Friday, December 4, 2009

Forget Harvey Dent....

...I believe in Korean cab drivers.

Taxis are a different experience here in Korea, maybe even all of Asia (based on what Bov's told me about cabs in Indonesia). In one year I've taken more taxis than I have in my entire life. It's hard not to, though. They're so convenient and cheap.

Most of them are equipped with GPS devices and/or little portable televisions on the dashboard, in addition to their cellphone in a nearby cup holder. To say that they are aggressive drivers is a bit of an understatement, but I always feel perfectly safe in a Korean cab.

Sometimes you run into one who speaks English, and they try to strike up a conversation with you. Most of the time it goes something like this:

"English teacher?"

And that's about it. My cab driver last night was a bit more expressive. After I told him Uijeongbu station, he asked me, "Seoul?"

Panic! I didn't want to pay cab fare all the way to Seoul from Uijeongbu. Sometimes you run into a cabbie going back to Seoul from up here and they won't pick you up if you're not going that way.

"Eh? No, no. Uijeongbu Station."
"You take subway to Seoul?"
"Oh. Yes."
"Ew! No, no, no." I shook my head vigorously. The fact that he assumed that a white person going to Seoul must be going to Itaewon was pretty amusing, however.
"Seoul where?"
"Ah, Korea University! Are you a student?"
"No, I'm an English teacher."
"English teacher where?"
"Uh, Minlak-dong," I said, taken aback that he would ask about my hagwon.
"Where Minlak-dong?"
I told him the name of my hagwon and he laughed. I have no idea if it meant anything to him or not.
"You make a lot of money?"
"Eh." I waved my hand to indicate a middling amount. He laughed again. I think Koreans laugh when they can't think of anything else to say in a conversation.
"You from Canada?"
"Ah, America." Pause. "To me, America people, Canada people—same. You think?"
"Very similar," I said. Apologies to all my Canadian friends! "America, Canada...very similar. Same same."
Another laugh, and then we drove a bit in silence. As we turned on the main stretch of road that led to Uijeongbu station, he said, "I think you are 24, 25. How old are you?"
"In Korea, 24. In America, 23."
"Ah." He nodded and seemed pretty pleased with himself for getting it so close. "Are you married?"
I cringed. This wasn't the first time a cabbie had asked me if I was married. That had been another cab ride to Uijeongbu Station to get to Anam, and after the cab driver had told me I was "very beautiful." But this fellow seemed a bit less sketchy.
"No, no. I'm not."
And that was the end of our conversation for a while. Then his cellphone rang, and from the voice and the word "father" I figured it was a kid—son or daughter, I couldn't tell. They had a quick conversation, then my driver hung up.
"My son!" he informed me with glee. He told me his name but I can't remember it. "Five years old. My first son."
"Your oldest son? What about daughters? How many children do you have?"
"Two daughters, one son. First daughter, 22. Second daughter, 20. Son, 5." And he laughed.
Wow, I thought. Can we say, "second wife"?
"Are you first child?"
"Yes, yes. I'm the oldest," I replied. "I have one younger brother."
"My age, 51. How old is your father?"
"Uh." And sorry Dad, I can never remember off the top of my head how old you are; I always have to count back from the year you were born. The driver noticed my pause and laughed.
"You don't know?" he asked, in Korean.
"No, I know! He is 51, too."
By now we were at the station. "Right here is okay," I pointed out the window. I paid my fare and jumped out.
"Thank you! Good-bye!"


  1. Taxis = nuts. But not as nuts as motorcyclists. Who are not as nuts as the goddamn minibuses.

  2. The fact that you forget my age doesn't really bother me. Actually I would like ot forget my age