Getting around South Korea
When I think back on my time in Korea, public transport is never far from my mind. It’s fascinating that such an ordinary event should take up so much space in my Korean memories.
- I remember the crowded buses and metros where using one’s elbows to get onboard was commonplace and sometimes absolutely necessary – in fact, it was from the oldest generations that were the best instigators of elbowing and pushing.
- I remember the bus drivers speeding, swerving, and quickly braking on routes keeping my body and mind in skate and surf mode when standing.
- I remember the smaller buses and stations with only Hangul signs. Thankfully the Korean alphabet is phonetic so figuring out where to get off was fairly easy, even if it was a shock to my “English language exceptionalism” paradigm the first few times.
- I remember the times I was stared at, my strawberry blonde hair played with, my freckled pinky white skin poked and touched by the locals as I sat or stood trapped inside a large metal container getting me from A to B.
- I remember the times I was asked for a my photo, even when I was accompanied by other foreigners it was always me that they asked to take a photo of – my hair and skin colour were just that little more foreign than my foreign friends.
- I remember the times my friends and I were asked to be quiet on the metro, even if speaking softly, by an ajushi (older man). We always supposed they weren’t happy with the sounds of English since the influence of Western culture continues to change their society and cultural ways – some prefer ‘invasion’ due to the large number of US military and English Teachers based in South Korea.
- I remember walking around metro stations, the plastic surgeons advertisements brandished throughout; the independent clothes, bags, shoes, and book shops nestled between high street skincare and cosmetic retailers; and the gas masks available for any serious incidents, namely potential conflict with North Korea.
- I remember the absolutely crazy taxi drivers who routinely sped through the city whilst also watching a Kdrama on their tablets. I was lucky (relatively speaking) if instead of watching tv they listened to Korean country music which gave them a little more focus on the roads. Sitting back seat, belt on tight, hands locked on the grab handles, and constantly requesting drivers to go slower became my taxi past-time. Still, taxis were ridiculously cheap and useful at times.
- I remember the ONE time a Korean taxi driver took advantage of me being a foreigner. I was at the main Busan Station needing to get home fast for a scheduled Video Call with a friend. I had done this trip a few times and knew it took 10 minutes by car. Unfortunately, that day the driver refused to follow my gestured directions, and instead the journey took three times the time and money.
And so, it’s sometimes the little things in life that we remember the most!