In order to get from Shanghai to Busan, I had to get up extremely early. The flight was at 9 am, and in order to spend the requisite two hours in abject boredom at the airport (sadistic bastards that the airlines are) I had to take a taxi at 7 am. To get to the airport at that time in the morning, my only option was a taxi, which meant that I had to leave the hotel at 6.
I slept through my 5 am alarm, but woke up “naturally” half an hour later. I was lucky! Fortunately, I had done almost all my packing the night before, so I simply had to get dressed and check out. I made it just in time, and stepped into the pre-ordered taxi a minute or two after 6.
So far, so good—but the taxi driver had other ideas. In contrast to the other Shanghai taxi drivers I’d used, all of whom had been exemplary, this guy had obviously learned to drive through an extensive study of stock-car racing. Most of the route from Shanghai proper to the airport is on high-speed roads (motorways; expressways; call them what you like). He drove consistently faster than any other vehicle on the road, weaving through traffic with abandon, his only concession to safety being a near-continuous trumpeting of the horn of his VW as we barely avoided death again and again.
I saw another sight on the road that gave me pause for thought: a meat truck roared past us, halved pork carcasses swinging in the back, unrefrigerated (with typical daytime temperatures over 30°C) and exposed to the dust and pollution of the motorway.
We made it to Shanghai Airport, from whence I arrived in Busan (釜山), Korea (Republic of, not to be confused with the ironically-named Democratic People’s Republic of) with no surprises.
I checked in at my hotel and looked for an interesting-looking restaurant featured in my guidebook. This was quite a challenge, since the book—Lonely Planet Korea—has absolutely the worst maps ever committed to paper. To describe them as useless doesn’t do them justice. In fact, they are malevolently bad, drawn with no concession to either reality or usability. A typical map consists of some roads drawn in a seemingly arbitrary pattern and with many roads omitted at random. No names are marked on anything, and few reference points are given. Shops and restaurants are marked so far from the streets upon which they lie that it’s frequently impossible to tell which of two or three streets a given place is supposed to be.
Nonetheless, in spite of the guidebook’s worst intentions, I made it to the location of the restaurant to find that it was now a building site for a car park. Disappointed, I bought some food from a street vendor instead: fried vegetable rolls with chili sauce, which I would eat later as a packed lunch.
I headed north on the Busan subway system as far as Beomeosa (梵魚寺), where I had to catch a bus for fifteen minutes (or walk 6 km up a mountain; I chose the cheap bus) to reach the temple of Beomeosa itself. Whilst waiting for the bus, I ate my fried vegetable things.
Beomeosa is a beautiful temple in the mountains, and on the cool day when I visited, it was the ideal weather to enjoy the fresh air and peacefulness—especially after the hustle of my previous destinations. There were few visitors, although there were plenty of monks and nuns around, and a few genuine devotees praying in the various hall. One woman had a string of prayer beads that must have been three or four metres in length. I suppose that she needs to make up a lot of karma...
That night, after a filling dinner of pufferfish (not the highly toxic kind) I slept for about eleven hours, and recovered some of the energy that two poor nights’ sleep had sucked from me.