As I rode into Busan on a slightly weary looking bike, wearing increasingly hole-ridden cycling shorts and sporting a fresh Charlie Brown-esque haircut, I couldn't help but think that 6 months ago I was meant to be enjoying a life of flat beds, regular company and no more saddle sores when I reached this point. By a rough finger measured calculation on my tiny, crumpled world map, I estimate I've still got almost two thirds distance still to cycle before I return the sunny shores of Britain.
China provided more smooth roads on the way to Qindao, past miles and miles of fish farms and yet more miles of wind turbines. The first potholed section I'd experienced the whole time I'd been in China resulted in my first broken spoke, so as I clinked into Qingdao I discovered my first anti-cyclist area of China. Not only do they try to break your bike as you approach, they also ban bikes from many of the roads. Apparently this is becoming the case in a number of cities in China to help the flow of motorised traffic. After weaving my way through the narrow streets I arrived at the final destination of my first Chinese experience.
Qindao is home to Tsingtao beer and the street cafes have lines of kegs ready from which you can purchase fresh beer by the plastic carrier bag to take home or just to enjoy through a straw. The cafes are dirt cheap and will even cook food for you that you bring along. The hostel was a busy place and one evening, when looking for some conversation, I was invited to join a group of folk heading to a karaoke establishment. For those who know me well may be surprised to hear that I agreed to join them and I was surprised myself as the word 'sure' exited my mouth. As I'm sure you know, karaoke is hugely popular in this part of the world. We hired a private room for the evening and entered a very expensive looking, high tech suite. Unfortunately they didn't seem to spend that much money on providing a good range of songs. I therefore spent the evening listening and singing along to the likes of Brittany, The Black Eyed Peas and everyone's favourite, Lionel Ritchie.
I arrived in Korea by ferry and as I rode the short distance from the port in Incheon to the hostel in Seoul with my sparkling new spoke attached, the world seemed so peaceful again despite being in the world's second largest metropolitan area. I don't know whether it's because I have become slightly deaf or if the horns really are sparsely used and restricted to safe decibel levels when applied. Drivers are much more predictable and polite and the world seems slightly more ordered again. I arrived at the hostel and could hardly believe my eyes. You normally expect youth hostels to be cosy, informal places full of grubby looking travellers but the two hostels I've stayed at in Korea (Seoul and Busan) have been more like executive hotels with slightly out of place looking bunk beds in some of the rooms. The majority of people I have seen have been dressed in suits attending business meetings in the conference rooms. Both hostels have been huge and fill modern high rise buildings. The one in Busan even offers a sauna, swimming pool, driving range and a pro shop! I sampled the swimming pool yesterday and after completing a few drills in the main pool I relaxed for the next 45 minutes or so in the jacuzzi in order to pay heed to one of the warnings on the long list of rules in the entrance to the pool which states that 'swimming too hard can cause eye disease'. Later in the day, with eyes still in good working order, I headed to a Kiwi bar on the beachfront where I sat next to a Scot watching England struggle to victory over the Argies. It was just like being back in Aberdeen listening to the cheers as Jonny Wilkinson put his kicks wide!
It seems that the Koreans seem to be competing with God to see who can create the tallest and most numerous big things. High rise buildings sprout up everywhere between the tree covered hills which would once have dominated the landscape. When Koreans do something, they seem to put 100% effort into it. They are obsessed with technology and seem unwilling to share it with me. They use a different system for mobile phones here and when I tried to see if I could purchase a cheap handset I was told that I couldn't due to the fact that I was foreign. I was however able to enjoy the end of the IAAF World Athletics Championships on the large, flat screen TV in my hostel room in Seoul but was slightly gutted that I didn't arrive in Korea slightly earlier as I made it to Deagu just four days after Mo Farah's victory in the 5,000m.
Tomorrow I head to Japan in search of my cousin John's company, some new tyres for my bike and my third kindle of the trip so far to provide me with some sanity when I'm on the road meaning I won't just be putting up my tent and going to sleep at 7:30pm anymore. For now it's back to the hostel for more pot noodle before heading out to join the thousand or so fans crammed into the 54,000 capacity world cup stadium in order to sample some Korean football as the mighty Busan l'Park take on Daejon Citizen. Apparently it's around League 1 standard so should feel right at home after watching Swindon over the years. Come on you ... (what colour do they wear?).