Saturday, April 16, 2011

Show Me The Way To Go Home (20 February)

Considering my unsuccessful attempt to find bus #79 and the Bangsong Bus Station in Jeonju yesterday, I’m a little apprehensive about finding my way home from the temple.  Mariah, however, is confident of how to get back to Jeonju and has invited me to travel with her.  Relieved that I won’t end up having to take the AK bus all the way back to Seoul in order to get home, I take her up on this offer. 

The AK bus drops us off at the Geumsan Bus Station approximately one and a half kilometres from the temple.  Waiting at the bus station is the #79 bus which I’m convinced is the one that I can take to get to Jeonju.  I query this with Mariah who tells me that she doesn’t know anything about this particular bus since she took the #5 bus to Gimje.  Okay, I’ll follow her to Gimje then.  We’re at the bus station for about 10 minutes and as the #79 bus drives away from us, I struggle to silence that pesky voice in my head that is telling me I should’ve been on that bus since that’s the most direct route home.  Within minutes, however, the #5 bus arrives and we’re soon settling ourselves into seats for the trip to Gimje.  When we arrive in Gimje, the pesky voice in my head starts telling me that I should stay on the bus until it gets to the bus terminal and then catch a bus from there back to Gunsan but, once again, I ignore it and follow Mariah off the bus and to the train station.

The Scenic Route

We enter the train station and attempt to buy a ticket for the same train on which Mariah has already booked a seat.  The train is only leaving at 15:30 and I once again hear a niggling voice inside my head asking why I have to take a train to get to Jeonju when the temple is a mere 20 minute drive from the city.  Ignoring the voice once more, Mariah and I chat while we wait for the train.  As we chat, I can’t help thinking that it’s already been nearly two and a half hours since we left Geumsansa and I only live 90 minutes from the temple – I should be back in Gunsan already.  Something doesn’t feel right but it almost seems rude to ditch Mariah and try to make my way to the Gimje bus terminal even though Gimje is only an hour bus trip at most from Gunsan.  Instead, I find myself getting on a train wondering where, exactly, I’m headed.  The first stop is Iksan and I again wonder if I should get off the train and find the bus station.  I hesitate too long and we’re once again moving through increasingly rural scenery.  The train trip is scheduled to take just under two hours and I quickly squelch the part of me that questions why I’m on a train at all and ignore the increasingly suspicious voice that tells me I’m heading closer to Seoul than Gunsan.  Catfish, in the meantime is halfway to Gunsan having arrived back from Thailand this morning.

By 17:30, we finally reach our destination of Jochiwon and I’m relieved that I have only an hour more of travelling ahead of me before I’m back in Gunsan.  KiwiKat and NZ2 are waiting for Catfish and I to get back to Gunsan so that we can all go for dinner together.  It’s another short bus ride to the city centre and Mariah offers to see me to the bus station.  It’s close to 18:00 by the time we finally arrive at the bus station and I feel the uncertainty crashing into me as I realise that I don’t recognise this bus terminal.  That pesky voice once again comments that I’ve really taken the scenic route in getting from Geumsansa to Jeonju: a 20 minute trip to Jeonju has taken over five hours. I conclude that I must be at the express bus terminal and we head to another terminal which is close to where Mariah lives anyway. 

Why Won't You Sell Me A Ticket To Gunsan?

We arrive at the smaller terminal and I’m told that I also can’t catch a bus to Gunsan from this terminal.  I’m starting to wonder where exactly I am and that Jeonju is a lot bigger than I’ve ever noticed before.  A woman at this bus terminal writes down the name of the correct terminal for me, Mariah and I exchange numbers and I promise to contact her if I can’t get a bus home tonight as I bid her farewell and give the written address to yet another taxi driver.  An exhausting feeling of déjà vu nearly knocks me off my feet as the driver unceremoniously drops me off at the same bus terminal that I’ve just left.  I decide to ask for a ticket to Gunsan at the counter where the only phrase I understand is “Opsseoyo” (Don’t have).  I feel myself starting to panic as exhaustion overwhelms me.  Desperate not to cry, I step outside of the terminal and try to phone my fantastic co-teacher who lives in Jeonju; her phone remains unanswered and I feel the hysteria begin to rise from deep within as the pompous voice in my head does a victory dance while chanting I told you so! far too loudly considering I’ve been awake since 3:00am. 

By now, Catfish is not only back in Gunsan but has already arrived at NZ2’s apartment which is where I should’ve been for the past three hours at the very least!  In addition, the AK bus is already back in Seoul.  I phone Catfish in panic just to hear a familiar as my frazzled brain tries to figure out why I’m not able to find the correct bus terminal.  Catfish checks the bus schedule online and KiwiKat suggests that I phone Seokjin for help.  I try to get hold of Seokjin but am unsuccessful.  I then phone my Canadian friends and ask if they’d mind fetching me from Jeonju but when I describe where I am in Jeonju, they seem even more confused than I am.  He tells me that I should be able to walk to the correct station and even tells me the Korean name for it.  I again hail a taxi, give him the name of the station and am irritated, puzzled and even more confused when he tells me that I’m already at that station. 

I can feel the hysteria rising like a tsunami as exhaustion, frustration and confusion overwhelm and I must be quite the site standing on the streets of Jeonju sobbing my heart out over a bus!  To make matters worse, my phone battery is dying.  I text YeonJeong in desperation and ask her for help: How do I ask for the intercity bus terminal in Korean?  In my tired mind, the only logical answer is that I’ve been taken to the wrong bus terminal – it never enters my mind that I might not actually be in Jeonju.

Shiwae Buseu Terminale ka Juseyo

As guilt joins this party of pathos, I think once again that I should’ve been back in Gunsan by now and I feel guilty that three people are waiting for my return before going to dinner.  As I text KiwiKat to tell her that I’m still trying to make it home in time for dinner, YeonJeong phones to help me; she asks me to give the phone to a taxi driver and she’ll tell him where to take me.  Relieved to finally be speaking to someone who understands exactly where I want to go, I hail a taxi and hand over the phone.  After much conversation, I start to suspect that something is wrong.  When another driver comes over and joins the conversation, I’m starting to think I should get out of the taxi and take my chances elsewhere.  Three taxi drivers are now involved in a discussion as to where to take me and YeonJeong is still talking to the first driver in a bid to get me home.  I hear the words “train station” and “Iksan” and am impatient in telling them that I don’t want to go to Iksan – I want to go to Gunsan!  I ask YeonJeong to ask the driver if he’s prepared to drive me to Gunsan even though I know that it will probably cost me at least 60 000 won for that trip; she’s one step ahead of me and has already been told that he’ll drive me home for 130 000 won.  I can’t help feeling further frustrated and ripped off: I may not be able to speak or understand much Korean and I know I’m a foreigner but I’m not stupid.  130 000 won for a 45 minute trip is a bit ridiculous and KiwiKat is telling me to get out of the cab, find another taxi and not pay that amount.  She also insists that I phone Seokjin.  I explain that I couldn’t get hold of him and that YeonJeong is assisting me. 

From Gunsan’s “Get Sarah Home” control room, the kiwis and Catfish are double checking bus schedules online and telling me that the buses run until 23:40 every night.  That’s great to know – if only I could get to the right bus station!  From the Seoul “Get Sarah Home” control room, YeonJeong is also checking bus schedules online and telling me that there are buses from Jeonju to Gunsan; she also texts me “Intercity bus terminal” in Korean. It’s now 19:00 and I’m still no closer to getting on a bus than I was an hour again when my latest “Find your way home in Korea” adventure began.  As I once again venture inside the bus terminal, I notice a student wearing a university jacket with the words “Chonbuk National University: Physical Education” emblazoned across the back.  I know that that’s the university in Jeonju so there’s no doubt that I’m in the right city if only I could silence that pesky voice that’s now pointing out that the sign on the building I’m about to enter says “Cheongju Intercity Bus Terminal”.  I know that there’s some disagreement on the romanisation of Korean names but Cheongju sounds like a completely different city to Jeonju. 

Cheongju and Jeonju Are NOT the Same City

I march to the ticket counter in fierce determination and decide that I’m not moving until they sell me a ticket to Gunsan.  The kiwis and Catfish have already gone to dinner since I’m obviously still going to be a while and I’m now tired of this game of Let’s Confuse the Waegook!  I reach the counter and ask for a ticket to Gunsan where I’m again told “Opsseoyo” along with several other things.  Despite my determination not to cry, I feel tears of frustration start sprinting down my ruddy cheeks as I helplessly tell the woman that I don’t understand her – while thinking And you probably don’t understand me!.  Another passenger at the window next to me steps in to translate much to my relief: She tells me that there are no direct buses to Gunsan from this station as the last bus left at 17:45.  I have to take a bus to Jeonju bus station and then catch a bus from there to Gunsan. 

Relieved to finally understand that I can get on a bus in the right direction, although puzzled as to why I have to take a bus to Jeonju when I’m already in Jeonju, I hand over 10 000 won and purchase a ticket for the 19:30 bus.  As I walk away, I’m further puzzled as to why the ticket cost nearly 10 000 won when the trip should take less than 10 minutes to the other side of town.  I phone my Canadian friends to tell them that I’ve bought a ticket but that it says Cheongju to Jeonju.  I’m confused: I don’t want to go to Cheongju but does this mean that I’m currently in Cheongju and not Jeonju.  That pesky voice is back and telling me that I’m getting warmer while my friend tells me that they’ve sold me the wrong ticket and I should change it.  I tell him that I’m getting on this bus and if need be, I’ll take a bus to Seoul and go home from there while wistfully thinking that if only I’d stayed on the AK bus all the way back to Seoul, I would’ve been on my way home to Gunsan by now.  I switch off my phone to try and save whatever power may be left in my battery and once again stare at the name of the bus terminal as it finally dawns on me: I really am in the wrong city! 

On the Road Again

I march purposefully to the assigned platform and board the bus as my brain eeks out the last of its energy trying to figure out where exactly Cheongju is and how long it’s going to take me to get back to Gunsan since the train trip was two hours.  At 19:30, I send Catfish a text to say that I’m in Cheongju and won’t make it in time for dinner.  She’s replies that I should once again try to contact Seokjin who, was an older male, would probably have more success than YeonJeong.  When I confirm that I really am in Cheongju and am now on a bus to Jeonju, her only response (shared by the kiwis) is laughter – much laughter!  My Canadian friends have also contacted me again and are trying to work out how long it’ll take to get from Cheongju to Jeonju – hopefully in time to catch a bus back to Gunsan.  I switch off my phone again for a few minutes.  As the bus leaves the station, I send up a fervent prayer that I’m finally heading in the right direction as I switch on my phone to discover two messages from my fantastic co-teacher: The first is to tell me what to ask a taxi driver in order to get to the correct bus terminal.   The second is a little more frantic: your phone was busy and is now dead. Hope you’re going back to Gunsan! Where r u?  I phone with the reassurance that I’ve figure out I was in the wrong city and am now on my way to Jeonju.

I can only imagine how the kiwis and Catfish must be laughing at this latest and unexpected adventure.  I, on the other hand, am not at all amused: I’m exhausted, frustrated, emotionally drained and I’ve missed dinner with my friend – in fact, I suddenly realise that I’ve missed dinner entirely.  Catfish tries to keep up a supportive role as she tells me that I’m at least now on the right path, that this is an “Oh Korea!” moment and she can’t wait for the blog entry; KiwiKat shares the sentiment.  I’m still not amused.  As Catfish points out, 130 000 won taxi fare from Cheongju to Gunsan doesn’t seem quite as bad now that I know I’m about 40 minutes north of Daejeon and a good two and a half hours from Gunsan. 

Now It's Funny!

By 20:00, I’m starting to see the humour in the situation as I realise that I’ve been travelling for 7 hours already and have barely left the province; I have half of Catfish’s travelling time and she flew back from Thailand!  All this for a trip that should have taken no more than two hours.  The pesky voice in my head is doing yet another victory lap as it rubs my nose in the fact that it’s been right and telling me so for the past seven hours – if only I’d listened to it earlier.  As we rattle over bumps in the road, I feel my heavy eyes start to close as I think of a song that was a hit in 1926 with alternative (suitable) lyrics for this adventure:

Show me the way to go home
I’m tired and I wanna go to bed
I left Geumsansa seven hours ago
And I went to Cheongju instead!

I finally arrive in Jeonju at 21:30 and am so relieved to recognise the bus station that I all but sprint off the bus and head straight to the ticket counter.  I can see a bus bound for Gunsan waiting at the platform if I can just get there fast enough.  I’m so tired that it takes me a moment to register that I’ve asked for a ticket to Gunsan in one sentence using three different language: French, Afrikaans and English.  Without any Korean, I’ve been perfectly understand (if only it had been this easy at 18:00 in Cheongju) and have a ticket to Gunsan in hand – just in time to see the Gunsan bus leave the platform.  As I wait 15 minutes for the next bus, I text everyone to let them know that I’m in Jeonju and waiting for a bus to Gunsan; I’ll be home within an hour.  As I wait, I calculate the cost of the trip home realizing that it would not only have been quicker if I’d gone home via Seoul but cheaper too.

I get back to Gunsan at 22:45 – nearly 10 hours since leaving the temple which is only 90 minutes away – and I’ve never felt so relieved to be home as I am tonight. I send a final text to KiwiKat and Catfish to let them know I’m finally home.  NZ2 suggests that I stay away for another four hours making my day 24 hours long and take a nap  in the morning under my desk at school like the previous foreign teacher used to do.  I draw the line at staying up any later than necessary but a nap at school seems inevitable as I collapse in exhaustion. 

No comments:

Post a Comment