we spent 13 days in Busan, South Korea.
Busan is the second most-populated city in South Korea and known for mountains, beaches, and the world's largest department store. we stayed on Haeundae Beach, which is a 1.5km stretch along the southeastern coastline of South Korea.
Haeundae in winter is quiet, monochromatic, and rainy. fortunately, we chose a comfortable Airbnb with the perfect working space. we went heads down and chalk up this trip as a home run for productivity.
25 Quirks about Busan, South Korea
note: some of these overlap with our Quirks about Seoul Korea.
- car doors have rectangular sponges to prevent scratches from tight parking spots
- high degree of public trust; personal belongings (clothes, bikes) left on the street without surveillance or locks
- poor plumbing. we were instructed to put used toilet paper in the bin, not the toilet. Ryan ignored this rule and we became plunger extraordinaires
- Korea is homogenous, and Koreans are intrigued by diversity. we were in Haeundae during its non-tourist season, so there were stares and even some pointing
- Haeundae is home to many mom-and-pop stores with arbitrary hours of operation, blatantly ignoring operating hours they list publicly
- acquiring a prescription is incredibly easy, even without Korean healthcare. read on to Hideko's Corner to learn more
- clothing sizes are limited. the largest men's sock size was 26cm, which is a size 8 in US shoes
- boarding at a gate in Gimhae Airport takes < 10 minutes. they ship everyone on buses to a distant location where the plane is waiting. good luck if you miss your <10 minute boarding period
- yes, American servings are famously oversized. serving sizes are much, much smaller here
- beauty standards. for men, the "pretty" and "boyish" look is popular. Korea even has a thriving beauty and makeup industry for men. for women, pale skin is considered beautiful. most women wear whitening makeup, bright red lipstick, and bright pink cheeks
- unlike NYC, cab drivers aren't expert navigators. even providing the exact address in Korean, plus a map, confused them
- all BBQ spots have hollow “barrel” chairs. store your coat or bag to avoid the smoke smell
- cafes don’t open until 11a or later and are social hotspots rather than working spaces
- Korean apartments have floor heating systems. heat is generated by boiling water that runs through pipes beneath the floor
- a shower-bathroom combo is common. yes, this means the toilet, sink, and shower are all in one big room. water gets everywhere
- a rappelling line is the Korean alternative to a fire escape stairwell
- generally folks seem introverted. approaching them for directions is met by surprise
- lots of Korean stores have English titles (HomePlus, E-mart, A Twosome Place), even though it seems most Koreans don't speak much English
- throwback (90s-2000s) American hip hop and rap music everywhere. the music is also uncensored, which is jarring when you're in a fancy setting and explicit Rick Ross is softly playing in the background
- air pollution is serious. Koreans check air quality apps daily to decide whether to wear a surgical mask
- Google Maps is useless in Korea. Naver Map is the alternative
- strict trash disposal regulations. there aren't public trash cans on streets. you are required to purchase color-coded (by type of garbage) bags stamped with your district's name. you also have to buy stamps for any large or bulky items. there's a lot more to it, read more here
- you summon your waiter to your table by pressing a "call" button. Koreans don't have tips, though, so you aren't paying for the customer service
- you won't see many smiles, or otherwise outwardly jovial behavior toward strangers. the general attitude is respectful, but reserved
- there isn't a “pedestrian have the right of way” mentality. cars will speed right by you even when you're in the middle of a crosswalk. it’s up to the pedestrian to dodge the cars
pricing ranged from $5 for kabobs at a food stand, to $10 for a gourmet hamburger, to $35 for a high-end buffet per person.
we recommend the Haeundae Market for the more adventurous foodies. the most shocking finds were live eel and live octopus dishes. this is exactly as it sounds: the seafood is still moving as you gulp it down. the meal preparation was unsightly so we won't go into the gory details. we were not brave enough to try this and our appetite was squashed for the evening.
that being said, we enjoyed some delicious meals in Busan. we're quickly learning that Korean cuisine is more expansive than we thought. here's a sampling of what we tried:
our Airbnb was $57 per night (+ $8 in fees per night). meals were $11 /each on average.
here's a comparison of our New York City vs Busan lifestyle.
we gorged on everything from Korean bbq and steakhouses to street vendor fare. a solo digital nomad, or a thriftier couple, could definitely beat our cost of living by at least $700-1,000 for the same 13-day stay.
this Airbnb had everything we needed for a productive working environment. floor to ceiling windows let in plenty of light and an oversized dining table allowed ample elbow room.
Rickshaw followers are accountability partners. here's what we achieved in 13 days in Busan.
together we started research on an upcoming Fork project (details to follow).
this is what the building looked like. not so easy for the average expat to pinpoint, but Ryan knew enough Korean to identify the sign for a gym on the 9th and 10th floor.
Dallas Gym is a no-frills gym with old, rusty equipment but all the essentials.
according to our guide to Busan fitness, some gyms in the area are limited on heavyweights. Dallas Gym had barbells up to 36kg (or 80lbs).
signup is on the 10th floor, where you pay the receptionist and fill out some paperwork. you then take this paperwork to the 9th floor and hand it over to a gym employee. your gym membership is now active.
the rates were 11,000 won ($9.77) for a day pass and 60,000 won ($53.30) for a month pass. there is no weekly pass. the math worked out better for us to pay the monthly rate, rather than several day passes.
what can i say... i worked.
fitness: in gym-free Seoul i did home workouts, which for me is 6-7 sets of:
- 20 air squats
- 20 pushups
- 20 crunches
each set takes 90-120 seconds and i usually do slightly longer (10-15 second) breaks between the last few rounds to catch my breath. it's an OK routine but not good for strength training.
fortunately in Busan we found Dallas Fitness, so i got in several workouts.
to maintain high protein intake during the day (Korean BBQ at night) i had a few triple bacon cheeseburgers -- no bun of course.
since i'm traveling with my ukele i found this awesome recording studio but unfortunately they're booked solid the next few months.
as a backup "express myself through music" plan i arranged a medley of ~10 rap songs about love.
i needed a prescription refill while in Busan. this was much easier than anticipated and i was able to get a prescription and purchase my medication -- all within 6 minutes.
to learn more about how i navigated the Korean health system, see How to Get Birth Control in Korea.
Busan earned a
76 / 100 score according to our Rubric.
culture: social trust is higher than anything we're used to in the States. we saw perhaps 1 policeman the entire time we were there, seemingly because of low crime rates. similarly in Japan the police don't have any thing to do.
however, we didn't love the lack of diversity in behavior or appearances. there is one very specific standard of "attractiveness" for men and women. we also appreciate hustle and were disappointed to see restaurants and shops arbitrarily closing early. generally Korean citizens are less assertive, and we believe this is ineffective for clear communication.
fun: Busan should be more fun in the summer, when the beaches are full of sunshine and swimsuits. that said, Koreans are not outwardly friendly to strangers so there's less of a chance you'll find yourself dancing with new friends at the end of the night.
we hear Haeundae is bustling in the summer. we'll have to try it out again during the swimsuit season. until then, Busan will be the city where we accomplished a great deal with no distractions.
감사합니다 (komsuhhomnida, thank you) for reading!