Breaking into a gentle Trot on a road trip in Busan

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

힘을 내서 오라고
집 잘 찾아 오라고
밤새도록 기다리던 아버지

Be strong and come home safe
Your father is waiting all night

Down by the Songdo Beach waterside an old man sits looking wistfully out to sea, a pocket radio in his hand. It’s playing the sweet, slightly mournful 아버지와 딸 (‘Father and Daughter) by Jina Yu, a famed, Busan-born ‘Trot’ singer.

Songdo Beach features a statue of the late Hyeon-in, a famed Busan Trot singer. A festival is held here every summer to commemorate his legacy.

Trot – a shortened variation of ‘foxtrot – is a popular, highly sentimental form of Korean music, sometimes described as the unofficial soundtrack of road trips because the upbeat tempo and repetitive rhythm can get stuck inside your head. It certainly has in mine.

I wonder what the old man was thinking. Perhaps like so many of us, his family has been torn apart by the pandemic. Perhaps he is now alone, disenfranchised from his daughter for reasons we do not know. Or perhaps he is just enjoying the moment; listening to a melancholy song and reflecting on life.

I’ve been enjoying a lot of Korean Trot music ever since I discovered (via my brilliant Shazam app) what the old man was listening to. It seems singularly appropriate to my own road trip of recent weeks.

As I enter my final few days of the Korean segment in what will amount to a three-month, five-country sojourn before returning to Hong Kong next Sunday, my sense of nostalgia has heightened.

Growing up as a small-town boy in Christchurch, New Zealand, I never thought for a single moment that I would leave those beautiful shores. But at the age of 31 I did, settling in England for the next 34 years. And now…. well, my new home of Hong Kong beckons once more, somewhere I have found contentment, excitement and opportunity in equal measure.

I have taken to walking along this seafront often these past few weeks in Busan, thinking about that life journey, a 65-year (ouch) odyssey across countries and continents, full of twists, thrills and an amazing cast of characters whom I have been blessed to meet.

First, a couple more days here to say our family goodbyes, then a brief spell in Seoul – sadly, COVID-hit at present, which will heavily restrict my planned business agenda. After that, two weeks in a Hong Kong quarantine hotel doesn’t sound much fun but it will fly by and besides we’ve managed to secure a Victoria Harbour view at the Kerry Hotel in Hung Hom (a stay that has put an exorbitant increment on the overall trip cost but hey, that is the reality of seeing two sets of family around the globe amid a raging pandemic).

Busan, like so many places in the Republic of Korea, offers countless joys if you know where to find them. The pandemic and my workload has limited our sightseeing but yesterday we made time to revisit the extraordinary wonder of Amnam Park via the Busan Air Cruise cable car across the bay and to traverse the 127-metre long, 2-metre wide Songdo Yonggung Suspension Bridge onto Dongseom Island.

Songdo Yonggung Suspension Bridge connects Amnam Park to the uninhabited Dongseom Island. Photo:

The pictures tell their own story of this rugged gem waiting to be discovered by millions of travellers into the future. All of us will travel again in search of such delights. The human desire to journey, to encounter, to discover, and to reacquaint has not been eroded by this pandemic but hugely accentuated.

Just as, perhaps, with that solitary old man on Songdo Beach we can all dream of more and easier reunions in the future. And play our own versions of Trot music to accompany those road trips, dream-like or real, along the way.

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