Today we hired a taxi driver to take us to my father’s hometown. We left the hotel in Busan just before 9 a.m. And headed to Gapo.
The last time my father was in Gapo was over 50 years ago, half a century! I had showed him Gapo a few days earlier on Google Maps and he was fascinated by how much has changed. He went back and forth on deciding whether or not to go. He had already heard from his older brother his childhood home was long gone and the neighborhood had changed significantly. Just yesterday my dad finally made up his mind that he wanted to go and see it for himself.
On the way to Gapo we stopped at a rest stop to get breakfast. If I’m in America I usually assume it’s McDonalds or some other fast food restaurant. In Korea it’s all Korean food. I had kimbap and some magic rotti bun which tasted like a sweet bun with butter inside and my parents both had udon.
It took about 90 minutes including the rest stop and traffic to get to Gapo. We turned into a side street and my dad asked if he could stop the car for a minute. That’s the point when we lost my dad. My mom asked if we should get out too and he quickly mumbled sure. We hopped out after my dad and he quickly disappeared up a hill. We had stopped in front of an apartment building that sits on the land his house to stand.
The story goes when my grandparents left Gapo they sold the house to a sister who eventually sold it to a church. My dad was shocked. He quickly ran up the hill that sits behind what used to be his house up towards the church that was there over 50 years ago and still stands today. We followed him up the hill to the church. We found him standing by the church still wearing an expression of shock. He said this is where I used to play. “We didn’t have toys at home so I came here because they had toys.”
I think about my childhood and how I had all the toys I could ever want. My parents bought my brother every video game system and computer he wanted.
My dad asked me to take a couple photos of him in front of the church. We headed back down and snapped a couple more photos in front of the apartment building.
We hopped back into the cab and drove over to his old elementary school. We ran into a teacher and my dad chatted with him for a bit. I snapped a few more photos and then he disappeared into the school. It’s exam day today so they asked us to be quiet even though we could hear the shrill voices of children shouting and laughing. My dad saw a list of the principals and found his principal! There were a couple yearbooks in the glass case but they only went as far back as 1968.
Next we went somewhere, not really sure where. They’re doing massive construction in Gapo. We walked down from my fathers house and when he was a child it led to the water now it leads to a new road being built. Multiple apartment buildings will be built and the elementary school will be torn down and a larger school will be rebuilt further away.
We stopped to have tea at a coffee/pasta house… It’s a Korean thing. The restaurant sat on a hill overlooking the dock used by fishing boats.
The next stop on memory lane was visiting my father’s old high school. This was a bit further away as it’s in another district. We arrived at the school and the guard let us simply by saying we’re visiting from America.
Again my father ran out of the car and circled the school to find his old classroom. And again he asked me to snap more photos. He went inside and found a teacher and started chatting with her.
I went around back to the front and could see the baseball team setting up the field.
We got back into the car and headed back to Busan to Jagalchi Fish Market to have a sashimi lunch. We picked out the fish on the first floor and then went to the second floor to the dining area. They sliced up our fish for sashimi and also made us the spicy fish stew. We ate our fill but could not finish the sashimi.
Next we headed to the shops nearby to do some shopping. I saw a sweet sticky rice cake snack I liked and passed on the first vendor but decided to get one when I saw the second vendor. In Busan they added sunflower seeds, I thought that was brilliant! I told myself I needed to cut back on this sweet treat but it’s so delicious!
My parents bought some food they wanted to bring back to America, dried anchovies and Korea seaweed then we headed to Haeundae, Korea’s most famous beach.
My first introduction to Haeundae was when I watched a movie with Haeundae as the title. In the movie a huge tsunami hit and destroyed the city, similar to the one that hit Japan a few years ago. Haeundae is a beach, not that large but it’s where all of Korea goes. There are lots of high rises, five star hotels, luxury condos etc in the area. The area has a ritzy feel to it. My mom likes to always tell him my parents honeymooned at the Westin Chosun. When looking for hotels in Busan she asked if I could find a room there but then she told me the budget was $150 so I said not likely. Haha.
In two days I’m headed back to Seoul to see my cousin who’s currently serving in the military.
South Korea requires all males between 18-35 years of age serve 21 months.
He had tried to request vacation for our visit but was unsuccessful. We originally did not plan to see him but my aunts worked out a plan and we will see him on Sunday. It’s a 4 hour train to Seoul then a 2 hour bus to where he is. We are not staying the night so we will make the same trip back. We are planning to leave at 5am and get back around 2am… Then a little over 24 hours later we will head back to Seoul by plane and fly back to America.
It’s official we are the worst at travel planning.