Monday, December 10, 2007

Say "hey mr. driver man...don't be suicidal..."

It's been a while since I've had to take a bus in Korea as more often than not I just grab myself a nice cab. I'm a fan of the taxi, I can 't help it. However my love for all non-public transportation probably has a lot more to do with the fact that I live immediately downtown and can usually walk anywhere I'm going in fifteen minutes. If I am running really late I might jump in a cab, but most of the time I can walk. I walk a mile and a half to school. I walk the mile and a bit to the bars or to dinner or to hang out. I walk and walk and walk. I managed to be on the other side of Daegu last week and in order to get from point A to B I was forced onto a bus.

That's fine, I like busses over the subway any day of the week. I 'm a not a huge fan of underground travel as you cannot see anything when you are down below. I like to be able to see what is going on. It allows me to find new things that I might otherwise miss. A bus can be great for that. The city busses in Daegu aside from being a bit pricey are usually comfortable. If you are taking anything downtown you can almost guarantee the ride will go smoothly and you won't get killed. I cannot make the same claim for the cab ride as I have had a few cab experiences that have left me with my life flashing in front of my eyes. But a downtown bus is usually a safe bet.

On occasion I've taken inner-city busses to travel about and I find this all fine and dandy. The inner-city bus is a convenient way to get from one city to the next if you can't take the train or have time for a little more round about travel. What you learn on an inner-city bus is to sit in the middle. Any zone past the middle means that you will be tossed about like last night margarita and can be expected to make a mess similar to what would happen if you were to consume, say, ten of those margaritas. You sit well up front towards the middle and you will be fine and be able to enjoy your ride.

My most recent bus experience was neither an inner-city or downtown bus, but rather an on the city limits bus ride. This is a bus that never sees downtown Daegu, is usually meandering out in the sticks servicing areas that are better left unvisited. Yet this area like any other area in Daegu needs essential services and a bus is an essential service.

So I found myself on the bus traveling from my point A towards a point B that would eventually result in my arriving at point C which was home. I found the bus stop after asking some very nice Korean college girls which way to go, and they surprised me by returning a response entirely in English and point towards the appropriate bus stop. I hustled about in the cold huddled in my big warm winter coat and continued in the general direction towards the stop.

I found it quite nearly where it had been purported to be and so I took a space in line to wait for the coming of the bus. There were about six of us all together standing and waiting. The first bus that started to come towards the stop looked like it might the one I needed. I read as quickly as I could the Korean sign listing the destinations and thought that I read the name of the place I was heading on the sign. I prepared, as did the young Korean gentleman in front of me, to board the bus. I wanted to ask the bus driver to be sure I was heading to the right place but I figured he would let me know.

As the bus pulled towards the stop I noticed a curious thing. It was not really slowing down. While it was not moving at top speed it wasn't getting much slower. As it pulled up to the stop I expected it to stop. The Korean gent in front of me with his rolling suitcase expected it to stop. The bus pulled up so that my Korean gent friend was in line with the rear tires. The bus was still rolling at a good clip but it was presumed that it would stop for the Korean who was now walking towards the door to get one.

But it didn't. Instead without ever stopping the bus closed the door and speed away from the bus stop leaving a Korean gentlemen with a rolling bag running after it and swearing in Korean. He was not pleased, and neither was I, but at least I had not started running after the bus. Okay, I braced myself as the next bus came forward as did my Korean friend in front. As this bus pulled up it mimicked the previous roadster by failing to stop entirely. The Korean gent with the bag went running after the door as soon as it slowed up a little and managed to toss his bag onto the stairs before him. I was running at a pretty good clip right behind and gripped the metal bar to pull myself in as three other Koreans behind me followed suit.

But I was blocking the way as I asked if the bus went to my stop.

The driver swore a thousand invectives at me as the rest of the Koreans jumped on board and pushed me forward and the driver took off like a shot without a second glance and the three other passengers who were now left breathing exhaust to make an attempt at the next bus.

This would have been fine but the sudden acceleration, my general confusion, and my status of standing in the middle of the isle without holding on meant I was sent flying straight to the back of the bus, a gigantic foreign missile aimed straight for the head of the Korean gent with the bag. I managed to grab the bar that stood in front of the back door just in time to only kick the already beleaguered traveler in the shin. As I grabbed the bar I found myself floating for a second in the air while the driver sped down the road. I was desperately trying to hang on and get my feet back on the ground.

This bus was going and it was not making a stop. As we pulled towards the next stop I could see several grandmothers lined up and as the bus started to near it opened the door and I though to myself that it can't possible be about to run right past the grandmothers, but sure enough it barely slowed down. I saw one hajuma grab another and push her on before the bus speed away leaving two more grannies eating road dirt while we went on our merry way.

At this point I was gripping the steal position bar with both hands and holding on for dear life as not one, but both grandmothers were jettisoned into the rear of the bus and the waiting laps of some unfortunate passengers with the luck to have a seat. And the bus never missed a beat but kept moving. I was looking about desperate for a map at this point and listening closely to the Korean announcement to hear correctly about my destination. At this point I had been on board for about ten minutes and my arms felt like they would fall off from the strength I had to exert to maintain and upright position. Finally over the speakers I heard the name of my stop.

I did what any right minded person would do. I pushed the button.

What I expected was that the bus would slow to a stop. What happened instead was all the passengers ducking their heads for cover or looking blankly out the window while the driver gave me the longest string of Korean swear words I've heard directed at me in a while. "What the fuck are you thinking, pushing the fucking, you know I have to stop the fucking bus, you stupid foreigner, don't touch anything, and how and …"And it just went on. This guy swore till he was blue, the other passengers prayed dearly to be spared of his wrath, and I started to giggle in border line hysteria as I watch my stop coming forward and realized I was going to have to jump off the moving bus.

As the exit point came close the doors slid open and sure enough we were still going at about five miles an hour with seconds to spare before reaching the stop. And then slam.

The breaks go on, I am tossed towards the Korean girl who has lined up behind me to get off, and as quickly as the bus stops it starts to accelerate again with my foot hanging inches over the concrete in the slightly opened door. I jumped and found the ground and six Koreans jumped out behind me, the last almost losing his hand in the closing door. The bus sped off down the road without further consideration of the derelicts who had now departed.

I stood watching the bus drive off into the sunset with it's still trapped journeyman and started to shake with laughter. I think I'd like to take a cab if I 'm out that way again, at least I hope I can get one to stop a bit longer than that bus.


Jill said...

I loooooooooooooooooooooove public transportation! Sometimes I ride the bus downtown with my kids just to be riding the bus. Doesn't sound quite so fun in Korea though - sort of reminds me of chasing the ice cream truck as a girl...or my public school bus driver from fourth grade who would let us all stand up in the aisles as he raced toward the biggest known bumps in the road...

Saradevil said...

Huh. Sounds like an interesting way to ride the bus to school. Public transportation here can be really crazy. It does make for interesting stories.