I opened my eyes to my dark room in the middle of the night. Feeling groggy, I rolled over on the bed and plopped my hand the neighboring nightstand, moving it around until making contact with the edge of my phone. I squinted with one eye still closed as I tried to make out the time appearing on the backlit screen.
It was barely three in the morning, as the calendar just flipped to Monday. In ten hours, I would be expected to stand in front of a bunch of first graders – part of my job as an expatriate English teacher in South Korea.
I shut my eyes in an attempt to return to my sleep…at least that’s what I would have liked, if not for the sudden sensation of unease developing from my stomach.
My eyes shot wide open, and in a matter of seconds I rushed to the toilet.
The train pulled into Busan Station on Saturday afternoon as I eagerly waited to exit. I survived another hectic week with my overly-energetic students, so I was especially looking forward to enjoying the beautiful coastal city. Being able to explore a different country is certainly a tremendous perk of teaching abroad; but being able to do so with good company multiples the significance of the experience by countless folds.
After meeting up with my friends and checking into the hostel, the weekend – which promised much excitement – was set to begin.
Busan is by far my favourite city in South Korea. Highlighted by two popular beaches, the urban area carries a sense of calmness and relaxation. Life seems to go by a bit slower, and the people seem to be a bit friendlier. Travel deeper into Busan and you’ll surely see plenty of food, shopping, and cultural attractions.
As a seaside city, Busan is often characterized by their fishing industry. And as such, many tourist look to taste the city’s freshly caught fish at the incredibly famous Jagalchi fish market – which just so happened to be our first destination that weekend.
The fish market is literally an alleyway with street vendors; placing their merchandise in public display, ready to disembowel your next meal when given the command. Walk further down the street and you will see a large multistory building with more merchants (and fish) inside.
Our party entered the building and we were immediately ambushed by eager vendors looking to make a quick sale off foreigners. A vendor from the building’s entryway handed us their business card, hoping that we would return to him after our initial walk around the market.
Halfway across the floor, we were approached by another fish vendor who preoccupied our Korean speaking friend with (what I can only assume as) their quality sales pitch. While speaking I noticed the man slowly take the business card of his competitor out of my distracted friend’s hand before replacing it with his own card.
We decided to reward the man’s persistence by purchasing his food. He seated us at a nearby table and proceeded to prepare the multicourse fish meal which included raw fish, shellfish, and other strange sea creatures which I still cannot identify to this day.
The rest of the weekend was equally as eventful. Hitting up tourist locations, chowing down on more delicious food, getting drinks, and sharing laughs. Easily one of the most exciting excursions I have ever been on.
I somehow survived the night which was interrupted with constant trips to the toilet. I can easily say that it was one of the worst nights I have ever experienced. I couldn’t even muster up the appetite to eat breakfast.
My friends from the weekend trip messaged me, saying they had experienced similar symptoms. We quickly deduced that the seafood from the fish market was the most likely culprit.
I ended up calling in sick for work, staying in my bed, and eating nothing but rice porridge for the next week.
At the time, it was easy to regret eating at Jagalchi; but I won’t say the weekend excursion was a disappointment. In hindsight, the fact that we all got the same sickness solidified the experience of that weekend. Throughout my year in South Korea, I was given the opportunity to travel, build friendships, and create positive memories.
I couldn’t let a little food poisoning stop me.