Things on the farm slowed down somewhat in the run-up to Chuseok, although it could have been something to do with the intermittent downpours that (presumably) turned the potato field into a swamp (with luck, the pumpkins won’t have been submerged). We spent a day or so sorting out the last of the onions, and I was even given an afternoon off due to the lack of work (which I occupied with Pelagia and the Black Monk). The following day saw a similar lack of activity, as the Gyeonggi Province Elementary School Football Championship was on and we were going to attend. I saw a couple of matches (Yongin versus Suwon, and a different Suwon team versus Suji), and concluded that these kids are going to make great professional players – nowhere else have I seen such flagrant diving or injury-faking. Every so often a player would go down and pretend to be unconscious until he was carried off the field by the coach, then receive treatment in the form of a magical aerosol – he’d be running back on in under a minute.
Chuseok, as mentioned before, is the Korean harvest festival – and the whole country takes the best part of a week off to go see family and generally have a good time. We (Me, Amy and some friends) decided to take a trip down to the southern tip of the peninsula, and started by taking the swish KTX (high-speed train) to Busan. After a bit of wandering, we settled in the Haeundae area (despite being harassed by a persistent bike-mounted tout) and, after some Thai food, spent an evening hanging out on the beach (with fireworks!) and in one of the many bars. The next morning, we discovered a French patisserie for breakfast and then a significantly swankier hotel – after watching a small but industrious spider build a web in the lobby, the day was quickly devoured by Mexican food (purportedly the best in Korea, though we had to wait for the owner to show up and, due to the size of the place, make our own tables on the street and occasionally decamp to let cars past), the Busan Aquarium (excellent, with otters, seals and lots of sharks), an entertainment complex (free arcade games, massage chairs and a brilliant flying bike game where you had to pedal and steer) and – swoon – a “Salad Farm” cafe (with wonderful salads, and free toast and cookies).
With the weather remaining fine, we took a ferry out to Geoje – a peninsula rather than an island, but still rather maritime in its atmosphere. Landing in Okpo, we immediately spotted one of the reasons we’d come – an abandoned amusement park looming over the town on a green hill. Exploration couldn’t wait, so we dropped our bags off, struggled up the steep path to the main gate and squeezed through into what could be a set from a live-action version of Spirited Away. The park was closed in 1999 when a child was killed on the rollercoaster, and it’s just been rusting away ever since. Eerie bits of park paraphernalia litter the ground; the vines and flowers gradually reclaiming the area. Birds roost on the rollercoaster tracks, spiders lurk in the buildings and curious tourists show up now and then to take pictures of the decay. We left before dark, not wanting to get any more creeped out, and hit an Indian restaurant followed by a couple of bars (one inappropriately called “Hooligan’s”; one with a traditionally-dressed hostess).
We were actually scheduled to leave Geoje on our second day, and, wishing to see more of the place than just Okpo, jumped on the first bus heading south and wound up in Neungpo, just around the headland. The highlight of this area, aside from a pleasant view and bracing breeze, was a dead dugong (Dugong dugon) that had washed up on the shore – possibly from a recent typhoon; possibly bycatch from a fishing vessel.
Back in Busan, our final hangout was the slightly seedier area of Texas Street – a place with a higher-than-average density of bars and signs in Russian. We ended up in a rather unfriendly place that, having overcharged us for drinks, banned us from playing cards (even though we weren’t gambling) and then demanded W5000 for playing pool (which is usually free) – we left in a state of irritation, bought some supplies from a Georgian (the US state, not the country) expat called Maestro and retreated to our rooms for some peace and quiet. The following day was relatively serene – Amy and I quickly checked out the botanical gardens before touring the Marine Natural History Museum (a nice building with exhibits that, while often interesting, were also often faded, hilariously overstuffed, or just plain scruffy). Back on the train, we got into Seoul in the evening, met Anne and Dan for dinner (Dan is heading back to the UK for a few weeks, so this was the last time we could see him) and rolled into Yongin having experienced no bad Chuseok traffic whatsoever.