Imagine yourself in my position: you’re on the other side of the planet and your wallet has really kicked off a few pounds in the last few weeks. You won’t be able to eat and you won’t be able to take the subway unless you get your hands on some cash, so you need to find an ATM before you get caught in a corner and just wither away like some dusty cobweb. But in Busan it’s not enough to find any ATM—many of them don’t speak English, and many more spit out your card if it’s from outside the country.
A desperate search begins. You become the wanderer lost in the desert, thirsty for the waters of a blue oasis, tricked everywhere by mirages and phantoms. You know where one good ATM is, but not exactly where—it sits happily blinking its screen in one of these giant fifteen-story rectangles planted on Sasang’s main stretch, but you don’t remember exactly which one.
Okay, wait, it’s the HomePlus building, marked by a giant red plastic sign reading HomePlus, and really nothing else, there being few architectural adornments of any kind to the buildings in this part of Busan. Flat windows, flat cement, straight up to the haze in the sky. If I ever meet an architrave I’ll drink its sculpture like wine, I’ll kiss the first gargoyle I see right on its stone lips, I’ll tangle myself up in the curving ivy of Art Nouveau and never let go.
You’d be just as mistaken as I was if you thought that the building marked HomePlus would contain HomePlus—yes, unfortunately, wearily, after eight hours of work, sweating in the stinking heat, you’d find yourself rising up and down escalators in a heavily air-conditioned department store cluttered with cheap dresses, horrifying mannequins, glittering necklaces, and toddlers wearing sneakers that make electronic beeping noises every time they strike the waxed linoleum floor. No HomePlus. No ATM. Just a lost American.
It’s time to bring out the big guns at this point. You leave the store, walk around for awhile, find nothing, and think of giving up—sustenance is required. The apples here are the size of your head, like skull-crushing coconuts—you packed one for lunch and thankfully didn’t eat it. You tear it out of your backpack and crush the foaming fruit between your molars and then, magically, finally, find the entrance to the underground HomePlus store, which was hidden behind some kind of miniature concert stage blasting KPOP from its black speakers, though the stage itself is empty and unoccupied. No one is dancing, no one is listening.
You eat the apple as you walk through the store, straight to your target. The minor infraction of chomping open-mouthed on an apple in a supermarket means that people will notice, but no one will stop you because no one wants to deal with the fact that your Korean is currently limited to yes, no, hello, thank you, and the numbers one through five. You’re too tired to care. To hell with it.
You find the ATM. Holding the last of the apple in your teeth, you type your secret code on the happily-blinking screen and stuff the bills in your plump wallet. Victory is yours, but you’re too tired to celebrate—indeed, an endless subway ride awaits you, but this post is so long that it’ll be a miracle if anyone reads it, so I’ll write about the typical Busanian subway trip another time.