Writing from Korea again, where the smallest things are shocking. The fact that people line up, in actual lines, rather than filling every available inch of space in front of (the cashier/the egg custard lady/the subway door/the ticket booth) with pushing and shoving and craning necks. There's toilet paper in the bathrooms. There ARE bathrooms, and these bathrooms don't have cranky old women sitting outside demanding a toilet fee for what always turns out to be a dirt-covered hole in the ground. Traffic lights mean something, and sidewalks are for walking, rather than for storing motorbikes, electrical wires, extra restaurant stools, and piles of steel beams.
We booked the cheap, slow, old train from Busan to Seoul (which takes 5.5 hours instead of the bullet train's 2), and people on the internet had nothing but complaints about how shitty and last-resort-esque it was. As such, we were expecting it to be cramped, dirty, and spartan, but no: it had leg room galore, reclining seats, internet stations, karaoke rooms, and an arcade. This would have been extra super first VIP class in both Vietnam and China!
My sole purpose in flying through Busan was to go to the Jagalchi Fish Market, which I promptly did the very hour we arrived. The guidebook billed it as 'the smelliest place on Earth', which was untrue: it smelled like an uncommonly clean and well-kept fish market. The first floor's floor was perpetually awash in sloshing seawater, and periodically the flick of a fish's tail would sent spurts of water onto my shirt. Crabs bigger than volleyballs climbed the sides of their tanks; fish species prone to fighting would choose one comrade to gang up on and nibble; eels writhed, molluscs never seen before or since lined the edges of tanks, and vendors did this strange thing where they'd roll their smaller crabs around in sawdust on the sidewalk to demonstrate... something... to potential customers. Look how well my crabs' shells absorb sawdust? See how what you're about to feed your family is actually touching the dirt, old fish juice, and likely urine of the sidewalk right now?
I had a set meal 'for one' (Korean restaurants are no different than Korean-American ones in that meals 'for one' usually can feed at least four) that consisted of a pile of halibut sashimi, four sea urchins, assorted banchan, a whole grilled fish, stacks of shiso and lettuce leaves, and soup made with the fish head and tail that had been encircling my sashimi like a watchman as I ate it. Julian had a traumatic moment when I began eating my sashimi a few seconds after the plate had been placed down and suddenly the fish head twitched, tossing a lemon slice. Even though its spinal column had been cut, it was so freshly killed that its nerves were still in throes.
We have four full days here in Seoul before we board a plane that arrives, five hours before it leaves, in San Francisco.