People often say that Brisbane, despite the 3 million people living in its greater conurbation, is still a small country town. You run into people who know people you know — Brisbane people — in the oddest places. You know?
Odd places like Busan. I went there on Saturday to catch up with two friends of Robert, an old friend from university and a band we had back then, who had been cycling through Korea for over a month. I’d never met Tim and Steph before but we’d exchanged a few emails before they left Australia and as they worked their way south from Seoul. I wanted to help them out and offered some floor space if they came through Gimhae. Luckily they didn’t. There’s not enough floor here for two bodies and a tandem bike.
An email: they were in Busan, leaving on Sunday for Fukuoka, Japan. I’d been sick, as you know, and had just got, if possible, sicker: somehow I’d given myself a hernia. The emergency doctor reckoned I’d coughed once too often, or too hard. So add to my list of Korean experiences the quirky sensation of popping a lump of organ-lining back into position with a sharp finger jab to the abdomen. You learn to improvise when you travel a bit.
But I needed an outing, and it was a sunny Saturday. We located each other at the Nampo subway exit. “Do you drink coffee?” asked Tim, who with his lithe frame, fleece and ragged beard reminded me of a thru-hiker.
“Do I ever.”
They bought the lattes and the cheesecake and we compared notes about our impressions. They’d seen a lot more of the country than I have. Why Korea? I asked.
“We wanted countries we could link by boat. Korea to Japan, hopefully Japan to China.” These guys have travelled a lot — like me they’re excellent job-quitters — and we told tales and shared plans all day.
Turns out that, yes, they’d been through some hairy episodes on busy roads, but had also discovered relatively unknown stretches of pleasant bike path coming out of Seoul. They’d only camped a few times, as Korea is no tenter’s paradise and the comfort of the ubiquitous love hotels was hard to resist. They hadn’t seen much of Busan, so like a native I took them on an excursion for their final day in the country.
We strolled through the Jagalchi fish markets while they told me about Vietnam, China, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. I was after tips for a place to disappear for a few months on the cheap before my Big Walk next year. Steph bought one of those green-onion pancakes. I squeezed off a few wary shots when the fishwives dropped their guard.
Out on the wharves, most of the morning’s frenetic unloading had tapered off. How about a little hike? I said. Sure, they replied. So we left the other day-trippers behind…
..and I plotted a course for that mountain on the left — forgotten its name again — promising some of my favourite urban alley-hiking and a nice view from the summit.
We talked the whole way, as the alleys steepened; a woman called out “NO!” and gave us the Asian X-hands when we took a wrong turn. We passed this temple…
..and soon we were in vegetable gardens, and then shaded and quiet woods.
“This is the best path we’ve seen in Korea,” Tim said.
“Every hill in Busan has them,” I said. “You just choose one and aim at the top. Early Spring was best, with the cherries and camellias and azaleas.”
We explored another deserted little temple…
..and soon emerged on the top.
Down below, most of the azaleas had petered out, but up here they were fully ablaze:
We sat on the rocks and admired the views of one of the world’s great ports.
But this couple had been burning some calories. Not for the first time, lunch was mentioned. I suggested the enormous Lotte department store near the water (Lotte seems to own the few parts of Korea that Samsung and LG don’t). I’d never been there, but there was sure to be a food court. We went down through the forest, where lanterns for the upcoming Buddha’s Birthday celebrations were strung.
Hacking a path through the fish-market throng, Tim said, “Vietnam is good for people who like a lot of person-to-person contact all day, every day. It’s like this everywhere, except everyone in cars is hitting their horn as well.” I mentally crossed it off the list.
We ate in a Pizza Hut. It was magnificent — thru-hiker magnificent, ie, fabulously fatty. But we all needed a few calories. Tim does a lot of cycling in Brisbane, and while we devoured those calories, I suddenly remembered a friend of mine, another Brisbane-ite who’s a fanatical cyclist.
“Hey, you don’t happen to know Cameron…?”
“Allen? Sure do. He’s a good racer.”
“Unbelievable. I worked with him for a couple of years in Japan, and he’s cycled out to Sandgate a few times to visit.”
That was a great day. I feel like I made a couple of friends for when I find myself back in old Brisbane Town. If they’re still in it when I get there, of course.
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote