June 20, 2003

Taking a wrong bus in the Korean South

About one hour before the check-in in for my flight to Korea, I decided to learn Hangul. Blame the airport bookshop. The book was titled Learn Hangul in 24 hours”. I had but 3 hours. Don Mueang is an interesting airport to spend late night hours. I had an interesting experience but that is another story.

I reached Inchon (Seoul) airport early next morning. I went to the bus booking office at the airport, pointed Gyeongju on their chart, and feeling happy about my recently acquired Hangul, bought the ticket. I fell asleep on the bus. It was still afternoon when I reached the city. I noticed a tourist office at the bus terminal. I went to the tourist office and asked them about this temple called Girimsa. The girl at the counter laughed. She explained that I had come to the wrong city. I had come to Gwangju instead of Gyeongju. So much for my Hangul expertise.

The girl, her name was Yun, said Gwangju itself is not a dull place, she took out a map and pointed out some places to me. I decided to stay for the next day. Yun helped me get a bus ticket to Gyeongju. I had some of my Thailand postcards with me. I gave her one. She said I should drop by the tourist office the next day and she would give me one gift. I said I will surely drop by.

I bumped into Yun again later that evening. I was buying a newspaper and she was heading home. She asked me about my plans for the evening. I replied that I had no plans but I would like to visit Chungjangro — the downtown area. Gwangju downtown is the place where all the fashion shops are and where the hip youngsters hang out. Yun said she would take me to that place. We talked about her city, Korean politics, student protests etc. Kwangju is famous for a student protest way back in May 1980…several students died in the protest. Many consider this event as the true bringer of democracy in South Korea. We walked past the Art street — the place the locals come to buy art supplies. Yun bought a Korean mask” keychain for me. It still hangs from my bag. Later in the night, she invited me home for dinner. We took the bus past the town to the part where the farms started appearing - Yun’s father was a farmer. Yun’s mother had made so many interesting dishes. We had a big pot of ramen. More than the main dish, I love all the little condiments and kimchi they have in Korea. Plus, home food always tastes so good.

The next evening, I was leaving for Gyeongju. Yun was there to see me off. She talked about her future - like many young Koreans, she too wanted to go to the US. I was telling her that I was so amazed —  a stranger was treated with so much hospitality by her and her mother. She commented that I had kind eyes. I just sat there smiling happily. At least someone in the world thinks that I am not a scam.

There are still so many farms in Korea.
The farms outside Gwangju city

The art street in Gwangju downtown The art street in Gwangju

After meeting the kind Yun and her mother, I wanted to take more wrong busses in Korea. Dinner at Yun’s home

The place I stayed at advertised itself as an Internet Motel. They had a PC and high-speed internet in every room. An internet motel in Gwangju

Korea People

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