February 27, 2000
Yesterday Dan, the other American professor, took me downtown. We can get the bus right in front of our apartment. It stops about every ten minutes, and costs 540 won, about 50 cents. Arriving downtown in about ten minutes, it goes to the station, which is a big parking lot with a tiny little old building for buying tickets. It is peopled with old women with bent backs, sitting on their heels; students in uniforms; children; just everybody. One man seems to direct the buses and tell them where to pull in, but you have to be careful; it’s so crowded and active there; a bus might back into you if you’re not watching.
We went to the Korea Exchange Bank, where Dan has an account, and opened one for me. He showed me how to work the ATM. Then we went for train tickets, passing the outdoor market. Dan bought fresh strawberries.
The train station was upstairs, in a dark old building with a 1940s movie atmosphere. Dan pulled out his schedule card, wrote dates and times on paper. When the clerk took a while and got confused, he blew up and started ranting loudly. Men came and watched. It was embarrassing. He got results, though. A younger woman took over from the muddling older one.
This place–downtown, etc.–seems ramshackle, haphazard, the buildings stacked together without a plan. Roads and cars come out from nowhere. Every time I’ve been in a vehicle so far, I’ve thought, we will be in an accident.
We got tickets to Taejon for our trip to the immigration office. Then Dan took me to a shop for the pictures I will need to give there. It was a fun experience, a tiny photo studio up the back stairs, with a nice young guy about twenty-two or so. He told me–in English–to have a “little smile,” “soft smile.” He brushed my hair back.
While we waited for the pictures, we went to a coffee shop down the street, upstairs. It had a nice, quiet atmosphere, with spacious upholstered booths by the window. I had a Coke, and Dan ordered coffee. But they give us each a free cup of barley tea, and crackers at first. With our drinks they brought a little pack of pretzel sticks dipped in chocolate, free. They served us, but there’s no tipping in Korea! Our server didn’t speak any English. She was sweet, though.
We went to the grocery store. It was pretty confusing, but I got rice, cups, soy sauce, Oreos, etc. Dan blew up again, at the checkout counter. It was because the girl mistakenly rang up our orders together. A perfectly understandable mistake. I saw a girl laugh, embarrassed. I was freaked out. But they stayed calm and checked us out separately, and we got a taxi outside, 3,000 won (about $3), and went home.
He’s been helpful to me, and I’m grateful. But he’s really a hothead; you never know when he’s going to erupt.