Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Stranded in the Mountains

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Today, I got on the wrong bus.

How did this happen? I blame the old ladies at the bus stop.

As with every Wednesday and Friday morning, my transfer at the Bunam bus station began in the exact same way. I got off the bus from Andeok, thanked the bus driver as I handed him my ticket, walked to the ticket booth, wished the friendly ticket lady a good morning, wished the store clerk next door a good morning, sat down my laptop case on the bench, and spent the next fifteen minutes pacing around. Most of the time, my conversations are very limited. A simple “hello” to the kids walking by just makes them stare, giggle, wave, and run away. But sometimes I’ll be approached by curious locals who rapid-fire Korean questions at me in the odd chance that I could understand. By now I’ve realized that the questions are almost always the same, so I have a fairly good set of responses for them (in Korean of course):

“Canada. Andeok. English teacher. Bunam Middle School and Gucheon Middle School. Yes. Yes. Sorry, my Korean is not very good. Ok. Thank you. Nice to meet you. Goodbye!”

90% of the time, this will result in a polite bow and a huge smile.

My understanding of Korean has tripled since I’ve been here, but if I let on that I understand (at least partially) what they’re saying, I’ve opened the floodgates of conversation. I do love practicing my Korean, but at 8:20 in the morning my computer hasn’t fully booted up yet.

Typically, the old ladies who “hang out” at or near the bus stop will say a small greeting and then continue to chat amongst themselves. But for some unknown reason, they swarmed me this morning. I don’t know if it was the colour of my shirt, the alignment of the planets, or if they just had too many cups of coffee with breakfast, but they wouldn’t let up with the rapid-fire Korean. They had every tactical advantage over me. I was outnumbered, outflanked, and hugely outgunned (I didn’t even have my phrasebook with me). I desperately tried to explain that I didn’t understand what they were saying, but they ignored me.

A bus pulled up, so I immediately said my goodbyes and got on.

I pulled out my phone, busied myself with deleting spam messages (yes, in Korea there are tones of spam texts), when out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar building: Bunam Middle School. Today, I was supposed to be heading to Gucheon Middle School.

Ah crap.

By the time I stood up and walked to the front of the bus, we were already ascending into the mountains (going back towards Andeok). I tried to explain to the bus driver that I had gotten on the wrong bus, but he just kept staring straight ahead. I pulled out my ticket to Gucheon, handed it to him, and he immediately applied the breaks. He turned to face me, blasted me in Korean, and opened the door. I thought to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding. We’re in the mountains, and you want me to walk?”

I didn’t have a choice.

I got off the bus and pulled out my cellphone to call Mrs. Jeon. I didn’t have a signal. It was going to be a long morning…

Luckily, barely five minutes into my walk, a car honked and pulled over. The window opened and I saw the friendly face of one of the Bunam administrators. She beckoned me to jump in, and I happily obliged.

The entire trip back to the bus station was spent explaining to her how I got there. The conversation went a little something like this:

Administrator: “Why you are walking from Andeok?”

Me: “I wasn’t. I got on the wrong bus and the bus driver left me in the mountains.”

Administrator: “You must be tired yes?”

Me: “No. I only walked 5 minutes.”

Administrator: … Confused look on her face …. “Andeok is very far.”

Me: “I didn’t walk from Andeok. I got on the wrong bus at Bunam.”

Administrator: “Why you no take bus?”

Me (realizing I had to simplify the situation, I lowered my English level, mimed out the scenerio, and added extra long pauses): “Today…Bus Andeok to Bunam…Good… Bunam station…Bus Bunam to Andeok…Bad…Bus driver open door…I walk.”

Administrator (nodding her head in understanding): “Ahhhh yes. But why you are walking from Andeok?”


You can’t say I didn’t try.

- Ken


  1. As though you guys don't have enough excitement in your lives already! As I sit here eating my lunch, I feel excited to read these stories, then it hits me that they are real - then I start to realize that you were actually stranded in mountains, zillions of miles away - then I get scared and sad, then realize like in the movie Short Circuit - read on and there is a happy ending!
    I'm glad that you have so much patience with the language barrier. It must be tough at times - as written here. You're doing an amazing job. love you lots

  2. guess what? Jess, I did take the wrong directions so many times in London, the tubes and the buses. specially, when is dark and cold and there is nobody I could ask for help... desperately, wanting to go home and like to have nice and warm soup... you have a beautiful smile, right? just smile to everyone you meet and to yourself... JOY:)