Wednesday evening, October 6: The white-haired Korean bus driver is yelling at me. At first I don’t realize it; I mean I don’t realize he is yelling at me because of course I can’t understand a word he is saying. I am on my nightly bus from Seongju to Daegu, and we are a little west of the city, possibly near an area known as Jukgok-ri or Bugok-ri. I don’t know what the area is but it’s not in Daegu proper, and this bus driver is yelling angrily and gesturing wildly with the bus tickets and everyone on the bus is staring at me. I ignore the tirade because I can’t think of a reason in the world he should be yelling at me. I look out the window, trying to ignore the stares and his vituperative monologue.
It becomes blatantly obvious that I am the object of his wrath when he pulls the bus over, gets out of his seat, comes to the back and stands over me yelling. Something about Daegu and 3,300 and 2,100 (he’s putting up his fingers with these numbers so I know it’s something to do with the bus fare). Still. I have no idea what is going on. I just look at him and shrug and say, sorry, I don’t understand. And promptly go back to staring out the window.
People are getting uncomfortable now and my blood is beginning to boil as I realize he is not going to stop. There is a man with a ponytail one seat back and catty-corner from me who speaks some English. He doesn’t look Korean to me, actually he looks Hispanic, but what do I know? He comes to my rescue. He says, the bus driver says you only paid the fare to here so you need to get off. I say, NO! I paid 3,300 won; that’s the fare to Daegu. He says, the bus driver says he remembers you paid only 2,100. Of course the bus driver has taken my ticket, so I have no way to prove what I paid. The bus driver, who has held up the entire bus for this 1,200 won (less than $1 USD) is not budging and is standing over me gesturing that I must pay the difference or get off the bus!
I am now shaking and so angry I could tear his head off. I say, NO!!! I PAID 3,300 WON! I put up both hands with 3 fingers sticking up. THREE thousand THREE hundred!! He insists otherwise. I say, I am NOT getting off the bus! The bus driver shoves his hand in my face to collect the fare. The man in the ponytail says, The bus driver says you always get off at this stop; he remembers you distinctly. I say, NO! First of all, I have never seen this man in my life. Second, I DO NOT LIVE HERE and I HAVE NEVER and WOULD NEVER get on or off at this stop!!
Now. To argue over less than $1 seems unreasonable, but now that I have this horrible commute that costs me twice as much as I used to pay when I had the carpool, I am very stingy with my money, especially for transportation costs. I don’t really care about the money, but I am outraged as a matter of principle. He is relentless. He is holding up the whole bus over this matter and every single person is looking at me as if I’ve committed some heinous crime. So. I pull out my wallet and take out a 1,000 won bill and thrust it into his hand. He puts up two fingers to emphasize I need to pay 200 won more! By then I am shaking so much and am so furious, I take out my wallet, open my change purse, and literally THROW all the change at him. I yell, HERE! Take your fucking money!! Take it all! What the fuck do I care!!
The money is dumped all over the bus floor. It is rolling everywhere. The bus driver just stands there for a minute. Everyone is shocked, including him. Everything is at a standstill while the traffic goes by outside the windows. Then, he thrusts the 1,000 won bill back at me; I throw it back at him. It lands on the lady’s lap beside me. The bus driver goes back to the front of the bus and starts driving again.
The man in the ponytail says, he must have made a mistake. He thinks he remembers you always get off at this bus stop. I reiterate that I live at Kay-Day Dong Moon…. The East Gate of Keimyung University. I DO NOT live in this place, so why would I ever get on or off at this stop?
This is the weirdest thing I have ever heard. How many people in Korea look like me? I have never seen even one person who looks like me, with my white hair. This white-haired bus driver is an anomaly himself. Does he have some animosity toward me because he’s allowed to have white hair but I’m not??? What the hell??? Or maybe, just maybe, he thinks all white people look alike. 🙂
Anyway, he goes on his merry way. The nice Koreans on the bus have gotten over their initial shock and are now bending over picking up all my change from the bus floor. The lady with my 1,000 won bill in her lap hands it back to me and all the people give me back the change they’ve picked up.
We still have some distance to go before my stop. By the time we get there, I go stand at the front to show I need to get off (there are no buzzers on this bus to signal a desire to stop!). I decide not to say anything. When he stops, I say, very politely, Kamsamnida (thank you), and I quietly get off the bus.
Now, every night when I get on the bus at Seongju, I hand the bus driver my ticket and I say, very clearly and loudly, “Daegu.” Just so there is no confusion again. I want him to notice when he takes my ticket that I paid 3,300 won and thus should be able to go anywhere in Daegu. But this week, another odd thing happened. When I handed a totally different bus driver my ticket and said “Daegu,” he looked at me incredulously, scratched his head, and said, DAEGU?? Like he was baffled as to why I would be going to Daegu. All I can think is there really must be another white woman with white hair that gets off at that earlier stop. I’m going to be on the lookout for her. Maybe we can become friends……