13 July 2008

Adventures in Public Transport

Just when I thought that I was getting used to the public transportation system in Seoul, I experienced three rather disturbing events (within a span of about 24 hours) that have left me somewhat…shaken. First off, on my way home from work on Friday evening, I found myself on a jam-packed bus, without a seat, stuck in traffic. Sounds bad, doesn’t it? That’s just the beginning…

I was standing there, feet aching, nostrils filled with the many unpleasant smells of a crowded Seoul bus, when the driver did something really bold. He left the bus-lane and headed over to the painted median, deciding to use it as a passing lane. There he was, honking his horn, getting his busload of weary passengers out of the traffic-jam, my hero: the daring bus driver. Just when I was thinking, this is my kind of bus driver, something terrible happened…thump! The entire bus gasped. That’s right; he had hit a car (in which the passengers were a woman and two young children).

Don’t worry, there were no injuries, just an ugly looking scratch along the side of the woman’s pristine, white Kia. In fact, one of the little boys seemed to think it was all very exciting that mommy had been hit by a bus. I know this, because I happened to be standing right at the front of the bus and watched the whole apology (with profuse bowing on the driver’s part) and trading of insurance information spiel between the woman and the driver.

While this was going on, several passengers decided to get off the bus and brave the three lanes of oncoming traffic to get to the sidewalk. I decided that I would get off at the next stop, even though I was far from home. I had dinner at a restaurant and by the time I was done, the traffic had waned and I boarded a bus driven by a less audacious bus driver. I made it home safe and sound.

On Saturday, I braved public transport once again. I had an appointment for a facial at a spa in Itaewon, followed by my bi-weekly massage at Healing Hands. I was waiting for the subway at Sadang, and as it arrived, three drunken men in their late fifties (it is quite common to see older men drunk off their asses in the middle of the day here in Seoul) push to the front of the line and board the subway.

I found a seat, unfortunately directly facing them, and watched the bedlam ensue. Two of the men had found a seat, but the third wasn’t as lucky. He tried to squat on the floor of the subway, but toppled over. Then, he decided to attempt to sit in his buddy’s lap and tumbled onto the unfortunate young woman sitting beside him. She hastily stood up and walked over to the subway door, turning her back to them.

I sat there, trying not to make eye contact with the drunken trio. They were very loud and obnoxious, especially the most inebriated of the three (the fellow who had forced the young woman out of her seat). Let’s just call him Mr. Topsy-Turvy. He kept yelling out the same phrase (my Korean still sucks, so I can’t repeat it for you) and hugging his friends. Then, he grabbed his friend’s face and planted a wet one on him, much to his protest. This was the last straw for the stern-looking gentleman sitting directly to their right. He stood up and walked over to where the young lady was standing. From there, he gave them the evil-eye.

In the meantime, there were three school-aged children, a girl and two boys, who had been fooling around on the subway, running back and forth, being typical kids. The little girl finally got bored and sat on her mother’s lap. The boys, however, continued their boisterous subway game. Every time they passed in front of the drunken trio, I would think to myself, something’s going to happen. Well, it did. The stern-looking gentleman, clearly perturbed by the behaviour of the intoxicated trio and the misbehaving children, had had enough. Again, I can’t repeat exactly what he said, but he shouted something at those kids that sent them scurrying back to their mom.

Well, this infuriated Mr. Topsy-Turvy. He stood up, fell once again, then recovered himself and stumbled over to the mom and her two boys. I have no idea what he said to them, but the mom briskly took their hands and lead them as far away as possible from Mr. Topsy-Turvy. I was very relieved that the next stop was mine. This was all too much for what was supposed to be my relaxing Saturday afternoon.

My final anecdote took place on my way home, after my wonderful massage. I had stopped at Sadang to do a little shopping at a cosmetics shop that I like there. When I emerged from the subway station to take the bus, it was raining cats and dogs. I patiently waited for the bus, under my umbrella. When the bus finally arrived, I struggled with my umbrella and managed to close it just in time. I was glad to see that the entire back of the bus was free. I headed over to find a seat but stopped dead in my tracks when I saw that the reason why there were so many free seats was that someone had puked back there. Suddenly, I wished that I were still standing outside in the rain.

I found a seat near the front of the bus, opened a window and stuck my head out, in order to escape the smell, paying no heed to the downpour. I watched as every new passenger boarded, looking surprised and grateful for the abundance of seats at the back of the bus. One after the other, they would do what I had done; head to the back of the bus, take one look, make a disgusted face and head back to the front of the bus. I kind of felt like I was watching an episode of candid camera, until it happened; this bloke got on the bus, headed straight to the back, looked down, saw the vomit, and sat down! I couldn’t help myself; I gasped and then stated, out loud, “He’s sitting in the puke.” A few people stared at me. I didn’t care. That dude was sitting in puke. That was all I could think about the rest of the way home. I kept turning around, to see if he was still there, and he was, smiling inanely.

So ends my adventures in public transport…until the next time, that is. Today, I have no intention of leaving my flat. However, tomorrow I’ve got to go back to work, which means braving public transport once again. Wish me luck…

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