal that costs at least $500 round-trip.

But with technology, there are few excuses. I can Skype call my grandmother once a month for just a few cents, cheaper than what I had to pay to call from a payphone in Seoul. I can video chat with my parents, and prioritize taking trips home when possible. I just need to make the time and effort.

A truly rudimentary life lesson learned: Family is important. And my priorities are up to me; I can’t blame work, or a hectic pace of life, or anyone or anything, but myself.

Also, teleportation needs to be a real thing.

Busan - Mountain walk

Busan - Buddhist temple

Busan - drinking well

Busan - flowers

I remember seeing these flowers for the first time at the SF Botanic Garden. Here they are, growing in the ‘wild’ on a street side in Busan!

Busan - mountain view

Busan - public art

Busan - public art


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