It seemed I’d stuck my big western nose, and my camera lens, into one too many shipyard doorways. The security guard dashed out so quickly, right after taking the shot below, I was sure he’d been watching and waiting to pounce:
I backed off a step and he did a little rage dance, as though doubly furious that his reprimand would be wasted on this foreigner. Silly me: I feigned ignorance, no doubt poorly, saying “No pictures?” with my tone and expression set to Bambiesque Innocence.
“BLARRGGEUGHGHHEH!” is what his response sounded like, though there may have been words in there beneath the rage.
I strolled down the alley, feigning nonchalance, though I could feel those eyes trained like crosshairs on my back, and stopped right here, still within range of the guard — and, I was certain, at least one closed-circuit camera. This looked like a pleasant spot to enjoy a sandwich, and I took out my lunch and sat down where I could watch the street:
I realised I was hungry. I enter these trancelike states sometimes when I’m walking in a new and fascinating area with my camera — I was a virtual zombie for three months in Switzerland, a one-eyed zombie with a viewfinder conjoined with my face — and the guard had shaken me quite abruptly back to reality.
I’d been walking for a few hours, starting at the fresh-fish markets, which are always enthralling (seriously!), and working my way through the dried-fish zone and over the bridge once more to Yeong-do, where I’d lost myself quite willingly among the piles of rope and nets, the bollards and cables and crates and chains, the whole fascinating mess of the wharves and shipyards and dry-docks.
I looked across the bay towards the fish markets. The electrified guitar of a busker lunged across the water. I was a little uneasy. I felt watched. All over Korea — I’m talking everywhere — you see these damned CCTV warning signs and stickers. If you thought we were over-scrutinised in the west, you might quickly turn into a blubbering paranoid over here.
The guard had gone back inside, but now three burly fellows came down the alley and got inside a big black car. The car didn’t move. Were they monitoring me? Surely I was a little too obvious to be a North Korean spy?
At last they started the car and drove off. I went on my way…
..into a district of ancient machine shops, marine engine parts glistening in freshly oiled piles, and paint-splattered Europeans, at least some of them Russian, glaring at me as I passed.
A giant…something loomed over grimy waterfront hovels:
I couldn’t shake those heebie-jeebies. I felt like I stood out, like I’d broken some unwritten rule by straying out of the tourist zone. Maybe you can’t even walk around the docks with a camera anymore in these crazy times.
I left the water and headed into the thriving shopping zone. I tried to enjoy it, but the magic had gone and I turned and aimed at the bridge again. One last stroll through the alleys…
..and under these gangways where a shift was just finishing, workers emerging to pull protective masks from their dusty faces and breathe in the cooling air of dusk:
I reached the water near the bridge and sat down to eat a Snickers…
..and damned if there wasn’t another black car nearby, engine idling.
I knew I’d probably just seen too many movies, but I soon got up and moved on, flinching a little every time I raised the camera — but it was just too colourful and dramatic to ignore:
Suddenly a bunch of boys of eight or nine came flying down the footpath, almost knocking me into the water, each emitting robotic HELLO! HOW ARE YOU? PLEASED TO MEET YOU!s as they whooshed past. I ignored them — I wasn’t at work now — and came to what might have been their older brothers huddling and scurrying and carrying on with a great commotion:
How refreshing to see boys enjoying the outdoors, and not a handheld entertainment device in sight! Instead, they were making their own fun with hooks, line and a container full of chunks of fish. They would lower the bait quite a distance into the water and within seconds a hapless crustacean would grab at the windfall…
..only to be jerked out of the water amid cries of triumph and quickly shared with the fisher’s cohorts.
I’d hate to be reborn as a sea creature near Busan:
Two adversaries would be prodded together till their natural instincts were sufficiently aroused, and the tournament commenced:
I quickly immersed myself in the action with genuine fascination. The kids seemed to enjoy the audience. The limbs littering the arena suggested it wasn’t as much fun for the competitors, however. Is there any force more murderous than a group of boys with a communal bloodlust? My own cohorts and I committed appalling crimes against innocent armies of soldier crabs when I was their age…
Barely had one bout concluded than they began seeking fresh talent:
A final shot of the proud hunter…
..and with the sun setting I bade them farewell to aim at the bridge.
I felt reinvigorated after that encounter, and even when I passed a parked police car with two occupants faintly visible within, I convinced myself they were just sleeping and went right on taking pictures till it was almost dark:
The bridge and the western sky were aglow with warm light, and I took my sweet time. When I finally approached the far side, Busan, stretching into the hills, was sparkling beneath the cool blue cloak of early evening:
Soft Boys, ‘The Return of the Sacred Crab’:
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote