One of my many fermenting fears prior to my departure was living too far from a grocery store. How would I get there? How would I eat? If it is too far, is grass nutritionally viable? Maybe. Cows do it.
Fortunately, I live in a suburb that feels like a midtown. I live within one kilometer of three grocery stores, a butcher shop, dry cleaners, a hardware store, a drugstore, my place of work, and more bars and restaurants than I can count on two hands. I am lucky.
People living in cities like Mokpo or Yeosu have even more walkable amenities. Even more so in Seoul. Those in the countryside and islands, not so much. However, I see my rural friends almost every weekend, so they must find ways to eat (even if it involves meals consisting of chips because the restaurants and marts closed early). In other words, there’s almost always a viable transportation option to get me from where I am to where I want to go.
For one, I walk more than I did back home. My truck wouldn’t fit on the plane so I live a pedestrian-cyclist lifestyle. On my iPhone Health app, there is a cliff-like jump from August to September. I probably walk at least 4,000 more steps per day than I did back home. That count doubles on weekends as the Mokpo Misfits make meander around town.
Recently, I bought a bicycle, which expanded my realistic travel range by a couple kilometers. This new range adds a gym, two banks, four more grocery stores, one Japanese “dollar store” (Daiso), one Lotte Mart, a library, and countless restaurants. I just need to be careful crossing roads. Cars stop for nobody. Pa-li-pa-li. Everybody has places to go and they drive like they are 30 minutes late. I play it safe. At my age, I prefer being late to being dead.
One night I pedaled my way home from Mokpo. Twilight gave way to dusk as headlights came to life like lightning bugs. As I crossed a wide intersection (with the green right of way), I saw a wall of cars careening toward me. Most of them were slowing down – except one. One lone taxi driver must have had an impatient fare (he was probably 30 minutes late). I squeezed my brakes as the taxi tore through the intersection.
That woke me up. My eyes widened. My breathing quickened. Several approaching cars honked with self-righteous indignation at the flagrant red light run. I smiled, shrugged my shoulders, and felt loved.
Koreans drive fast. Many treat traffic lights as guidelines and don’t have an ounce of patience for other drivers. I hear six times as many horns as I did in California.
I’ve seen bus drivers swerve three lanes in ten meters just to get around two cars idling at a bus stop. I grip the handrails with my life and I flex my shoulders to avoid inadvertently body-shoving an adjacent ajumma. I’m top-heavy and big trees fall hard.
I feel satisfied and terrified at the same time. On one hand, all I ask of transit is to get me where I want to go as fast as possible. For this, Korean bus drivers get an A+. However, I would also appreciate arriving in one piece.
Entering and exiting buses can be a stressful and wobbly experience as well. Buses stop for several measly seconds. As a bus approaches, the doors swing open and I amble up the steps before it has the chance to stop. Sometimes the bus doesn’t stop at all. It just scoops me up like a filter-feeding whale. I board the bus, tap my transit card, and brace myself for the impending acceleration. I stumble into the aisle reaching for anything that will save my large frame from knocking down several locals like bowling pins.
In order to get off at the right stop, I have to push the stop button (many American buses use a cord). If I don’t push the button, the back door will not open and the bus driver will unapologetically skip my stop. A stage-five clinger sticks to their boo like glue. Bus drivers stick to their schedule like rock hard cement.
The bus system was tough to interpret early on. Almost all stops are in Korean. Google Maps is no help. Kakao Maps helps more. However, the greatest thing I see at many bus stops is a television screen that tells me when the next bus arrives. It helps me make tough choices like “bus or taxi?”.
And then there are taxis. Oh lord. I am in love with Korean taxis. They fly. One night, I sat shotgun while Potato and Sugar rode in back. We headed back to Namak after another evening of Misfitting.
An intense action-movie soundtrack blared from the car’s speakers as the speedometer crept north of 130 kilometers per hour. I looked to my right. The speed limit said 60. Red lights came and went.
Again, I am grateful that this driver wanted to get me home as fast as possible. However, I also white-knuckled the sides of my seat with the irrational belief that it would save me in an accident. I felt alive. We arrived in Namak in record time and it only set us back 5,000 won.
The affordability of taxis blows my mind. The meter starts around 2,800 won and then stays there for the first four blocks. I used to wonder if every taxi meter was broken. Most of my rides range from 5,000 to 7,000 won (5.00-7.00 USD). I always think it is a cruel trick until the driver takes my money, returns exact change, and rushes me out of the cab (he’s 30 minutes late picking up his next fare). I don’t fully understand how taxi drivers make a living, but I also don’t complain.
This will be my next transportation option. I shall name his Clip-Clop.
The Bard took me to a beach on Imja Island. It was beautiful. Only a bucket of Coronas (and more Misfits) could make it better.
Imja Island is known for its seafood and agriculture. Seeing this citrus grove and onion field reminded me how the rural half lives.
Next to Rose Street, we encounter a lovely plaza. We proceeded to drink beer in the gazebo and be generally obnoxious.
The happiest Halloween of all time. Promise.
Nightmare bit off a bit more than he could chew. He ordered with his eyes and his stomach lectured him after one single slice.