Monday, January 04, 2010

Another travel adventure

So I'm in Peng Sung visiting friends over the holidays. It's just outside Pyeong Taek where there's a subway/train station. It's time to go home. But a guy like me just doesn't hop on the train and go home. What would I write here if I did???

Scott and I watched the first Canada/U.S. game in the World Jr. Hockey Championships. It was a good one. Canada won in a shootout. Neither of us like that though. So I sez to Scott, "I hope they meet again in the gold medal game to settle this the right way." Lo and behold, Canada and U.S. will play again for gold.

I strongly urge anyone who likes hockey, (or Canada or the U.S.), to tune in to that game. Here in Korea it's on at 9:30 tomorrow morning. I'll be up for sure eating bacon and eggs and watching that one. The last game they played was a comeback, shootout win for Canada. The game before that was the best game ever played in the World Jr. Hockey tourney. I think this is going to be a good one. If you miss it live you can watch it at on video on demand.

Anyhoo, I told Scott after watching the game on Sunday night, that I'd be going home the next day. I got up around 9 in the morning. It had snowed quite a bit the night before so I flipped on the TV. ALL OVER the Korean channels there were reports of traffic jams across the snowed in country. Schools were closing, accidents were happening, Godzilla was rampaging... There was about 9 inches of new snow. Sigh.

So I KNEW the trains would be extra crowded since nobody would be taking the buses. But I gathered up all my stuff plus all the stuff that had accumulated over Christmas and a visit to Costco. I had a hockey bag completely packed and a big, heavy Costco bag. All in all it was pretty much 100 lbs. of luggage. If not more. Luggage is the word cuz I was lugging it down the snowy street to the nearest spot to get a taxi. So after showering, shaving and putting on fresh, clean clothes, 5 minutes into my trip home I was sweaty, wet, and huffing and puffing. Great start.

But there were taxis waiting so I got right up to the first one in line and some guy darts in front of me actually brushing my bags away and takes MY taxi. Didn't he see me carrying my baggage that was easily heavier than him? Didn't he understand that if I could lift this much baggage, how easy would it be to lift him over my head and deposit him into the fresh new curbside snow? But, I wasn't about to add, "pissed off" to my list of conditions so I just tried my best to ignore him and kept saying to myself, "There are other cabs. There are other cabs." I get into the second taxi before anyone could steal it from me and we CRAWL down the street. It wasn't clean but it was only a little slushy. It wasn't like people were sliding all over. But I had all day so I didn't let that bother me at all.

We get to Pyeong Taek station and the meter reads 5000 won. I pull out 5000 won. The taxi driver won't take it. He want's more because of the weather conditions. I think he was expecting more than the SIX thousand won I gave him but I didn't let THAT bother me either.

When I got to the station it was busy but not as crazy as I had expected. I had to wait in line for about 15 minutes before purchasing my ticket but that wasn't too bad. The chick I bought the ticket from told me that it was a 10:45 train but the train had been delayed 22 minutes. So I do some quick mental calcutationing and figure out that I will be getting on my train home to Gwangju at about 11:07. That should get me home by about 2:30 in the afternoon. Not too bad at all.

I pick up my 100 lbs. of luggage and go down to the platform, (platform 4), where the chick had sent me to wait for my train. In less than a minute there's a train pulling in and on the loudspeaker I hear an announcement in Korean. I figure out that it's the announcement for my train, the 10:45, that will be arriving 22 minutes late. I look around at the clocks and I see three of them all showing 10:45. So I figure I have to wait 22 minutes. Not so bad. It's snowing but it's not too cold on the platform.

So as the train on platform 4 is loading I notice it's a Gwangju train. Could this be my train? Just then the announcement in English comes on, "The 10:45 train to Gwangju WILL BE ARRIVING 22 minutes late because of certain conditions of the train. We appologize for inconvenience." So now I'm really not sure. The announcement would have said, " now boarding" or "...has arrived" or "...will be DEPARTING shortly" or something in the proper verb tense surely! I decided to get on the train just in case. But as I picked up my 110 lbs. of luggage to try to make a break for it, the doors closed and the train pulled away.

I don't wear a watch. The only thing I have with the time on it, particularly during the holidays, is my cell phone. So now I have to find out. I dig out my cell phone from my luggage and check the time. 11:07. FUCK. Evidently all those "clocks" had been indicating the time the train was supposed to have arrived, not the present time.

So now I'm on the tracks with 120 lbs. of luggage a floor away from a long line-up in front of the ticket window where I need to change my ticket. I can either walk up the stairs with my 140 lbs. of luggage, or lug it way down the platform to the escalator up. I make a judgement call. I LEAVE my luggage on the platform. I wouldn't do this in Canada. No way, now how! But this is something I have found doable in Korea in the past. Besides there are folks milling about on platform 4. They will probably all assume the stuff belongs to one of the other millers.

So up the stairs I run. I wait another 15 minutes in line and explain that I missed my train. While in line I hear an announcement for a train, "The 10:55 train bound for Yong San Station IS NOW ARRIVING and WILL DEPART at 11:10, 15 minutes late. We are sorry ...blah blah blah." WHY OH WHY wasn't there a clear announcement like that for MY train???

However, without bothering to argue about correcting the grammar on ALL the P.A. announcements, (not just the ones for Seoul), the same ticket window gal refunds my money for the ticket. So I ask when the next train to Gwangju will be. She says, "Direct to Gwangju, 3:00." It's just after 11. No WAY am I waiting around with my 155 lbs. of luggage in Pyeong Taek station for 4 hours! So I say, "How about INdirect?" She says, "Well you could go to Asan. It's an 11:14 train but it's 25 minutes late." Then she shows me the sched. and from Asan I could have bought a seat on the train to Gwangju that gets me home by 2:30. Probably MY empty seat! So I buy a ticket to Asan and she says, "Car 1, seat 7A. Go to platform 4." What luck! That's where by bags are waiting for me!

I go back down to platform 4 and all the millers are gone. But, there they are, my bags, untouched by honest railriders of Korea! Bet you didn't expect THAT! So I wait. The time is 11:39. That's when my train is supposed to arrive. I keep waiting. Probably around 11:50 or so a train arrives. It has no marking for "Asan" on it. I think it was a train for Pohang. But that's in the right direction, (I think), so on I got.

My car, (car #1), is a short one. My seat, (7A), is not vacant. There is no room for my 160 lbs. of luggage on the overhead racks so I just keep it in the toilet area and end up standing there since no seats are available. The trip to Asan is only supposed to be 22 minutes anyways. 30 minutes later I'm starting to think that this isn't the right train. Just then a fellow expat comes up to me and asks if I need any help. "Are you new to Korea?" he asks. I replied that I'm new to the trains, which I sort of am. I usually take the bus or at least HAVE in my days here. He tells me that he doesn't know where Asan is but I can go a couple of cars ahead to the car with a bar, snackbar, computers and, yes, singing rooms. There I can find a girl in a red uniform who can tell me what to do. So I leave my bags unattended again and go to that car. No girl but they had Gatorade and lugging around 175 lbs. will deplete the old fluids. So I bought a Gatorade then went back.

At LEAST an hour after boarding we got to Daejeon Station. This is good news! I know that from SEO Daejeon station I can get home to Gwangju. I know this because that's where Costco is! So I get off the train probably having shorted Korea Rail several won since a trip to Asan is cheaper than on to Daejeon. Not MY fault.

I carry by 180 lbs of luggage through the Daejeon Station, past MASSIVE ticket lineups and out to a cab. He takes me about 10 blocks down the slushy road, does a U-turn and the meter is already over 3000 won and we're back at Daejeon Station again. I have to conserve my energy so I don't say anything to the guy. We GET to Seo Daejeon Station but the guy parks in the taxi line rather than driving me to the door. Just a little farther to haul my burden.

At the top of the escalator into the station I see what I had feared the entire cab ride over: an anacondan line-up for train tickets. No wonder in that since wickets 1 and 4 were closed and wicket 2 was reserved for the handicapped, passengers exchanging tickets or hooking up with boats. Essentially there was one girl providing tickets for all of Seo Daejeon Station. Probably some other workers couldn't come in because of the 9 inches of snow on the ground. (eye roll). So after standing in ticket lines and on the subway platform for about an hour, standing on the wrong train for over an hour, I now have to stand in line to get a ticket to Gwangju. Long story short, THAT took an hour too. It was 1:47 when I got my ticket home. Luckily for me it was a ticket for a 2:47 train so I'd only have to wait an hour for the train.

I drag my ass and 199 lbs. of luggage over to the waiting area, in which EVERY seat is full, and stand for yet another hour. Well to be honest I didn't stand there for the whole hour. I wanted to make double sure I caught my train to I took my 200 lbs. of luggage down to the platform, (platform 2 this time), and waited for my train.

Whilst I awaited I heard an announcement, "The 14:47 train to Gwangju WILL BE ARRIVING 08 minutes late because of certain conditions of the train. We appologize...yada yada yada." Just then a train marked for Gwangju pulls in. I looked at my phone. It was 2:45 I think. I'm in a quandary. Last time this happened it was a grammar mistake and because I wasn't pushy enough, and because I exhibited far too much faith in Korean English usage, I missed my train. Should I just barge my way onto this train? If it was the wrong one I could just act stupid. I made a judgement call: I waited.

It turned out to be the right call. And when the 14:47 train arrived 08 minutes late at 14:55, there was an announcement saying the train was NOW ARRIVING on platform 2. Again, if there had been a proper announcement like that on my first train... grrrr.

So I hoist my cargo onto the proper train. The hockey bag should be stored in the large baggage area but, of course, it's full. I leave it unattended and take my Costco bag into my car. I try to put it in the overhead area above my seat but it doesn't fit. I have to take it to the back of the car and put it behind the last seat. I then find the porter and ask what I should do with my big bag. I suggest putting it in the overhead storage area where there's a big space. He says, "Okay," then just looks at me. Of course he's a young guy and certainly didn't sign up for Korea Rail to deal with a lift like that so I had to take care of it.

It's not a comfortable thing to do. Even less comfortable for the poor passenger directly below my big bag because as I'm struggling to wedge it into a space barely big enough for it, my naughty bits are right in his face forcing him into the passenger beside him. The guy actually put up his hand to block me actually touching the front of my jeans at one point. So after successfully stowing my hockey bag, I go to my seat where there is a mother who had also had my naughty bits in her face while I was trying to put my Costco bag above my seat. And the whole car has seen the entire show and is now murmuring. I'm just thinking, "FINALLY I get to sit down!"

At about 5:00 the train arrived at Gwangju Station. I had to be the last guy off the train because my bags were at opposite ends of the car. The girl in the red jacket thought the train was empty and I startled her by heaving my hockey bag out the door and onto the platform in front of her. She thanked me as it was her job to do and gave me a look of surprise when I packed on my 250 lbs. of luggage for the long trudge through the Gwangju Train Station and out to the incredibly long taxi line-up. I waited about 30 minutes for a taxi and finally lugged my 280 lbs. of luggage into the trunk of it lowering the back considerably then giving the springs a proper stress test by flopping my SELF into the back seat too.

I was surprised to see the dorm doors open and the Idon'tcaretaker opened the door for me so I didn't have to use my card. I said, "Sae hae bong mani badeusayo," as I unloaded 300 lbs. of luggage at my door. That's like, "May you have good luck and good fortune in the new year." So I had succeeded in turning about a 4-hour trip from Peng Sung to Gwangju into a 7-hour odyssey and one helluva workout!

And now, the morning after, my arms, shoulders and traps feel like I've been to the gym. The snow has made its way down to Gwangju. It was just raining yesterday here when I got home but today there's a good build up of new snow on the ground. I dunno if I have enough energy yet to make a snowman though.

Like every year I am swearing to myself now that I am NEVER NEVER NEVER doing this crap again! But I probably will. Otherwise, what would I write about here?

1 comment:

Rose-tinted glasses said...

You must have been acquiring a fair bit of stuff along the journey. 100lbs turned into 200, and 200 soon turned into 3. What a workout!?!! Hells bells!

I remember whenever I used to travel around Korea by bus or train and was carrying a load of gear, I used to sweat a bucket or two. Especially coming back from the market. The backpack would be full of food and so be pulling tight on the straps, the straps would be pulling tight on the jacket and no air would be able to get between me and the coat. So the temperature would just rise and rise and cause me to become just that little bit more irritated!

Does this come close to your feelings?

Oh, well at least you've got another tale to tell on your blog!

Your adventure of getting back to Gwangju makes my little trips in the car with Rebecca to the local market seem like a piece of cake. I know I bring a lot with me, but it just goes into the back of the station wagon. I wonder what a trip across Korea with Rebecca would be like...