Thursday, March 08, 2012

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone

Recently I’ve been travelling out from the edge of known space at Jangsan to Gijang, which means that on the return leg of the journey I have found myself trying to catch taxis in the countryside to return to civilisation. It quickly became apparent that this may not be the same as catching taxis in the city.

Situated as I have been, in the middle of hardly anywhere by a long stretch of six-lane pork-barrel project next to a bus stop, I can see the taxis approaching from some distance away, but there is clearly a problem. Out here the taxis have entered into what can best be described as Busan Taxi Hyperspace, and either the taxi pilots have no ability to see beyond hyperspace, or it is impossible for them to decelerate to pick me up without turning themselves into a thin layer of jelly on the inside of their windscreens [that’s a ‘windshield’ for North American Passport Holders].

It has crossed my mind that I am not helping in this process. A reserved English cultural upbringing generally does not predispose me to jumping up and down like an American Televangelist by the side of the rural highway to attract the attention of the taxi pilots in good time. But it has also occurred to me that it may go further than this – because there may be an unwillingness to stop for foreigners. I mean, is it worth the hassle of trying to talk to an alien for the sake of $5? For all the movies and television episodes produced, Star Trek never adequately answered this question.

The first time this happened, four definite taxis obviously passed me and I identified a further two blurs as probables. I was considering a new strategy of starting to run in the direction of Jangsan as soon as I saw an approaching craft in the hope that the reduced speed differential might actually tempt them to drop out of hyperspace briefly for me to jump in, but then one actually did stop for me, and I didn’t even have to recreate any of my greatest moments as a 100m sprinter for my school, which was fortunate because there weren’t any.

When we reached civilisation my unfamiliarity with Jangsan caused me to reach for my wallet early and withdraw a 10,000 won note. The driver, who by this time had finally been forced to come to a stop due to the tiresome ‘red-light convention’ which even Korean drivers sometimes adhere to, saw this in his rear-view mirror and started organising the 1,000 won notes he’d give me in change. And then he gave me the change. This was confusing on account of the fact that we weren’t at my requested destination of Jangsan subway station yet, I had no intention of getting out, and my survival Korean does not extend to phrases like, “the rest of the ride is free”. Maybe I’m not meeting the right kind of women.

So I revert to my well-worn Confused Foreigner Look. Seeing my confusion and sadness as finally outing myself as someone whose Korean ability was more of a carnival act of stock phrases designed to simulate actual cleverness, rather than being the real thing, he proceeded to press a button on his charging meter which moved it to zero, finishing with a fait-accompli gesture which marked him out as a person who even knew more French than me. I thanked him. In simulated Korean.

We got to the subway station and I parted ways with my oddly charitable taxi pilot and waved farewell to his small craft. But it was as I descended into the subspace of Jangsan Station that I had a moment of self-awareness. I was very short-haired, wearing a black suit and carrying a small black attaché case with my documents, but not my Bible. Yes, I might have looked like a missionary, and while my frustrations with being unable to catch a taxi out there in the Forbidden Zone had not quite caused me to adopt the missionary position in a final attempt to attract attention, I may have been projecting the image of a lonely Christian-in-need.

It then occurred that this might explain the philanthropy of the taxi pilot, and also the intriguing outside possibility that the reason the other pilots didn’t stop for me was because they were Buddhists.


Big Sister said...

Sounds like you need a babel fish!!!!

Mike said...

:-) I certainly do - unfortunately they've been eaten to extinction in Busan!

Curtis said...

I understand your frustration. On my way back to the hostel I was staying at, after a night out partying, I had to hail about a dozen cabs. Two stopped, but the first didn't seem to know how to get to my destination (had I mispronounced it, I wondered) but the second was swift and accommodating. I told him in my best Korean that I only had 13000 won. He merely said "Get in!" I got to the other side of Seoul (at least it seemed far, it was a twenty minute ride and he was driving fast) and it came to 12500 won. Safe! He rounded it down to 12000 after so he wouldn't have to deal with petty change. He kept asking me things though, none of which I understood. So he relented and let me go.

But the point of all this: taxis are not easy for foreigners in Korea.

Michael said...

I worked as a cab driver while studying. So one other possible explanation for why your drivers didn't drop out of hyperspace. They had security concerns - stopping for a (missionary) on a lonely stretch of highway could be career limiting. Looking forward to your next post Mike...

Anonymous said...

Preach on, brother. I think you've seen the light. I see you're still kicking the can on down the road. Me, too. Somebody said somewhere, 'the sun also rises', so we gotta keep on keeping on. Looks like you're still doing you're bit.

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