Something fun about traveling with a tour group is that I'll get to meet interesting people. Our tour guide Mr. Young is a sixty-year-old man who is really meticulous about his looks. He gives us different visual surprises every day, which makes me feel that there are no ugly men in the world; there are only lazy men.
Young is followed by two Korean assistants, whose last name is both Kim, so one is Kim Sr. and the other is Kim Jr. The former isn't very tall, but I had the impression from watching Korean drama that Korean men are generally taller than 180 cm. Thus, I mistake him for a Chinese guy working in Korea because he speaks mandarin with a thick Chinese accent. During the trip, I always wow at his fluent Korean, not knowing that he is actually a Korean who once studied in Mainland China. He sometimes wears shirts or pants of bright colors, but it's a pity that he does not pay attention to every little detail of fashion.
Kim Jr. is 201 cm tall. He was once a basketball player living in Japan for five years as an exchange student. However, after returning to Korea, he felt quite lost upon being discharged from the army, so he did nothing but drink for two months at home, which made him gain 20 kilograms. Finally, he decided to take a try, and we were his first tour group.
We saw only super beautiful and rich people in Korean drama, but I learn something drastically different from these two people. The living costs in Korea have soared and competitions are rather keen. Young people have to go all out if they want to get somewhere.
Our square-face Korean driver is from Seoul. He rarely smiles or greets us. On our shopping day, while waiting for the other travelers, I sit on the doorsteps after finishing shopping. Then it occurs to me to sketch the driver. When I am done, our Taiwanese tour guide Chialeen shows the picture to the driver, who, to my surprise, takes a quick look at my previous sketches. When I ask him to sign his name, it seems that he has practiced it thousands of times at home for the day when he will eventually become a super star.
The highlight of our trip is the visit to a local sauna. Though some people choose to wait rather than experience the sauna bath, we are still led into the lobby. I find Koreans really at ease here as if it were their home. They sleep, watch TV, eat and play with their cellphones, and our presence doesn't influence them at all.
It rains like a typhoon day outside, but it feels cozy in the sauna. When the driver sees this sketch, he can't help correcting my Korean handwriting. He also keeps saying that the two people lying in the picture are the driver and his wife. Well, he has tried his best in telling a Korean-style joke!
Through sketching, I find Koreans to be quite lovely!
Many things are happening in airports. If I could sketch for a month in an airport, I would definitely come up with a book with many stories in it. This is how our luggage is unloaded and loaded into the airplane, which must have a huge stomach!
My trip immediately becomes interesting when I decide to sketch wherever I go. Even on the last day without any itinerary, I can still find my reason for being in Gimhae International Airport in Busan.
Trapped on a rainy evening in the hotel room after a huge meal of Korean barbecued meat, I sit down to sketch the cityscape of Busan. The street is again lined with neon signs of various colors. Though there are some coach buses parked on one side of the street, it feels kind of lonely outside.
I have to squeeze my eyes to copy the geometric shapes of the Korean language on the signs. Far away gigantic machines scatter the harbor. I can't quite name them, but to me they look like vermilion chairs of giants.
As I draw, it occurs to me that Busan is another Keelung (the city on the northern tip of Taiwan). But Busan is much bigger and better developed. Also, there is no magnificent church in Keelung....
Still, I like the city. Thus, I get up at 5:30 a.m. the next day to draw the same scene again.
I travel with a tour group to Busan, South Korea. While I am almost bored to death by the standardized itineraries, luckily, I find the amazing Jagalchi Market, which is godsend gift for me.
The shop signs are so colorful that I think of what my tutor Luise in Camberwell once said to me, "It feels like you've poured all the colors onto the paper." The street is lined with seafood restaurants whose servers solicit customers in front of the doors. In fact, this is a familiar scene we can find everywhere in Taiwan too.
Busan is a sea harbor, so it makes sense that the city is rich in sea resources. Yet, the gigantic shellfish are rather visually shocking.
Jagalchi Market is quite vast. The first floor is lined with numerous fish vendors, selling so many kinds of seafood that I can't name.
Basically it works like this: Customers pick fish that interest them, and the fish vendors will turn it into yummy sashimi for them.
The second floor is a widely-stretching food court. The customers sit on the wooden floor with their shoes taken off, merrily enjoying an array of seafood cooked in various manners.
Though I am tempted to try the famous octopus cuisine, my stomach is filled with Tteokbokki, a popular Korean snack food made from soft rice cake, fish cake and sweet red chili sauce. Also, I think it's cruel to swallow it alive while it is still writhing with life.
I've finally won one and half hours of freedom from the tour guide. When I am about to forget my ability to draw, it shouts to be heard. After selecting a really wonderful site on the staircase so that I can look down, I immediately get down to work. In the beginning, no one pays attention to me except one gentleman who talks to me in Korean. He goes on to explain in English, "My major was fine art." He spoke really clear English, so I am puzzled where he popped out. As I am halfway through, the fish vendors begin to peek at my sketchbook when they pass by me. Then they would go back to their co-workers and tell them to come for a look too. When I finish the sketch, they would beckon me asking for a glance at the drawing. Though I don't speak Korean, I would point them out in the picture. Most of them seem to be glad about being my models. On my way out, I realize the artist is actually a fish vendor as well. He gives me a super bright smile, which reverses my fires impression of Koreans and Korean culture. At first, I found the people to be uniform without any variety not only in looks but also in the ways they think. Fortunately, having spent a short period of time in the market shows me that Koreans are actually more than that.
It's really nice to experience how the locals live in such a fascinating place. I get to breathe and do what I want, and my trip has thus become different.