Monday, September 20, 2010

Anyong haseyo from Ulsan, Korea

I landed in Busan and settled in Ulsan three days ago. I am currently without internet at home and without a cell phone - relatively minor glitches in an over pleasant experience. In fact, the situation might actually be a blessing because if I had internet, I may not have come up with an excuse to figure out the bus system.

Talking to the co-director and current native English teacher at the school, one would think the bus system must be incredibly inconvenient or complicated. When I asked each of them separately about it, my co-director told me she has no idea because she drives everywhere, and the native teacher said he simply took taxis. After this conversation and the name of my home and school written in Korean in a notebook (so I could get home). I decided that in my first venture to find internet at Starbucks, I would take a taxi.

I woke up in the morning, walked to the main road where I thought I could easily catch a taxi, didn't see any, so I started walking in the direction of where I wanted to go. Ahead of me I saw a bus stop, but it looked a little abandoned. When I got closer, I realized there was no map or schedule, nothing to tell me where the buses go and when they arrive. So, I stood at the bus stop for a bit, thinking perhaps a taxi will pass by and see that I need a ride.

Not very patient, I waited a total of one or two minutes before thinking, "Maybe I'll just walk. It can't really be that far." Perhaps because of the temperature or because I really had no idea where I was headed, I stopped at the next bus stop. Here there were people waiting for the bus, which is always a good sign, and I realized this bus stop had a computerized schedule for the buses. Yet, I thought, I still don't know what bus to take, maybe I'll just take a taxi.

But one did not come very quickly and those that did pass were no where near my side of the road, so much for trying to flag one down. I'd have to stand in the road .... so thinking I need to buck up and practice my tiny bit of Korean, I approached one of the people at the bus stop to try and ask where I could catch a taxi. Well, in English my Korean would have sounded something like this, "Do you know English?" but apparently muddled beyond comprehension because the woman just looked at me like she didn't understand. "English?" I tried. She made a motion to say sort of, so I said, "Taxi?" She didn't understand that word, so I repeated, but the pronunciation of the word must be a bit different in Korean. Finally I said, "Lotte Hotel?" Which is what the native English teacher and my co-director told me everyone will understand, and it was where I needed to go anyway. She lit up and started slowly saying numbers. I'm still not sure how I realized they were numbers as I don't know any numbers in Korean. I stopped her, pulled out a pen and paper and had her write them down. When the right bus came, she got on with me and even helped me get off at the right stop! It was fabulous.

In Russia, this may have happened. Though more than likely I would have had to find an old woman, a babushka, to ask a question like this and she probably wouldn't have followed up to make sure I found the right stop. Oh, and I would have needed to know the language ...

After I got off the bus, I walked to Starbucks and found the internet. I can't believe how dependent I am on this technology ... Great, great, you are thinking, but you may be wondering, how in the world did I get back? Well, I tried to figure out what bus to take, but ended up getting impatient and taking a taxi. I was hungry and needed to get over to the school. Taxis are a bit simpler than buses because I just showed the driver the address my co-director had written down, go to the place, looked at the meter and paid the money. Simple, but expensive -- about 5 times what the bus cost. I will be taking the bus most times. (Since then I have figured out the same numbers head back the same direction, so in the future this will be easy.)


  1. That was an absorbing story - I am waiting for more. My close friend, Rob, used to live in South Corea for two years, but he never told me such details. Really fascinating!

  2. Glad you got home without too much hassle. I was wondering!!!
    Thanks for the stories. It's interesting to read your comparisons of the cultures:-)