Busan to Seoul
I haven’t written much since arriving in Seoul, but don’t worry—I’m still alive and doing well.
I slept until quite late on my last day in Busan, and headed straight for the main station as soon as I awoke. I bought my ticket on the new high-speed train between Busan and Seoul—the KTX—and planned to dump my suitcase at left luggage and do a little more exploring in the time remaining.
However, Busan has the worst left-luggage facilities...ever. There are two sets of small automated lockers. That’s all. This isn’t some backwater, either; it’s the brand-new main station in the second-largest city in Korea.
Fortunately, my suitcase has wheels, so it wasn’t too much hassle to take it with me to visit a not-too-far place for lunch. Yet, again, however, my guidebook let me down. When it says “it’s well worth the effort to find this place”, it’s not too much to ask for a map that has some basis in reality rather than the pack of geographic lies committed to paper that they left me with. Is it? Once again, though, I overcame adversity and managed to get there, entirely through the efforts of an old lady (a black-market money changer, actually) who saw me looking lost and guided me to the place in question. I can’t say much in Korean, but I did reward her with a deep bow and a heartfelt kamsahamnida. The lunch, by the way, was fantastic.
Incidentally, if you notice that my romanisation of Korean is haphazard, don’t be surprised. The South Korean government came up with a new system a few years ago, and it’s now the official one. Unfortunately, it’s not very good. It is a bit closer to hangeul than the old one (McCune-Reischauer). However, hangeul spelling really isn’t that close to the actual pronunciation anyway, thanks to the complicated consonant-combination rules. In addition, every time you see a voiced consonant at the start of a word in the new system, you’re supposed to remember to pronounce it unvoiced—but not aspirated. In other words, it’s fine if you already know Korean, and unhelpful otherwise. And since hangeul are easy to learn—much easier than Korean itself—it serves no useful purpose. Basically, it’s phonologically rather than phonetically based, rather like the Kunrei romanisation system for Japanese that can’t be deciphered except by a Japanese speaker (for whom romanisation is an unwelcome burden anyway). To make things even more complicated, the North Koreans still use the McCune-Reischauer system. So the capital of the DPRK is P’yŏngyang in northern orthography, but Pyeongyang in the southern orthography. And Busan is really pronounced as Pusan.
The new high speed train, the KTX, turns out to be a TGV. What a disappointment! Of all the high-speed trains around the world, the TGV is surely the least comfortable, due to the cramped cabin and abbreviated leg space for those unlucky enough to have a window seat. Just by looking at it, the KTV is obviously a TGV—but the “EAU–WATER” spigot on the toilet floor really gives it away. Still, what it lacks in comfort, it makes up for by being cheap and reasonably fast. Three hours is a respectable time between the two cities, and it will improve when they finish building the high-speed lines all the way from Busan to Seoul.