“Old Friends” – Day 35 (6/23)

The bus engine rumbles to life as I recheck my ticket. Ok, bus to Jeonju, 11:30 AM, seat 3. Check, check, check. After giving a final goodbye to my relative, I sit back, relax, and fall asleep. By the time I wake up, we had left behind the city and entered the countryside. 농장 after 농장 (“nongjang“: farm), the bus shoots down the highway like a fuckin’ rocket! Swerving in and out of lanes and with no concerns that 30 peoples’ lives are in his hands, the bus driver seemingly wants to tango with Death himself! Unfazed with the fact that we arrived at Jeonju City and that cars are everywhere, the driver continues his deadly dance of death. The light turns red at a major intersection. But he is driving too fast! As we get closer to the intersection I can’t help to think that this road is a major artery of the city’s veins of transport. One cut of this straw of life, husbands will be late for work, school children will be late for class, and pizzas and fried chicken will get cold. The bus continues toward the intersection and… and… and turns LEFT! Left into certain doom! Oh what a steep price to pay for dancing with Death!  But the driver loves death. He does not fear it. He says, “Bring it on!” Even Satan and all his demons can’t stop this guy! If the driver wasn’t concentrating so hard, he would say something like, “I shall not fear passing on to the next world. If I am unsuccessful in turning this bus and the passengers and I all die in a gasoline induced, fiery grave, then so be it! If God decides it is time to pull the plug, then I accept it!” But miraculously the driver skillfully turns left as if the steering was an extension of his body. We make it! Cars honk at the driver not because they were mad at the fact that the bus was turning at a red light. They honk to congratulate him for a successful turn! Swerving into the bus terminal, the bus just went from 40 kmh to zero! Putting on the bus in parking, the driver is the first one out. He basked in the sunlight and with arms out he cries, “I AM  beautiful. Like a fuckin’ Amadeus, I conducted that bus into a series of masterful moves that will be told through out the ages into every corner of the world. And even when the world comes to certain destruction, what I have done today will be spoken amongst the survivors huddling against a fire in their effort to stave off the cold”. The driver is spent and as he lights up a cig, I walk past and calmly say, “Thank you for driving”.

I get on a taxi and go to 전북대 (Jeonbuk University) to meet my long time friend, Max, who was in Korea doing the CLS program sponsored by the U.S. State Department to learn Korean. We have known each other since freshmen year and lived in the same dorm too. But how we became friends still remains a mystery to us both. Some say the epic meet up was recorded by Roman scribes and etched onto the pillars of the Wren Building (The Wren Building is the center piece of The College of William and Mary and where many events in American history had taken place). Others claim that the event was recorded as far back as when the Code of Hammurabi was written. But much of the evidence was destroyed along with many records and artifacts proving Roman settlement in the greater Williamsburg area when muslim marauders invaded Colonial Williamsburg in 1693. I just hope there is enough excitement left in the day especially after this morning’s events.

Anyway, so I meet up with Max and we go eat at a local restaurant. We exchange stories, impressions of our time in Korea so far. He notes the idiosyncracies and strange things in Jeonju, and how Korean is not as fun as it was last summer because he is now in a higher level. “It seems that you can fit in pretty well, Max. You dress just like any ordinary Korean” I say. Max responds by going on to a semi-lecture about how Koreans have this gravitational pull towards European things and clothing. “Phil, I may dress like them, but I’m dark as a motherfucker! Everywhere I see are a bunch of Andrew Lee’s and Inho Kim’s. You have to understand that Koreans have more refined tastes and love the finer things in life. They never had a wild frontier that explains our rugged tastes, you see”. He goes on about the vast unknown, Manifest Destiny, 1849, Bloody Kansas, The Homestead Act, beef barons, and that the reason his ancestors left Thailand was  because they drew all the animals in the jungle and they were getting bored. “Now my dad can draw all sorts of animals! A tiger, a bear, anything! His skill is like a sore penis! He just can’t be beat”! Surprised by the sudden intensity of his voice, I turn to the only solution I know in such situations. “Let’s cool down with a bingsoo”

We order an enormous fruit bingsoo and then spend the rest of the afternoon touring Max’s school and surfingYouTube and laughing hysterically at the comedian, Aris Spears. However, this is where Newton’s 3rd Law, “For every action, there is a equal and opposite reaction”, comes into play. After such good merriment, something bad was about to happen. “Phil, oh my god! Ah!” says Max as he doubled over in pain. “What’s wrong?” I ask. He yells, “I ate… I ate – Shit!” Giving a laugh, I go ahead and say, “Now why would you go on and do that?” “No, no, I mean’t to say ‘I ate 콩국수 and now, it’s coming to haunt me. Sweet Jesus! Please save me!”. Feeling a bit uneasy myself in the heat, I follow my friend. Toilets were destroyed, Korean students were scared away, laughter ensued.

After eating dinner, we watched Jeonju’s summer festival where there were dance performances and little kids jumping like squirrels and doing taekwondo stunts. We take a walk around the park and end up going to a coffee shop to talk about things only learned scholars would discuss. Like ‘Is the world round?’, The difference between a trot and a canter, best strategies for tic-tac-toe, ‘is W&M’s Sunken Garden the ideal place for a rice paddy field since it rains like a mo-fo’. A call arrives from a mutual friend with a report sighting there was a Korean as dark as Max. Response: “Shut up, no one is as dark as him except for Korean farmers who are willing to fuck Southeast Asian import brides”. We make it back to Max’s host family’s apartment so I can stay over the night. His host brother is the one of the nicest people in the world. An excellent host. If he ever ran an inn or a tavern, this guy would do a great job. Statues would be made for him.

The next day, after some more musings while sitting in CafeBene, it is time for me to depart. Buying my ticket, I sit down with Max and his host brother and ‘chewed the fat’ so to speak for 10-15 mins. As we walk toward the bus, we exchange our final words with oaths, creeds, and cutting our hands to become blood brothers, and a hug. “Stop hugging me so hard, you’re gonna squeeze tears out of my eyes you sissy”, says Max. “Now tell me, how many fucks do I give?” Laughing, I reply, “Zero. You give absolutely zero fucks” (This whole response has to do with the original statement of  “I don’t give a fuck”. It has nothing to do with fornication.)  And with that, he put his hands together, bows, and says, “Sawadee Kaapmy friend”. A handshake from the nicest guy in the world and another wave, I board the bus to return to Seoul.

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2 comments

  1. What a great story! I think most of us can relate to being away from home in a bus/taxi with a driver who has a mind of his own. Happy travels!

  2. Thank you!! I’m currently in Beijing right now but when I was in Shanghai, I was in a taxi where the driver was just going half insane. I was surprised that he didn’t hit anybody.

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