Saturday, May 4, 2013

I Speak in English, They Talk in Korean

I'm actually not a conversation starter, especially with strangers unless I have to ask something but I will only converse when one makes the move first.  I always have hesitations contemplating whether I'd be trespassing unto one's privacy or alone time.  When I started to write down my bucketlist during my prep days for my 10-day-solitary travel, I doubt if I can really make this happen.

That is, 

Talk with a stranger, not just anybody but a local Korean.

But I did! I had my most memorable conversations with Korean, the taxi drivers.  They talked in Korean, I answered in English, but we understood each other. Amazing, right?!

Conversation #1: The Fully Made-Up Lady Driver

I arrived Incheon International Airport at five in the morning from the four-hour-flight from Manila.  Without enough sleep and bit uncomfortable for not being able to freshen up as I went straight to the airport from the office, I was having the difficulty not to fall asleep on the bus from Incheon to Seoul and not to miss the 2nd bus stop - Hapjeong .

I was half-awake when I heard the bus announcement on the 2nd stop and I should have pressed the Stop button mid-way from the 1st stop to the 2nd stop. In South Korea, you have to press the Stop button as the bus approaches your designated bus stop station.  This will give signal to the driver to stop at certain bus stops, otherwise, they will just pass-through it.  At that moment, I remained seated and looked back at the bus stop as if I left something or somebody behind.  Suddenly, I got my senses back and listened attentively to the next bus stops but still did not lift my hand to press the Stop button.  It was either out of shyness or I just wanted to go farther and familiarized with the main bus stops.  Finally, after five announcements, somebody pressed the Stop button.  I quickly stood up, picked up my bag and got off the bus too - to a place that i know nothing at all!  what I thought of , it was probably where taxis can pick-up passengers.

Ajumma on the wheels
Right after the bus left, I saw a taxi approaching and I hurriedly hailed it.  Surprisingly, the driver was a woman, probably in her early 50's, with full make-up, hair properly teased in a bun and decorated with pins of Swarovski crystals while I looked like I just got out of bed from the last night's hang-over. 

And these how my first conversation happened.

Me: Hotel Seokyo?
Ajumma : In Korean (while typing something on the GPS placed at the top of the meter)
GPS: Also in Korean (and the taxi started to go)
Me: Hotel Seokyo? (while gesturing my hand with an "approve" sign) 
Ajumma : In Korean again
Me: "Hap-jeong?" (Worried painted on my face whether she got it right).
Ajumma : Yeh, Yeh .. (and talked in Korean again and was pointing something in GPS like she was explaining the best route to take)
Me: "Next, Hong-dae?" (while gesturing my hand as if it's next to hong-dae).
Ajumma : Yeh, Yeh

I then felt relief and comfortably lean back to my seat.  After awhile, the lady driver rummaged something from her purse and handed me a candy. It seemed like a peanut-flavored just looking at its wrapper.  

Me:  "Thank you!" (smiling while making a vow). 
I haven't mastered gamsahabnida yet 감사합니다 or "thank you" in Korean. I put the candy to my pocket.

Ajumma : Talking again in Korean, smiling and sounds happy while holding another candy and looking at the rear mirror.

She must have been talking about taking the candy so I obliged myself and uttered my thanks again.  She took my trash and turned her focus back on the street again.  Along the way, I saw some familiar signages and knew we were on the right direction.  After a couple of minutes, she pointed "Hotel Seokyo" and gestured her hand going to the left.  She meant, she'll pull-over to the left and that's where I could get off.  

My meter was only KRW6,400 so I gave her KRW10000.  She gave me back my exchange of KRW3,600.

Me:  "Thank you!" (smiling while making a vow)
Ajumma : "Byeee!!! (while waving her both hands)

That was the only English word that she uttered but how amazing that we're able to converse well.

Conversation #2:  The Unofficial Taxi Driver

On my 3rd day, my itineary was to take the 3-hour express bus from Seoul to Sokcho City for my other item in my bucketlist - to personally experience the snow.
The first trip was at 6:20AM and I had only a day to explore Sokcho, particularly, Seoraksan National Park so I was up to leave my hostel at 5:30AM.  I was not able to check the first trip of the train so the last option was to take a cab.

From the main road after my hurdles of running and walking along the dark alleys from the hostel, I hailed the approaching taxi.  It was not the right loading area, but I didn't know.  Still, the taxi stopped and the driver opened down the window.  

Me: "Dong Seoul Bus Terminal?" (while showing my Ipad with the snip-it of the address of the terminal with Korean characters).
Ahjussi Driver 1: In Korean waving his hand.
Me: Confused Look, Helpless Expression. 

He must have been seen the confusion on my face.

Ahjussi Driver 1: In Korean pointing his finger forward and I saw the taxi queue at the nearby intersection

I got it! The bus terminal was not his route or it was not allowed to pick-up passenger if not from the designated taxi area.  I hurriedly vow and uttered my thanks to run.  Then, I heard something like calling me and it was the driver honking to get my attention. 

Ahjussi Driver 1:  In Korean gesturing for me to get-in.

As if I understood, I got inside the taxi while he kept on talking in Korean.  While we were approaching the taxi queue, he honked his horn and gave some instructions to the next driver.  I was about to give him some Korean Won but he waved his hand and shook his head. I thanked him again and wish him well.

Conversation #3:  The Long one with the Official Taxi Driver

The next thing I knew, I was already passing over skyways, overpasses and through express lanes. It was 5:45AM already and the first trip was at 6:20AM.  Can I make it? More than the time, I was too busy looking at the meter as it ran while computing it's equivalent to Philippine Peso.  I thought I should have taken the train and I must have saved a few Korean Won.
Ahjussi on the wheels

Then, the driver started the conversation.

Ahjussi Driver 2: From the Philippines?
Me: Yes! Smiling
Ahjussi Driver 2: Holiday?
Me: Yes! For 10 days. (While showing my two hands)
Ahjussi Driver 2: What you like Korea?
Me: Cherry Blossoms and Snow
Ahjussi Driver 2: Like here than Philippines?
Me: Ah No. I like Philippines more, it's my home! I just like the weather here..and the people, of course.
Ahjussi Driver 2: Smiling. 

He then suggested places to visit and see in Seoul - Namsam, Myeongdong, Nandaemun and the palaces.  And I told him, laughing, that I've been there already.  He laughed too.  

Ahjussi Driver 2: How about Gyeongbokgung?  (And mentioned other palaces as well)
Me: Yes, I've seen those as well.

Poor man, he seemed to be lost of places to suggest so I told him I was going to Jeju and Busan.  He then suggested the places in Busan, what to eat and the good places in Jeju which mostly I have diligently made the research already and were included in my itinerary.  But I did not spoil this kind Ahjussi's excitement.  

After sometime, our topic changed to Kpop and KDrama.

Ahjussi Driver 2: "Favorite idol?"
Me: "CNBlue"
Ahjussi Driver 2: "Who? The Leader?"
Me: "Yes, Jonghwa?"
Ahjussi Driver 2: "Ah, Jung Yong Hwa".
Me: "Yes, that's him."
Ahjussi Driver 2: "Movie?"
Me: "None (while shaking my head) Kdrama only. "

I mentioned some of the Kdrama that I knew but he seemed not to know them. It's either I mispronounced the title or the English title is different.

Ahjussi Driver 2: "What is your name?"
Me: "I'm Claire".
Ahjussi Driver 2: "Cl..Cl..what again?"
Me: "Claire".

He laughed as he struggled to pronounce the sounds CL & R but he managed to get it right.

Ahjussi Driver 2: "Beautiful Name".
Me: "Thank you. And your name is?"
Ahjussi Driver 2: "Lee Seong Yong"

I tried many times to get his name right too.  He drove for a few minutes more and he repeatedly reminded me where to get off, take note of the subway station so I won't need to take the taxi back. He also wished me to enjoy my vacation in Busan and Jeju and to keep me healthy and safe.

I arrived at the terminal at 6:05AM, beyond the cut-off for the 6:20AM trip so I took the 7:20AM instead - enough hour to have my breakfast. I might have had spent more than my budget on the train fare but my conversations with Lee Seong Yong had given me more confidence and trust in myself that my first solitary travel experience would be something worthy of my existence in this world.

Also, it made me realized that conversations (communication) have no boundaries.  It's not just about talking ; it's about listening and understanding the gestures and expression in spite the differences in our language.

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