Choose Your Own Adventure
“I don’t want to sit in the apartment all day,” Jared announced. “Let’s go to the nearest bus stop and see where the next bus goes.”
Sitting in the apartment didn’t sound so bad to me, but I guess that’s not why I came to Korea. So I agreed to this mini-adventure.
We decided to catch the 1:30 local bus to Seondol, some sort of minor tourist attraction involving cliffs and a river.
At 1:30 a little purple-and-white bus careened down the street, completely bypassing the bus stop.
“Seondol,” Jared said. “That was the bus. There it goes.”
“Well,” I said, “I guess we’ll have to pick somewhere else.”
We ended up on a bus to Jucheon, a small town about 40 minutes northwest of Yeongwol. The plan was to stay on the bus until we hit Yoseonam. There had been a picture of it at the bus stop, and it looked adventure-worthy, dotted with unusual stones and running water.
The bus was full of high school girls on the way home from Saturday school. Their white blouses were untucked, knee-length skirts rolled up to expose a touch of thigh, sneakers untied, with cell phones flashing. They observed us from a safe distance, giggling occasionally.
The bus stopped in Jucheon, and everyone got off. We stayed in our seats. The bus driver looked at us suspiciously.
At the next stop, still in Jucheon, several people boarded the bus. The driver continued giving us the evil eye.
“I’m going to ask him,” Jared said.
“Do it.” I rooted him on from the safety of my seat.
“Yoseonam kaseyo?” He asked.
The driver grunted. He pulled our map closer.
“Anio,” he said.
“Ne, ne,” a boisterious ajumma announced. She explained, in Korean, to the bus driver that he did, in fact, pass Yoseonam. Judging by her arm gestures, the bus did a big loop, coming back around past our destination.
“Ne,” she said firmly, indicating that Jared should sit back down, confident that we would get there.
This lady, unfortunately, got off at the next stop. Once she was gone, the bus driver stopped at a quiet side street to let off a young girl. We had just crossed over a bridge, and a lonely road stretched out to our right.
“Yoseonam?” He called out to us. Plainly, this was not Yoseonam. Even we waygooks knew that.
Jared brought the map back to the front. The driver scrutinized it, then called out to the other passengers in the bus.
“Yoseonam?” he asked.
Crickets. Even the teenagers behind us had stopped talking. They started whispering to each other.
“Yeoseonam,” the driver stated. He pointed down the long road. It seemed that he wanted us to walk down this road until we reached it.
We got off the bus.
“He just wanted us off the bus,” I said.
“Nothing surer,” Jared said.
We consulted the map. The bus driver had shooed us off at a road that did, in fact, connect to Yoseonam. Instead of staying on the bus as it looped around and back, the road went straight to our destination. This would have been helpful if we were in a car.
However. We were on foot, and he had dropped us off 4 kilometers from where we wanted to be.
“A sign!” I shouted. Evidence of civilization was heartening.
We worked out that the Suju town office was 1.1km away, and where there’s an office, there’s bound to be a town.
So we walked.
We found some stuff along the way:
Finally, we arrived at some sort of town. There were people toiling in the rice and cabbage fields, trying to salvage what they could after the monsoon rains.
An old woman saw us and started to chuckle.
“Waygookin!” She shouted to the men in the fields. Foreigners!
The men raised their heads to squint at us. “Chinchayo?” they called. Really?
We were at the town hall. Or whatever it was.
“Let’s find a shady place to sit and eat our nuts,” Jared said. “Maybe some sort of bus will go by.”
We sat at the corner of the post office, opposite the elementary school.
A bus drove by. It was a church bus full of unsmiling women.
An old woman shuffled past, bent at the waist and clutching her walker.
“I don’t think there are any buses,” Jared said. “Maybe we should call Becca.”
I had been thinking the same thing. Becca is one of the EPIK teachers in our county, and we were pretty sure that this was her elementary school.
“At least we can find out how she gets back to Jucheon,” I said.
I didn’t have Becca’s number, so I called Nikki, one of the other EPIK teachers.
“Are you guys okay?” she asked, after giving us the number.
“We’ll get back eventually,” I said. “I’m just not sure how.”
“Good luck,” she said, sounding dubious.
Becca’s phone diverted to a Korean voice mail message.
“I guess we should walk back to where the bus dropped us off,” Jared said. “Then we can either wait for another bus or flag down a car.”
We walked through the parking lot of the town hall.
“OK,” I said. “Either we walk back there and wait, for what could be hours -“
“Which is what’s likely to happen,” Jared added.
“Or I go in the office and ask how to get to Jucheon. Where, let’s be honest, a helpful Korean is probably going to offer to drive us there.”
We stood in silence for three seconds.
“I’m going to ask,” I said.
The office was wide open, the fans on full blast. A round, friendly-looking woman sat behind the counter.
“Anyeong haseyo?” she said.
“Anyeong haseyo,” I said. “uh, otteoke Jucheon kaseyo?”
“Jucheon?” she confirmed.
She handed me a bus schedule and explained that the bus for Jucheon left in one hour. The stop was near the post office.
One hour? What were we going to do?
The only other person in the office was an older man. He tore himself away from the Korean drama he was watching to beckon us to sit at a table.
“Do you speak Korean?” he asked, in Korean.
“Oh, a little,” we responded, in Korean.
This prompted a barrage of questions. We explained that we lived in Yeongwol, came from Australia (Oh, Australia! Good.) and America, and liked Korea very much.
Then he asked us if we liked Korean food. We said yes and started listing all of the Korean foods we liked.
“Dakgalbi,” Jared said.
“Bibimbap,” I said.
At this point, the woman brought over some cold, murky-colored Korean tea.
“Korean drink,” she said proudly.
It tasted like mashed up dandelion stalks.
“Bulgogi. Samgyeopsal. Kimchi jjigae, yamsutang,” we continued, on a roll.
“Boshintang?” The man asked, then laughed heartily. Dog soup?
We laughed weakly before saying, no, we hadn’t had boshintang.
The conversation hit a lull at this point.
The sound of jingling keys got our attention. The woman gathered her purse and stood up. She gestured that we should follow her to her car.
Success. She was going to drive us to the Jucheon bus stop.
I sat in the back seat with a rolling travel mug as Jared made small talk in the front. It took about five minutes. We thanked her effusively and waved as she drove away.
According to the time table, we had missed the bus to Yeongwol by about 15 minutes. The next bus was in 3 hours.
“We could get a taxi,” Jared said.
“Yes,” I said. “Let’s get a taxi.”
30,000 won and 20 minutes later, we were back in Yeongwol, craving for adventure satisfied.