Nearly 12 years after my first excursion to Asia, I’m on my second, this time to Busan, the second largest city and largest seaport in South Korea (ROK). I’m here for the 7th International Marine Debris Conference, staying in Songjeong Beach, hoping to score a few waves in between conference sessions. As I type this, local time is 4:32am and I’m ecstatic I finally got the wifi to work.
Other than the wifi issue, the Airbnb is sweet. Small, but well laid-out, six stories up, with a killer ocean view. Despite yesterday’s lack of swell, hundreds of mostly kids made the most of one-foot waves. They grouped together in surf school clusters and filled nearly the entire shoreline. Beyond them, several paddleboarders, a few windsurfers, a lighthouse, some fishing boats. I’m surprised I didn’t see any container ships considering Busan’s place in the shipping world (ranked sixth in container shipping!) – I thought the view might be similar to that from San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, where the giant cargo ships regularly weigh heavy on the horizon.
Songjeong Beach is crescent-shaped, 1.2 kilometers of coast dotted with 10-story hotels and apartments, and thick with surf and coffee shops. I’m staying near Yo Surf, up the street from Surfholic and Surfy Surfy, near Surf Road on the other side. I almost bought a T-shirt in Surfholic – I like to buy Nick surf T-shirts on my various trips – but decided to look around before committing in case Surfy Surfy has branded Ts, in which case I may buy shirts for everyone.
It’s now 4:59am and I can hear my neighbors in the hallway. I heard some fireworks going off a few minutes ago. I’d thought I’d adjusted to the time change, but apparently not quite yet. Sixteen hours is a bit of a jaunt into the future, after all, especially after a multi-step process to get here.
My first decision was one familiar to anyone living behind the Redwood Curtain: Do I drive to SFO or chance that the early United flight out of ACV will be on time? Legend has it that Humboldt’s commercial airport was built during WWII to train pilots to land and take off in the fog – they needed somewhere as perpetually foggy as possible for this practice. I’ve never verified that story (and will not be bothered to google now), but anyone with experience flying in or out of the California Redwood Coast – Humboldt County Airport knows cancellations and delays are extremely par for the course. I checked the status of each morning’s 6am flight for several days prior to my scheduled trip and, sure enough, the recurring morning fog had the expected effect. Between that and the advice I received on Twitter, I opted to book a “Manager’s Special” at Hertz, drive to SF the day before, stay the night at my brother’s with the added bonus of seeing my little nephews and have plenty of time to make my SFO flight the next day.
The “Manager’s Special” turned out to be a 2022 Chevy Colorado 4WD truck, not exactly the vehicle I would’ve chosen to schlep myself to the city, but choices were few and time was short, so off the behemoth and I went, carrying my suitcase, backpack, purse and various feelings related to California car culture, identity, etc.
In an absolute San Francisco miracle, I found an open curb long enough to accommodate the Colorado right outside my brother’s place in the Outer Sunset. This proved a good omen: I had a lovely visit, managed to avoid a parking ticket despite overstaying my car’s welcome by 20 minutes or so – this! In San Francisco! – made it to the airport with time to spare. The airtrain even arrived exactly as I reached it after returning the car. I breezed through security (after being sent back to check my bag, which I’d forgotten to do, accustomed to bringing only a carry-on).
And then the more challenging part of the journey began: a 12-hour flight, a scheduled PCR test at Incheon International, a bus to Gimpo airport, a short flight to Busan, a taxi to my Airbnb. The long flight passed okay enough. I watched The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent and Everything Everywhere All At Once, and tried to sleep but couldn’t much, felt antsy and unable to get comfortable with the neck pillow and eye mask and ear buds and face mask, one or the other would slip or shift out of place. I definitely had a moment of what the hell am I doing, why am I even going to this. And then I thought about all the people forced to travel when they don’t want to, all the people aiming for a place without any security waiting at the end, the amazing choice I have to deliberately push myself out of my comfort zone – and on work’s dime – and went back to being excited about the trip if not the wam pile of soft broccoli and bland noodles that I ate nonetheless.
A few snafus arose along the rest of the way: In the chaos of the COVID testing site, I missed my number when called and had to push through the crowd to get my turn; the address I gave the taxi driver for the Airbnb caused confusion. But the worker who’d called my number fit me in, the taxi was outfitted disco-style and, ultimately, Google Maps delivered.
So here I am, more or less halfway around the world from home (the exact antipode is apparently the Kerguelen Islands), sticking my toes in the East Sea, managing to order iced coffee on purpose and French toast on accident (I’ll take it), meeting up with my coworker Melissa, who is also here for 7IMDC and staying nearby. After walking-exploring for a couple hours yesterday, we landed in a café with some vegan (for her) and vegetarian (for me) options. The curry and kimchi made me so happy. And now that I’ve resolved the wifi, the day awaits.