Monday, October 19, 2009

The Art of Traveling Forward

I travel a lot for the work I do. Thus it was no surprise when I informed the Boy and the dogs that on Thursday night I would not be coming home, or if I did come home it would be only to pick up the things I needed before I hopped on a bus and headed out to another city for a rather large presentation. Indeed none were surprised, but Tino, the Shih Tzu, was not amused.

On Thursday after a mad day of classes and midterm exams and walked the mile down the hill, grabbed the bus to the subway, and managed to make it to my apartment by six in the evening. I had a quick dinner, threw clothes and assorted toiletries in a bag, and headed towards the bus station to so I could arrive at my hotel sometime before nine. This would leave me well rested and ready for my presentation the following morning.

Being tired and haggard from a day of teaching followed by a night of traveling I was in a hurry to get on the bus and get on my way. I walked up to the ticket ajjuma and said the name of the city I was traveling too. "Gyeongju, ha-na, juseyo."

The ajjuma asked me for roughly eighteen dollars and gave me a ticket. My first thought was that the price of the ticket to the city that is only an hour away from Daegu has REALLY gone up. The second thought I had was do I have enough time to run to the bathroom? Because my life likes to be more complicated than possible I'd had a rough day with my stomach. The kind of day that results in everything going in coming out within an hour in a most unpleasant and embarrassing manner. Looked at the ticket, noticed that I had about fifteen minutes, bought some toilet paper and went to take care of business.

I made it to the bus with a few minutes to spare, found a nice seat and tucked in for the short ride. Being that we were taking off at seven in the evening I figured that I should be in Gyeongju by around eight or nine and would grab some wine at the bar as a nightcap before bed.

Dozing, I did not pay much attention to the landscape or the city, and really, why should I? I've made this trip a hundred times, seen the sights, etc. I really just wanted to get to the hotel. Around 8:15 I saw the lights of a low city in the distance. Gyeongju has enforced a lot of rules to prevent building unnecessarily tall buildings or modernizing, as it is prized as a historical attraction. I packed up my things and prepared to get off the bus. The bus pulled off the road.

Into a rest stop.

Well, my stomach, which was continuing to play merry hob with my body did not mind, so I took advantage. As I walked back to the bus though I had this thought. In all the times I've traveled to Gyeongju I've never stopped at a rest stop before. It's just not that long a trip. I'd just put on my MP3 player to charge myself up for getting to the hotel, so I continued to think that thought while I sat back down and made myself comfortable. I began thinking that perhaps the bus driver was having a day like mine.

I looked out the window now tensely waiting to see the city as I knew it was just around the corner.

A sign went past for another city. The sign said Gay-jo. I've never heard of a city called Gay-jo. That's when my stomach sort of dropped into my feet and I had the sinking feeling that I was on the wrong bus. I called the boy and asked "Have you ever head of Gay-jo?"

"No, why?"

"I think I'm on the wrong bus. We just left this rest stop, I think, Go-chang."

"You're on the wrong bus."


"Where are you going?"

At this point I pulled up my ticket.

"Gwangju. Shit. Shit, shit, shit."

At this point I hung up the phone and move to the front of the bus and started asking the bus driver where the bus was going.

"Gyeongju, peer-i-o-hayda. Gyeongju."

"An-iyo, Gwangju, gesayo. Gwangju."

"Nay, ariso, Gwangju. Nanun Gwangju, an-peer-i-o-hyada. Mun-jay. Kun-go mun-jay."

He continues to tell me the bust is going to Gwangju. I continue to tell him I have a big problem because I really really need to go to Gyeongju.

He tells me to go sit down. I call several people and realize that calling more people is not going to change the fact that I'm on the wrong bus headed three hours in the wrong direction. I call the Boy and ask for options on getting from Gwangju to Gyeongju in the morning and making it to Gyeongju by 9:00 am.

"Nothing doing; you're screwed."


I grab my bag and head back up to haggle with the bus driver, who is now himself on the phone. I sit on the step next to him while he talks and talks. I try to ask him to just let me off at the next rest area. I'll try to call a cab and head back towards Daegu, I think. It will cost an arm and a leg but still be a far sight better.

As I see a sign that we are approaching a rest stop I resume my begging. Just let me off here, let me off here.

He asks me if I have my bag and I say yes.

Okay, he says, just go sit down.

I sit.

We drive by the rest stop. I make more phone calls feeling seriously screwed.

The bus driver says something about a taxi. I'm thinking he must have called a taxi and maybe they have arranged to meet somewhere else so I try to cool my heels as we continue to proceed forward. It is now 9:20 and about an hour after I have discovered my problem and a good hour after I should have been lying half naked in bed drinking some wine and reading a book.

I sit.

I sulk.

I notice a bus pulled to the side in the distance. The driver calls for me to get my bag and I finally realize the plan that has been concocted. I'm going to get on a different bus, the bus that is headed from Gwangju to Daegu.

We pull off on the expressway and he asks me to run across to the other bus. While it's a busy expressway it's not so busy that I can't make it before becoming road dirt. On the other side I see a line of Korean men on the side of the road relieving themselves in the bushes. The driver puts me on the bus and keeps saying taxi.

We start to drive, now it's ten to ten and we are back on the way to Daegu.

"Taxi, odi-issyo?"

"Daegu. Daegu, taxi, Gyeongju." So we will go back to Daegu and from there I can get a taxi and go to Gyeongju.

I call the Boy and the dogs and inform them that I will be sleeping at home tonight and have to go to Gyeongju in the morning. I get back to my place around midnight and collapse absolutely worn down into bed. I get up at five in the morning, shower, have a quick toast and coffee and run out to the bus station to grab the earliest morning bus to make it to my presentation on time.

I say the name of the city several times, listen closely and actually read my ticket this time to make sure I'm going the right way.

The hotel comes up in the distance at about a quarter til nine, giving me about fifteen minutes to get ready. They announce me as an expert at what I do and I feel this cold flush of panic. Expert, perhaps, but at least it's not in the art of traveling.

1 comment:

linda said...

Nice adventure, Sara. Having Gyeongju bused a few times in my day, I can visualize it all, but the part where you meet up with the other bus and cross the highway is SO awesome - and so Korea. I know it sucked for you, but I am smiling almost wistfully reading about it!