Monday, 22 October 2012

The drivers on the bus ......

Where I live is very flat so there are very few inclines, never mind hills, that a bus driver needs to climb. Unfortunately, there is a lot of traffic and, in Korea, bus drivers and taxis have the right of way. For the most part this system works well until you you look up and realise that there is a traffic jam in front of you and to avoid it, the bus driver is creeping up on the path and looks to be heading straight at a lamppost!

As my town is quite busy, particularly in the evening, it always amuses me when we reach the roundabout and there are cars coming in every direction. As we start going around the roundabout you can see the opening that will allow us to proceed towards the terminus and disembark. Just when you are grabbing your stuff and preparing to stand up, you hear your bus driver shouting (what seems to be curses) and pressing firmly and consistently on the horn. Regardless of this rule that taxis and buses having the right of way, some idiot driver thought "Oh, I can make it" and has proceeded directly across the path of (my) oncoming bus. The bus driver will lay on that horn until a) the driver continues on his way or b) backs the hell up. As soon as the smallest gap appears, the bus driver will plough forward, still muttering and drop us off. I swear, sometimes we were soooo close to side-swiping a car! 

For the most part, I've gotten used to all this and my screams are not quite so vocal....unfortunately that awful feeling the pit of my stomach has yet to disappear. The first time that I noticed how crazily the bus drivers drive here was when I spent a week  with my brother when I first arrived. He brought me to visit his school and to get there the bus climbed several really windy roads. Going up wasn't so much a problem as coming home: The driver was speeding down these really windy hills that jutted out onto these huge drops. The only things that separated us from death was a tiny railing. I buckled myself in, held on to the seat in front of me and prayed that I would make it home in one piece. I couldn't even read my book my stomach was tossing so much. Every turn felt as we were going to go right through the railing and over the side. I was never more relieved to get out of a moving vehicle in my life! And....this journey reminded me why I am NOT a rollercoaster person.

This is one of the few things that frustrates (or rather scares the living daylights out of me!) here in Korea. I have lauded how much I like living in Korea and this is certainly true, but having been here for 4.5 months now means that some of the novelty has worn off and the rose-coloured glasses have lost some of their tint. Korea is still amazing but for anyone coming here it is best to be warned about some things:

When I first arrived, literally, on way from Incheon airport to our hostel in Seoul, my brother proceeded to give a lesson in Korean Etiquette. I have no problem with the bowing, serving others before yourself and even sharing the same cup to drink soju from when at teachers dinner. Giving up my seat to the elderly, injured, pregnant or disabled is respectful...and in my book, common courtesy. What I do have a problem with is being shushed whilst using a public transport system. After crazy bus drivers it is the only thing that gets my goat (well that and seeing young healthy teens sitting down while an old lady/man is standing).

I can understand if we are being really loud and obnoxious (a bunch of foreigners in any country can appear this way to the natives)  but when you are having a quiet(ish) conversation on the subway surrounded by other people also talking in hushed tones it is extremely annoying to be told: "Shush, be quiet"! Most of the time (because I know I have a tendency to get loud when I am excited or involved in a conversation) I immediately adjust my tone and continue the conversation. However, sometimes it is unwarranted and that is when I get annoyed as it kills the otherwise happy conversation. Each time this has happened to me (without warrant) I was surrounded by a bunch of Koreans who were talking too. The person who shushed us said it only in English, rather pointedly marking us out. 

So, you might think I'm mad to even get in the bus or talk on the subway, but I'm glad that I do - I'm learning how better to balance (literally) myself and how to talking really quietly and still have someone hear me. Plus my listening skills are improving on a daily basis...soon, I'll be able to hear a pin drop!

Finally, as a parting gift, I leave you with an Ode to Korean bus drivers:  

The drivers on the bus like speeding, speeding, speeding. 
The drivers on the bus like speeding all day long. 
The drivers on the bus run red lights, run red lights, run red lights. 
The drivers on the bus, run red lights all day long. 
The foreigners on bus scream "OMG, OMG, OMG". 
The foreigners on the bus scream "OMG" all day long.
The drivers on the bus are crazy, crazy, crazy. 
The drivers on the bus are crazy all day long. 
The inside of the bus I take to and from school

PS this post was inspired by "The Wheels on the Bus". After all, the life of an English Teacher means this song (and it's tune) are a huge part of my life!

When I take the bus in Korea (from KikinitinKorea)
I think to myself…

Friday, 12 October 2012

Thank you for the kindness, the words you're speaking, thanks for all the encouragement you're giving.

So, imagine you are sitting at a busy subway station in Seoul. You and a friend are sitting beside each and are waiting for another friend to join you. You've been chatting for a while, but you both decide to use a quick moment to take advantage of the WiFi. Suddenly, you feel someone hovering over you and you look up expecting the friend you are waiting on. Instead, you see a stranger and as you register this a sharp pain radiates throughout your leg. "What the feck?" you think. And as the stranger moves back you see her extended foot curl back to the floor and it hits you: You've been kicked in the shin. On purpose. By a random stranger. In the subway station. In Seoul. As this all passes through your head in the space of a second, your reaction is swift, loud and pissed off. "Owwww, what was that about!" However, the lady has moved off and you can't find her. Your friend sitting beside you is in shock and as you sit back down, you realise that you are as well.

The above is a true story and it is something that still shocks me when I think of it.  I was kicked in the shin for doing absolutely nothing. I wasn't being unkind to anyone, I wasn't being loud or rude. I was sitting down, quietly, minding my own business. Once the initial shock wore off, I realised that I was glad that this occurrence happened when it did. Why? Well, if this had happened during my first couple of weeks after arriving in Korea, think how I could have reacted? Instead I three months into what so far had been an amazing, wonderful experience. Until that point I had not experienced any negativity in Korea or any obstacles to my enjoyment of Korea...weirdness, yes, negativity, no.

My sister has written a blog where she talks about the kindness of strangers. I, too, can testify to the amazing kindness of strangers. For example, on Tuesday and Friday, I work at a different school and it is quite a bit out - in fact, I've to take two buses. These two ladies noticed that the bus driver keeps charging me the wrong amount 1900KRW instead of 1150KRW - not a huge amount,  but that extra 800 KRW each time equals more than a bus ride home!  So, these incredible strangers now drag me on the bus with them and make sure the driver charges me the right amount. I have met a man outside the bus stop one day who took me and a friend aside and had a grand old chat about his life. He'd been in the Korean war, had traveled to America and all this with very little English. Sadly, I had to decline drinking a beer with wasn't even 8am and it was a school day. These people's generosity in their time,gestures and stories makes for an incredible journey but I am happy to say that it isn't just strangers who have extended kindness to me.

Until that moment when the lady kicked me on the shin, I had (and have) only ever experienced the kind words, thoughts and actions of strangers, acquaintances, friends and family, whether here or abroad. From the minute, I arrived in Korea I have been overwhelmed by kindness - my brother gave me an amazing welcome, my co-teacher is friendly and helpful, my friends and acquaintances have made my life joyful, fun and given me a purpose outside of teaching.  I have amazing students and just as amazing homeroom teachers who frequently make me laugh,and constantly feed me.

Yes, I have an amazing support system here in Korea - whether it is a random stranger offering me beer at 7.50am or my brother making sure my settling into Korea goes smoothly. Thankfully, the support doesn't just end here. My family and friends from home and abroad keep me grounded and send words of encouragement often. Due to their support I am able to reconfirm to myself on a daily basis that I have made the right choice in living here. Furthermore, this incident reminded me that overall, my life is pretty legend(wait for it)dary. I have always been blessed by amazing friends and family, and for some reason, compared to other stories that I have heard, I really have had a pretty sweet life. Whether in Ireland or America, the people in my life now and years ago have shaped me to who I am today. So thank you for the kindness, the friendship, the words you have spoken to help me grow. Thank you for the encouragement and love because I couldn't live without it, in all honesty. I would not be where I am today. I salute you all.

So, you might think I'm mad to not really care that the crazy lady kicked me. It shocks me that it happened but I am glad that it did because it reminds me of how she is an anomaly in my life and that not everything in life is pleasant. Korea is a wonderful place, but like anywhere it has it's own share of crazy,weird and downright mean people. I just happened to meet one person who encompassed all those traits!

Dinner my co-teacher made for me and my cousin

Peppermint sweet from a student
as we walked to school
Persimmon from  a co-teacher

PS this post was inspired by Abba's "Thank you for the music" and all the wonderful people constantly give me support, encouragement kindness whether they are stranger or friend.
PPS - examples of generosity from those I've met in Korea.