After tough vacation-free March and April, a contract-sanctioned holiday arrived on May 1st Korean Labor Day. However, for some reason, only the foreign teachers had the day off. I don’t make the rules. I just follow them faithfully. One must maintain at least a modicum of contract compliance as a foreigner.
I took up Sugar’s suggestion to cruise through a butterfly festival in Hampyeong, Potato’s home. My unofficial Korean to-do list includes visiting each of my friends’ towns. After last week, only Jindo Island remains.
After a fairly routine bus ride complete with a brief nap and some Anki cards, we arrived. Potato was running late due to an eyelash incident (her words were “I glued my eyelids together”) so Sugar and I sidled up to a Ministop for a cup of ice and a coffee respectively.
Potato soon arrived with presentable eyes. Alphaville and Junior arrived soon after.
Due to Sugar and Potato’s last-minute arrival back in August, they had the privilege of attending a full-length orientation in November. There they met a new cadre of late-intake Native Teachers. I retain a tinge of jealousy at the fact that they essentially have two friend groups as a result.
Alphaville earned his name because he is seemingly forever young. Despite a slowly blooming bed of gray hairs, his behavior and mannerisms suggest an emotional age well within his years. I don’t mean that negatively. He’s a young bundle of fun.
Junior could easily pose as Alphaville’s son. They share skin tone, Canadian citizenship, and even some social behaviors. Their rapport suggests that they’ve known each other long before becoming Native English Teachers.
With the group fully assembled, we made off for the Hampyeong Butterfly Festival (but not before cruising by a vast array of food tents and snacking on an octopus skewer).
The festival had everything I would expect and more – except butterflies. That’s right. The Hampyeong Butterfly Festival was very sparse on butterflies. Regardless, the greenery, flowers, mannequin history museum, and vast variety of street food made for a fun afternoon.
At this point, one may wonder why I entitled this post as such. The travel troubles commenced as we prepared to depart the festival. Potato and Sugar planned to visit a movie set in Naju. I assented, having nary a better idea.
“What time is the train to Naju?”
“It’s at 1:30,” Potato promised. “The cab ride takes about 15 minutes. We have plenty of time.”
She was right – sort of. We did have some time, but not quite as much as Potato had hoped.
I was the first person to enter the train station and approached the ticket counter.
“Naju da-eum gee-cha han-jang choo-say-yo” (One ticket for the next train to Naju, please).
“Nay. Say-she” (Yes. It is at 3:00).
I turned to Potato and Alphaville.
“We missed the train.”
After a glance at the train table, we discovered the train departed at 1:28. Two minutes. Two goddamn minutes.
We quickly recollected and made plans to see the beach. However, that involved waiting for a local bus. We passed the time playing Scat with Junior’s cards.
At the bus stop, a suspiciously friendly Korean taxi driver approached.
“Naju (Korean words)?”
We looked at each other, all of us confused.
“Naju (Korean words)!”
“Does he want to drive us to Naju?”
“Ian you know the most Korean. We need you.”
“Me? I thought Alphaville had this.”
Alphaville’s laugh said everything I needed to know, I guess it was up to me.
“Kwen-chan-ah-yo. Naju an-ka-go-sheep-oh-yo” (It’s okay. We don’t want to go to Naju).
The cabbie remained adamant so we flirted with the idea. We asked how much.
“Ee-man sam-cheon won” (23,000 won).
“Is that for all of us?”
“Can we all even fit in his taxi?”
There were five of us. He drove a Hyundai Sonata.
“Ta-soht sa-ram kal-su-ee-seo-yo?” (Can five people go?)
I didn’t follow his response, but he beckoned us to his cab.
“Fuck it. 23,000 is cheap. Let’s go.”
So against our Western scam-artist skepticism, we decided to go.
As we careened down a country road, I simultaneously thought of each possible end scenario while also hoping the cab driver spoke poor English. That second thought stemmed from the chatter I heard from the back.
“I hope he doesn’t rip us off.”
“This is how we die.”
“Damn it,” I thought. “He’s right there.”
Fortunately, in my experience, cab drivers in Korea tend to be more trustworthy than in other Western nations. He dropped us off at the Naju train station, we paid the agreed-upon flat fare and went on our way. Our next goal – board a local bus bound for the Naju Image Theme Park.
Ian taking a selfie of himself and only himself – a true social media rarity.
“Don’t judge me like that. You’re just food!”
While butterflies were scant, flowers aplenty produced happy eyes.
“Remember, kids. What do you say when someone offers you a hot dog?”
“I need an adult!”
Despite its rather northernly location, Korea begins to feel quite jungle-like in the early summer.
I await the day when one of those pumpkins grows overripe, drops on someone’s head, and ruins their day.
They remind me of my old California home – the land of palm trees, cacti, and a completely unnecessary number of swimming pools.
I’m starting to like this greener Korea. However, in a month’s time, I will dream of winter once more.
I never thought I would appreciate seeing sleighbells in summer.
Some other generic comment related to flowers.
I remember being a kid once and loving public water fountains.
The colorful mushroom tree is about as tasty as it looks.