Taxi Drivers and Horrendous Mexican

Jeju Travel Blog

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This afternoon I flew to Jeju-do, an island off the southwest coast of Korea.  My travels for the day involved many modes of transportation, but were simple enough: bus from Gyeongju to Busan, taxi to airport, plane to Jeju.  Yeah well the travel gods looked down from their thrones and said not so fast there girlie, we've got a curve ball or two for you.

The ride to Busan was pleasant enough.  I listened to Jimmy Eat World ( for a bit, which had me thinking about sophomore year and living with Rachel (hi Smaych!!) and both of us being heartbroken and utterly miserable for the ENTIRE winter.
  God was that dreadful.  Let's not do that again, mmkay Raych?  But the music was fun to listen to, I hadn't heard it in ages.  I spent the short ride trying desperately to memorize and remember the patchwork yellow and green fields that stretch for acres along the highway, with the enormous mountains jutting up toward the sky behind them.  Really beautiful.

From the bus terminal I hopped in a cab to the airport, which June, the guesthouse owner from a few days ago, said would make as much sense (if not more) as to take the subway all the way into the heart of town and then back out to the airport.  Plus it'd save me loads of time (not that I was in a hurry, but still).  I got to witness two very pissed off cab drivers yelling at each other and one of them being restrained by some other dude, presumably so he wouldn't shove or punch the other guy.  And then they yelled at each other from their windows.  So dumb.  I wanted to be like shut up and grow up and get on with it.  So anyway.  Some driver ambles up to me and is talking to me in Korean like I have an inkling of what he's trying to say.  I realize no one speaks English in Korea, but I'd think standing outside of the city's main bus terminal and talking to a TAXI DRIVER the simple word "airport" would get the point across.  I mean, this is what this guy does for a living.  Cart around foreign tourists like me.  Fat chance.  So I pull out the guidebook which is thoughtful enough to have major temples and similar sights also written in the native alphabet, and turn to Busan Airport and find, much to my incredulous dismay, that while it's important to have "Beomeosa Temple" written in Korean letters, something as basic and necessary as an airport is not also granted this courtesy.  Seems to me a petition is in order.  So I spread my arms and zoom around like an airplane (oh yes I did) and the guy is like "aeropuerto!" and I'm all "si! si!," except this isn't Latin America and he doesn't speak Spanish.  But it went something like that.

So he says "four thousand" and spreads his fingers to indicate four and I nod and say ok and off we go.  4,000 Won is a little less than USD $4.  Clearly this was a deal too good to be true.  But rather than listen to my nagging little voice that said "you better pull out a pen and paper and actually write four with only three zeros and settle the issue NOW," I said nah.  Taxis are cheap.  Really cheap.  And I was prepared to pay something like 15,000 Won, which is what June estimated, but he said this would include tolls and things so figured there must be an awful lot of tolls.  You can see where this is going.  Fast forward to us at the curb at the airport, he signals four fat fingers at me, and I hand him a fiver.  And he's all no, four thousand.  And I'm all si hombre, that's five.  Fork over the change.  This escalated to him being in full-out theatrical, hysterical, screaming at the top of his lungs, pulling his hair out, gesturing at me like I was a thief and a criminal, and pulling aside every single person he could get his hands on to shout and justify his case to them.  (We were at an international airport.  There were quite a few passersby to be had.  And me, being the foreigner, with a backpack no less, got many severe and disgusted looks.  Swell.)  After about ten minutes of this he gestures back to his car and opens the door and I'm like HELL NO.  I'm not getting back in your car.  I may not understand what you're saying, but I'm not a fucking idiot.  So then he storms off into the airport, gesturing wildly for me to follow him, and goes up to the TSA people to plead his case.  TSA.  I was ready for him to hand me over to the police, and he wants the baggage screening guys to set me straight.  It was hard not to laugh in his face.  Their thought process was exactly what I anticipated, something along the lines of "nice sob story, we don't give a rats ass," so then he stormed off to the information booth.  Information booths may offer English maps, but they rarely offer someone with a grasp on the language.  The information booth lady tries to explain why he's upset; I'm all yes, thank you, I gather he wants 40,000 Won, pigs will sooner fly.  So she finally does what I've been waiting for -- gets an English speaker involved.  And they explain for the umpteenth time why he's upset.  And as patiently as I possibly could I said YES I KNOW why he's upset.  I GET IT.  He wants 40,000.  He said FOUR.  Not forty.  Please explain to him that since he was so eager to take me as a chump and turned off his meter and paid only TWO tolls for less than 3,000 total, that he'll get 20,000 maximum out of me and call it a fair trade.  The man snatched the 20,000 and stormed off so fast I couldn't believe I won.

The flight to Jeju was uneventful, short of the older Korean woman next to me elbowing me REPEATEDLY.  I wasn't so much as touching the armrest -- MY armrest -- and yet she managed to jab me something like two dozen times in a forty-five minute flight.  I wanted to SCREAM.  The flight attendants walked up and down the aisles doing magic tricks and passing out wigs and making swords out of balloons for the three kids on board; I guess that's a nice touch but it struck me as odd, particularly since the ENTIRE aircraft was clearly so wildly entertained and overjoyed by their antics and rupturing in applause the whole way there.  It felt like I was in a petting zoo with all too happy clowns running around.

Two different taxi drivers turned me down on this end, and the third stared at the map and directions I gave him and scratched his head for a good long time trying to figure out where we were going.  The fact that A, the map and directions were both IN KOREAN, and B, the hostel claimed to be less than five minutes from the airport, had me somewhat perplexed and exasperated by three different taxi drivers claiming not to know where this place was.  The third guy found it ok, but then left the meter still running after we had pulled up, so by the time I had counted out the money and given it to him the fare had increased 200 Won which he insisted I paid.  What is WITH these taxi drivers??

Check-in required my temperature to be taken (first time I've encountered this) as a way to monitor the spread of swine flu.  Apparently I have to have it taken again at check-out to be sure there is no fluctuation.  (The temperature thing shouldn't be a big deal really, but somehow I felt like that was personal and crossing the line.  Is that weird?)  Two girls came to reception to ask where the guy recommended they find dinner, and invited me to join them.  So I ditched my bags and off we went. 

They're both in Korea teaching English (seems like I run into the work abroad English teachers every day) and flew to Jeju for the weekend.  They mentioned sashimi and I was all YES, I have been DYING to have Korean sashimi, I would love that!  (They only serve sashimi to groups of two or more; it's considered too much food and a nicer social meal at that, so singles aren't allowed.)  We then get to the strip the hostel guy pointed out littered with dozens of restaurants, and I kid you not the SECOND option we see is some Mexian crap.  And one of the girls is all "ooooh, can we eat there?!"  What am I going to say?  They invited me along.  I have no clout here.  And even if I did, that's just rude.  So I requested that we walk the area, "just to see," but really hoping they'd be lured by something more oh, I don't know, KOREAN.  But the talk was Mexican, Mexican, Mexican, so Mexican it was.  Suffice it to say this: if you are ever in Korea, do yourself a favor and DON'T EAT MEXICAN.  Even if you don't like Korean.  Even if Mexican is your favorite.  ESPECIALLY if Mexican is your favorite.  It's foul.  It should be outlawed.  My burrito involved some sort of mystery rice concoction and a chunky red sauce that tasted like spicy ketchup (ew) and they both had taco salads that were really diced iceberg lettuce with GOBS of thousand island (Koreans really like their thousand island -- it's on everything) and a fried chicken patty on top.  Of the two, mine looked more appetizing.  That's saying something.  They claimed to like theirs, and somehow, I believe them.  So I said my copious thank yous for including me and excused myself after dinner, making a mental note to avoid all future meals with those two.

Here's hoping I can find some sashimi buddies over the next few days while I'm in Jeju-do.  And that I'm able to avoid taxi drivers who should seek anger management assistance.
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photo by: yasuyo