By the time I head home in September, I'll have lived in Asia for a total of a year, and visited 9 of its countries. I don't have to wait until then to say with certainty though, that I love this continent more than any other place in the world. Of course I love North America too, simply for being my home, but that's a different kind of love. It's kind of like relationships: there's the kind where you spend your Friday nights at home watching Netflix and the kind where you go adventuring and thrill seeking. They're very different but equally wonderful, and that's how I feel about Asia and North America.
Oddly enough, it wasn't Japan that made me realize my true feelings for Asia. It was South Korea, a place that I had never had any interest in visiting until I realized it was close enough and small enough to see in a long weekend while I'm here. We spent 3 days in the country, with the first and last in Busan and the second day in Seoul. Both cities were absolutely stunning, as was the view from the train that took us from one end of the country to the other. The streets were vibrant and colourful, full of vendors, store fronts, and just general activity. Of course the first thing we did upon landing in Korea was find food, and I was really keen on checking out this famous fish market. We walked into a building bustling with activity, from fish mongers trying to explain their assortments to us in their best English, to fish flipping out of their tanks. The coolest part of this market was that you could go up to any stall, point at a fish, and tell them if you wanted it barbecue or sashimi style, and within minutes, your order would be delivered to your table in a small restaurant upstairs. Obviously, I made a point of trying all the weirdest stuff. By far the strangest thing I've eaten in my life was the octopus sashimi, which was so fresh the tentacles were still moving, and the little suction cups would grip onto my tongue and the walls of my mouth when I ate it. After our eating adventure, we decided to spend our Saturday night in Busan walking along the beach, which started with a breathtaking view of the city lights, a beautifully lit bridge, and the ocean. We saw that the major street was closed and street artists, musicians and dance troupes were performing to large audiences all along the busy strip. We thought it must be some major festival weekend with the crowds of people and the great entertainment, but later we learned that's just a typical Saturday night in Busan.
Seoul brought a whole new set of adventures the next day. We arrived at the palace conveniently in time to watch some kind of changing of the guard ceremony involving an entire procession of brightly clad men with flags, marching up and down the path. We stopped for a traditional lunch in an adorable shopping area filled with Korean boutiques and vendors making exotic snacks. My favourite here was a trio of guys who were making a dessert out of fermented honey. They started with a solid block of it that they were banging on wooden and metal surfaces to show how hard it was, and then they made a tiny hole in it that they stretched out gradually. The three of them started singing a song as they pulled and looped this circle over and over and over again until the block had turned into over 16,000 hairlike strands that they use to wrap nuts or chocolate and then serve it to you in little squares that look like a tastier version of mini wheats. We also got to see an upper class area with traditional style houses, and a very artistic district along the river where I got my name painted by a street artist using a sponge. Of course, no trip to Korea would be complete without paying proper homage to Psy and visiting Gangnam, so we spent the evening in that part of the city enjoying its crazy nightlife. The area even has a mini stage set up with a neon lit Gangnam Style, where you press a button to make the music start, and you can stand in footprints that light up to mimic the dance to help you follow along.
The highlights of my time in Korea were not the places I saw, but the people I met and the experiences I had. We had people offering to help us find our way before we even had the chance to get lost. The people in Korea were the nicest I've ever met, matched only by the people in Thailand. As for the amazing experiences, I found some of my best moments came from the unplanned times when we stumbled upon something we hadn't intended. That's how we found a night market with some of the most delicious desserts, and a little stall near the beach with a man making candies out of a mysteriously delicious melted sugar mixture. I think these were meant for kids because he stamped little shapes into them and the kids all sat around the table cutting out the shapes with safety pins, but I have no shame in admitting that I fully enjoyed it.