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Brave the Crowds of Haeundae Beach

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South Korea’s most popular beach is Haeundae, found on the northeastern end of the city. Famous across the country as a place to see and be seen, Haeundae explodes into life during the summer when the entire beach is covered in both parasols and people who are less interested in swimming than looking good.

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Unfortunately, this has been a very wet summer, and there haven’t been a lot of weekends conducive to beach time. But the clouds momentarily lifted on one Saturday afternoon, and we went to check out the scene. Haeundae has the world record for most number of parasols on a beach (yes, there’s a “record” for that), and the atmosphere is claustrophobic and chaotic.

We walked up and down the sand — the water was awfully cold (perhaps we’ve been weakened by summers on the southern coast of Spain), so we had to content ourselves with people-watching. Luckily, the people-watching is excellent. There are girls walking around on the sand with high heels, guys carrying fluffy dogs with dyed-red ears, groups of foreigners playing volleyball and thousands of parasols, almost all occupied. Haeundae is a hot-spot for the wealthy youth of Seoul, who come to Busan in droves for the weekend.

There is some structure to the chaos of Haeundae. You can rent the umbrellas at automatic machines, as well as big yellow inner tubes for the water. If you get hungry while sunbathing, just pick up the phone — pizza companies will deliver to the beach. And despite the rigid organization, there are less rules here than at many beaches; you can drink, play ball, and bring dogs.

It’s not exactly the kind of beach experience we normally go for, but clearly appeals to a lot of people. A day on Haeundae is perhaps not relaxing, but it’s certainly entertaining.

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July 17, 2012 at 9:02 am Comments (2)

Shinsegae – The World’s Largest Department Store

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We hadn’t even discussed it with each other, it was just understood. An unspoken contract between me and Jürgen, sealed the very moment we learned of its existence: the first place we would visit in Busan, before any temples or museums or beaches, was going to be Shinsegae Centum City — the world’s largest department store. That title is Guinness-certified and uncontested. Shinsegae is three times the size of Macy’s, which was the previous record-holder.

Shinsegae

Finally, the fateful day arrived! You have to understand. After three months in Sri Lanka, where most shopping is done in dusty streets, we’d have been excited about any department store, and the thought of visiting the world’s largest made us delirious. We stepped through Shinsegae’s massive sliding doors, and spent the first air-conditioned minutes hooting like dazzled apes at the sheer size of the place. Fourteen stories! Over 3.1 million total square feet! An ice rink! Four food courts, and a ridiculous number of restaurants! A “Spa Land” with 22 tubs and capacity for 1600 people! A cinema, a water bar, a rooftop park, a bookstore, an art gallery! A driving range with 60 tees!

What to do first?! Exactly as clever as the apes we were unconsciously mimicking, we wandered from the lower-level food court into the four-story parking garage and promptly got lost. “Hngh?” I asked. “Mrrng!” came Jürgen’s frustrated reply. You know you’re out of “shopping practice”, when the first thing you do is lose yourself in the mall’s parking lot. I don’t know how to explain it… we thought there was a special elevator to the top floor at the end of the lot, but misunderstood the maps. And then we couldn’t get back. It was all in Korean! We were jet-lagged! We’re idiots: that’s probably the simplest explanation.

Shinsegae lacks for nothing. Relaxation, food, entertainment… there are coffee shops and theaters, a rooftop park with green grass, and a daycare center. A person could live quite comfortably here, and I’m fairly certain that some do. Everywhere we looked, there were old women on benches, gossiping with each other. Businessmen were taking breaks to whack golf balls. We sat down at the ice rink with Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and watched kids learn how to skate. On the fifth floor, we browsed the huge bookstore, and then checked out the view from the upstairs park, where there were actually people picnicking.

We spent about five hours inside the store, which is more time than we’ve dedicated to certain cities. As we were leaving, we stopped by the information desk to pick up parting gifts, ours simply for being foreigners. We just showed our passports and proof that we had bought something. I had bought a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, so I got a free bag, and Jürgen had bought a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, so he did too. Not a bad deal, and not a bad day out.

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May 7, 2012 at 11:35 am Comments (8)
Brave the Crowds of Haeundae Beach South Korea's most popular beach is Haeundae, found on the northeastern end of the city. Famous across the country as a place to see and be seen, Haeundae explodes into life during the summer when the entire beach is covered in both parasols and people who are less interested in swimming than looking good.
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