Road to Namhae

28 09 2010

Tuesday, early as hell AM.

It was 5:45; the earliest I had been up in years and it was still dark when I left the apartment.  I arrive at the bus terminal for the second time in 12 hours to try to snag tickets in the midst of the busiest holiday in Korea.  I was accused of lunacy the night before for waiting till the day-of to purchase tickets.  You can’t get tickets in advance anyhow, and I had already promised all my friends I had it in the bag, just meet me at 9:15 at the terminal.

I proceed to the ticket counter, again, at 6 AM and ask the girl at the counter for 7 tickets to Namhae at 9:40.  “Anniyo”, she says, with her wrists formed in an X to further drive the point home.  “Don’t have?” I ask her, “Upsayo?” – the only way I could come up with to inquire if tickets were already sold out.  “No, anytime”, she answers.  What the hell is that supposed to mean?  I try again.  “7 tickets, 9:40”.  Again with the wrists.  I shrug in frustration and head to the back of the deepening line to pull out my cell phone.  I place a call to the foreigner help line, but of course, closed for Chuseok.  I then try to call that same supportive friend of mine who had told me I was crazy to attempt such a feat, but he apparently decided to sleep in this morning.  I’ll try another counter.

The frustration is seeping deeper into my pores as I wait in the long line at a different counter to the far left.  I try to be optimistic, but the advancing possibility that I may miss the bus to my 3 days of beach, booze, and camping makes it difficult to avoid this osmosis.  I finally arrive at the window and ask this girl the same thing: 9:40 to Namhae, 7 tickets.  A few finger strokes on the keyboard later and 7 tickets are printed from the machine and handed over to me through the little archway in the window.  I feel a wave of relief, though notice there is no time on the tickets which could only imply that this show is being run on a first come, first serve basis.  Ahhh… “Anytime“, now I see.  At this point I have regained my optimism and decide that at least we will get on a bus at some point.  I head downstairs to the terminal.

What a goddamn racket!  It is nearing 7AM at this point, and the terminal is even more crowded than the ticket room.  I have a few vague ideas of how the fiasco formally known as boarding a bus should play out, but this mess delivers a sneaking suspicion that all rules are out the window on this Korean Thanksgiving’s Eve.  I grab a seat among a group of Koreans furiously fanning themselves in vain attempt to counteract the humid heat to scope things out before selecting a line.  About 15 minutes tells me that if I will be near the front of any of these lines by 9:15, I need to act now.  I select the ‘logical’ line that leads under the gate labeled “Namhae”.

A few frantic line switches and three and a half hours later finds me and my 6 waygooken friends on a bus snagging the last few seats and the floor.  Three and a half more hours in bumper to bumper traffic and we finally arrive in Namhae.

To reach the island the bus crosses a long, red suspension bridge resembling a smaller Golden Gate into a land of rice fields sweeping through the hills, traditional Korean homes with tin roofs secured by black rubber tires, and Korea’s token rusted blue Hyundai pickup trucks.  We made it.