of 24 and busan

24 isn’t supposed to be a big deal. It’s been 8 years since you turned 16, which means it’s been almost 10 years since you got your drivers permit which is a terrifying thought. It’s been 6 years since you turned 18 when you graduated high school became an “adult.” And 3 years since you turned 21 when you were supposed to become more adult-ish.

24 is that awkward year before 25—the last milestone until you are 50—but only because you can finally rent a car.

But for me, the day, no the week, I turned 24 will be one to remember.  Here are some highlights so you can know more about how my life is hilarious and wild.

Earlier in the week, I appeared in an Official Kpop Music Video. That’s right everyone—I’m a kpop star.

That’s what happens when you support a rookie group.

My Speed friend (a girl I met while waiting in line for 7+ hours) Kakao’d (Korean texting app) the link to me while I was at work before morning meeting and I laughed so hard I almost choked on my morning dumplings.

1:51 far left

And—our Dream Concert fame returning.


those 4 hours will forever haunt/giddy me

My Speed friend Kakaod me saying thatSpeed had another selca (self camera—what Koreans call selfies) event, but unfortunately I was going to miss it because I would be elsewhere. That elsewhere is called Busan.

The Busan attitude  is somewhere between Seoul and Jeju. It doesn’t have the sleek I’m-always-wearing-heels-and-skirts-and-Gucci-bag feel like Seoul, yet it doesn’t have the hang-loose-I-have-no-idea-what’s-going-on feel of Jeju.

If Seoul was Manhattan, and Jeju was…Jamaica…then Busan is LA. You keep a pair of sandals in your Gucci bag and you have three pairs of sunglasses hanging from your convertible’s rear view mirror.


But it can also be a little rough around the edges.

Busan has its own dialect, which I can clearly make out after living in Seoul for 4 months. They talk out of the side of their mouths and their “ne~s” (yes) are more like “NEt”.

5 hour overnight train from seoul to busan

This is the backdrop for the 72 hour celebration of my 24th birthday. Instead of a play by play, let’s just do highlights.

Arriving at Busan station, we had little plans. As in no plans. While waiting for a map a middle-aged man sitting on a bench asked us if we were “looking for something to do.” Maria and I just looked at each other.

/red alarms ringing/

I think he could sense our doubt and said, “I’m here on vacation with my wife and three kids.”

*phew* Then I noticed the island of suitcases surrounding him and deemed him safe to engage in conversation.

He said they just got back from a really cool lighthouse on some cliffs on an island off the coast. He showed us on the map and we were like

sure why not

So that’s how we ended up on some cliffs. Like Jeongbang waterfall, the area was surprisingly open. I suppose there haven’t been enough lawsuits to put up some guardrails or at least warning signs about falling to your death.



but there was a coffee shop obviously

Epic selcas were taken, much breath was lost on the hundreds of steps descending the mountain, cliffs conquered, and dance parties had.

I mean all of these things literally.


epic selcas taken


mountains descended


cliffs conquered



I didn’t expect to be hiking that day

And yes, even a dance party.

This was the song Silvia and I were dancing to in the bathroom that led to our friendship. So it only makes sense that we would do it in public.

On our way down we decided to stop by a temple off the forest path because it sounded mysterious and guess what was happening! It was the first day of a flower festival!

The temple was surrounded by the bluest/pinkest/purplist/whitest bunches of flowers I’ve ever seen and since it was the first day, they were still unplucked and untreaded upon.


we don’t find festivals


they find us

I contributed to the temple’s finances by buying a cup of orange juice and taking many more selcas amidst the flowers.


look I’m a fairy

I should probably address who the “we” is. We means Silvia, my Kpop friend I met in the airport, Maria, who Silvia met in the airport after I left and also likes Kpop but perhaps not as much as us, and Sylvi (yes, Silvia and Sylvi). Sylvi is my Indonesian friend I met on the infamous Geoje trip where we bussed all the way south only to see rain, a sketchy museum, and make bulgogi in a laundry bowl for 80 tipsy 20-somethings. Sylvi happened to be in our same room and saw Sylvia’s Kai and my Minho socks drying over a chair after a long day of being splattered through puddles. Later she heard us singing a particular song in the bathroom.There were enough clues so that on the 6 hour bus ride home, we engaged in Kpop talk. Sylvi was not only a wealth of information with inside tips and connections, she also happened to be a cool person.


natural swag

She taught us how to get into Music Core (successfully—kind of) and the Korean twitter accounts to follow and may even be our connection into standing tickets to a Super Junior concert next month. *crosses fingers*

Sylvi also happens to speak fluent Korean and is very good at Naver maps, which made the entire trip smoother overall.

While the four of us may have connected over Kpop, gradually our conversations have progressed to deeper things to the point where I think we are all actually friends now.


at least I think so

Anyway—after surviving the cliffs and the raging wind, the squad strolled on to Gwangalli Beach to look for a place to sleep and eat of which we had neither.

we just need one more

After checking out the strip of love motels, we ended up at the first one “Q-Motel”, a tall building with flashing pink and green lights and is just as sketchy as it sounds. Complete with LED television, a pack of toiletries, a large shower, and an even larger bed, it has everything one could need for a nice night out.

euphemism emphasized

After a nice oyster and pork barbecue, we headed out to the dark beach around 10pm.

According to the internet, the source of all truth, Gwangalli Beach is where all the cool kids go to chill out at night and light roman candles. I thought this would be a great way to bring in my 24th year.


shiny sparkles everywhere

Two other girls I met at a church camp weekend and bonded with over Kpop (do you sense a theme?) happened to be in Busan and they brought the speakers.

And that’s how I ended up on a beach at midnight at the bottom of Korea holding a bluetooth speaker in one hand and my iphone in the other having an intense dance party reminiscent of church dances with three tipsy girls and three totally sober girls.


We may or may not have bought 74 sparklers from the convenience store across the street and surprisingly used all of them up quite fast while jumping around screaming.


At one point there was a tipsy middle-aged Korean couple walking by who looked interested in our party so I went and gave them sparklers and like fish on a line brought them into the circle. And that’s how I ended up dancing around with three tipsy girls, three sober girls, and a middle aged Korean couple with sparklers.


long exposure play


writing backwards is harder than it looks

Midnight rolled around and Maria opened the roman candles. I’m not sure if these are illegal in Connecticut, or if my mom just told me they were so we wouldn’t be tempted to buy them, regardless I’d never lit one off. But what better time than on your 24th birthday at Gwangalli Beach while blasting shinee?

They screamed out of the tube 30 feet into the air one at the a time like a machine gun (except not) and fluttered down into the ocean which is probably really bad for the environment and killed some sea turtles 


but it was really fun for me

Shortly afterwards, I heard “saengil chukahapnida” (happy birthday) and turned around and Silvia and Sylvi appeared out of the darkness with a slice of cheesecake with a sparkler and 6 lit candles (2 + 4). I was so completely surprised I couldn’t really even speak. I blew out the candles and made a wish (it’s a secret!). Turns out sparklers don’t really blow out so that one had to be held. And in true Korean fashion, I took fork and fed a bite of cake to everyone before feeding myself. That’s one way Korea has changed me—all food is everyone’s and we all use the same utensils and it’s fine.

At some point Maria yelled “LET’S RUN INTO THE OCEAN” and that’s how I ended up waist deep in freezing salt water at midnight at Gwangalli Beach.


the soaking wet squad

Church friends had to go back to their hotel seeing as they had actual plans in the morning. We were exhausted, and cold, and wet, as well. After a reluctant goodbye and more sparkler play, we headed back to the Q Motel where after a quick shower I put my head on the floor and didn’t raise it until the early hour of 11am.

I look back on that, only 48 hours ago, and think did that really happen? That shiny miraculousness seemed like something from a drama. Except for there weren’t any rich males fighting for my attention by giving me extravagant gifts.

maybe next time

Well, this is actually turning into a play by play. Sorry. All of it was a highlight.

Sunday we went to a pretty temple on the ocean. More stairs and more sun and more cliffs. The bronze tiling, dragon heads, and bright walls gave me major China flashbacks. Which makes sense seeing as Yonggungsa Temple is actually a Chinese Buddhist temple.



and…more railless cliffs…



In the evening we went to a village that Sylvi saw on the internet. Gamcheon Village looks like what if someone dropped a bucket of those big pastel mega blocks on a green velvet rug. Houses every color of the sunrise stack crookedly into a hillside, lining both sides of the valley and spilling out into the harbor.


Over the years hooligans spray painted murals along the alley walls, which were eventually deemed a work of art by the Korean Tourism Organization. The village is now an official tourist destination with explanative signs (with google translation English).




Apparently the little prince paid a visit to Gamcheon

There’s people actually living in these homes and have to deal with not only domestic but foreign tourists wandering their streets. But, judging by the number of cute coffee shops, I think Gamcheon Village has financially benefitted from the rise in status and perhaps have a love-hate relationship with their title.


After wandering the alleys and getting only a little lost, we wandered back to the bus stop and watched the sun drop over the hill, changing the house colors like the Lo-fi filter. The minutes passed and as night fell, the lights came on one by one until the hill looked like dozens of stars. Just another surprisingly magical moment I’ve had since I’ve lived in Korea.


late afternoon





We headed back to Busan station to catch our 11:10pm slow train back to Suwon. We took a small break at Paris Baguette to charge our phones, where Maria, Silvia, and Sylvi appeared with yet another cake with candles and a happy birthday reprise, because there “weren’t any pictures from the first time.”

I have some good friends.

I expected the 5 hour train ride home to be uneventful, but turns out my Busan Birthday had one more adventure in store. We heard an announcement about the norabang being open until such-and-such hour. A norabang? On a train?

This must be investigated.

The four of us crammed into a room smaller than the Trunchbull’s Chokey (minus the spikes) and sang our hearts out to our favorite Korean hits for 30 minutes. Alas, all good things must end. We knew walking out would be slightly shameful seeing as the walls are definitely not soundproof, and we had broken the rules by squeezing four into a two person norabang, only to find that we actually could not open the door. We played with the lock and the hinge for about 60 seconds before Sylvi found the doorknob. On the ground.


these are our scared faces


at least someone is trying

Someone sometime had broken off the doorknob and we were officially trapped in a tiny karaoke room. Silvia laughed herself to tears and I took selcas as Sylvi and Maria tried to actually get out. After a few minutes we accepted the fact that we were trapped in a norabang and banged on the opaque porthole window SOS. It was probably one of the funniest situations in my life. It’s like a drama—except for I was with three silly girls instead of three hot males fighting for my attention with extravagant gifts.

Eventually a worker noticed our problem and opened the door from the outside. The four of us spilled out, completely destroying any hopes we had of sneaking out with some of our dignity as Sylvi yelled, “aniyo! aniyo!” and we ran away.

Some restless sleep brought us back to Suwon at 4:30 am, and the 990 bus magically appeared so I didn’t have to take a sketchy cab ride to my box of an apartment. A few hours of sleep and a flooded bathroom later, it was back to my normal life.

24 isn’t supposed to be a big deal. There are no new laws or rules or privileges that exist after when they didn’t before. I don’t know of any novels where the protagonists 24th birthday is a major plot point.

But—I think it may have been for mine.


7 responses to “of 24 and busan

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