Shooting fireworks at Gwangalli Beach

On Gwangalli Beach in Busan, South Korea, old ladies sell fireworks on the beach. In Korea, old ladies are basically a separate class of citizen. They’re rough, tough, drive a hard bargain, and perennially have short permed hair. Usually wearing colourful hiking clothes, they will elbow passed you on the street and push you out of the way on the metro. They are called ajumma.

When I went looking for an ajumma to buy some fireworks on the beach, the first one who approached me offered 4 roman candles for $20 — a blatant rip off. Our new-found Korean friend from the hostel, Charlie, came over and started the process of serious negotiation. The ajumma was pretty pissed that her simpleton white-boy target suddenly had local backup. After we walked away from the negotiations, she came back to the table with an offer of 4 roman candles plus 4 bigger fireworks for the same price.

After we paid, the ajumma pulled the fireworks out of hiding spots in the sand. The fireworks were totally hidden, but she deftly plucked them from their shallow graves without having to search or shift at all. Perhaps the police have started cracking down on the practice as these precautions were new to me.

At night, Gwangalli is a very romantic spot. Strolling couples take selfies with the bridge lights shining off the water. On the boardwalk, young musicians perform acoustic sets for small crowds. Ironically, Charlie, who is from Seoul, said that the last time he was here he dumped his girlfriend. At least it’s a nice place to get dumped.

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