Handsome Furs – Busan 2010

[showtime]

BUSAN. August 14.

Torrential rain has flooded the city over night and we wake with a morning to ourselves to explore our drenched neighbourhood. To our surprise it is, unmistakably, the prosthetic limb and love hotel district of Seoul. I fall in love with every storefront full of scary robot hands and rib parts and colourful appendages for tots and every seedy lobby declaring cheap hourly rates in neon pink. We navigate the area by keeping Namsam mountain and the N Seoul Tower in sight. We discover hagfish and sea apples in restaurant aquariums and choose their more earthbound cousins in pork spine soup with egg broth for breakfast. We peak into old bookstores and watch musicians busk against the backdrop of a confounding climbing wall. We hold hands all morning feeling like there’s room for us on these strange streets despite the throbbing pedestrian traffic that whistles down the well-paved walkways. The rare private stroll has me feeling romantic, warming up to the pink pleather divans in the lobby of one Destiny Trampoline Motel but we haven’t quite enough spare time to see just how accurately the establishment has titled itself. I gleefully assume it’s very Meta. Very. And I squeeze Dan’s hand.

We meet Seu-gi, Christina, Sean and Teen Girl Fantasy back at Seoul station to board our highspeed transport on to beachside Busan. Mid-train ride, a fan leans over her seat and, in disbelief, giddily announces that she’s on her way to our show. We are utterly shocked. We ask her to sit with us for the journey and she calls her friend (“an even bigger crazy fan”) and the friend giggles from the other end in shared surprise.

Whenever a place is described to me as “beachside,” I am immediately certain that we haven’t allotted enough time in that destination. With Busan, it is tragic. We arrive just as the sun is setting and know that we must catch our train onwards immediately after the show.

We head to beachside Park hotel while typhoon skies gather behind the nine mountains that push through the city’s limits. We reach the neon harbour where the Gwang-an bridge stretches between Haeundae-gu and Suyeong-gu, connecting the entire horizon with rainbow-lit finesse. It is explained to me as one of the “30 longest suspension bridges of the world” from a man selling me matches with the bridge image on the flap. I race to put my toes in new ocean and wish for my sister who most easily understands this tradition. (I am currently amongst boys in jeans and boots, tourists with cameras not swim wear, businessmen walking home for the day and fishmongers who are less impressed by the sea.) The sand is gritty and full of plastic flowers and discarded sunscreen and fish guts. I look for dog sharks, hoping that the warm shallows have brought them close to the shoreline for the night and I shake hands with a matron hawking abalone, certain she will shake her head at my lunacy the moment I turn. This harbour rivals only the surreality I have witnessed in China’s port of Qingdao but for wholly different reasons. Haeundae harbour is one of the most perverse stretches of beach for its impossibly blinking signage draped over every building ringing in fluorescent diamonds. On a flatbed truck girls in bikinis dance provocatively to promote the opening of a Mom and Pop shop. I race to photograph the incredulity of it but bail badly on slippery curb en route, causing a new gash on my knee and a bruised palm, scraped thigh, thumped chin and dented camera.

At Vinyl Underground, the sound-crew and owner are Korean but ex-pats have glommed on to the bar pretending to be of some importance to the coordination of our show. I keep being confused about who to talk to and why I am overhearing gross comments about my tattoos. The owner introduces himself, long-haired and loose-jeaned and lovely. We talk earnestly about how he is trying to bring a “voice of rock to Korea.” We feel honoured to be a part of it and it truly seems to be working here. Local opening band Sleepstalkers applaud through out our soundcheck and beg for higher volume on our behalf. I like them immediately. Some Korean press/fans/photographers arrive early to meet us. It feels wholly surreal to feel well-known in beachside Busan.

A crew of us go out for pork fat grilled and wrapped in turnip, sesame leaves, and pickled lettuce. By the time we return to the club, the streets are full.

The show is wildly oversold and it is hard to make our way through the crowd to get drinks. Through out our entire set, three Korean girls stand before me with linked arms yelling “Saranghaeyo!” repeatedly. I learn that it means “I love you” and I return the compliment every chance I’m at the mic. It turns into one of our punkest shows. Dan throws himself, still singing, into the audience and creates what he later described as a “Korean girl dog pile.” In the parking lot after the show, drenched in sweat, we drink Soju with them all.