Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Geoje Island and a Day of Public Transit Fails

A butterfly! (나비) I can't even remember the last time I've seen a butterfly this close. Well, there are dead butterflies in a display case by the biology department at school...
Last weekend, I took a trip down south to Geoje Island (거제도). It's Korea's third largest island, but it's not actually very far from the mainland, being easily accessible by a couple long bridges. Geoje City, which is coextensive with the main island plus a few smaller ones surrounding it, has a population of about a quarter million and relies a lot on tourism (thanks to gorgeous natural scenery) and shipbuilding (because of its seaside location).

Several of my students are from Geoje, and I guess that fact duped me into thinking that it wasn't so far away from Changwon. Well, if you're driving and you can cross the new bridge that connects from Busan, it takes about an hour. But when I traveled to the island last weekend... well, let's just say I severely overestimated the power of public transportation. Several times. Story time!

On Saturday afternoon, I rode the city bus for an hour to get from Changwon to the southern bus terminal in Masan, which had the most frequent buses going to Geoje. I actually missed the stop, and the bus driver kicked me off the bus when he reached the end of the line. Fortunately, I only had to walk back for about five minutes. I got a ticket for Geoje (about 13,000KRW) and got comfortable for a two-hour bus ride. When I arrived at the Gohyun (고현) Bus Terminal, one of several on the island, it was about 4:30pm. From here, I had to figure out how to get to the vacation house (called a "pension/펜션" in Konglish) my friends were staying at.

This pension happened to be down at the southern end of the island, while Gohyun was in the north. According to my phone's map application, I could either take a city bus that went around the entire perimeter of the island, totaling two hours, or I could take three buses (transfering twice) that cut through the middle of it, for ninety minutes. Foolishly, I opted for the latter. I've been spoiled by my city's well-run bus system, and I can only say that Geoje's buses are not nearly as reliable. Backpack on my shoulders and a birthday cake I bought for my friend in hand, I hopped on my first bus of many.

Checking my phone's navigation on the bus, I was instructed to get off in the middle of nowhere for my first transfer... I found myself at a bus stop that consisted of a sign by the road. It didn't even have a bench, and instead of a schedule of bus arrival times or destinations, it had a phone number that you could call. After waiting for about fifteen minutes, I tried the number, and a robot told me a bus would arrive in three minutes. But it wasn't the bus I was supposed to take. Also, it didn't come in three minutes. It arrived after another fifteen minutes, and by that point I was wondering if perhaps the city buses ran on a different schedule on weekends. Since it was the only bus I'd seen for the past half an hour, and since my cell phone battery was getting dangerously low, I took my chances and got on.

Knowing, of course, that it wasn't the right bus, I asked the driver how I could get to Hammok (함목), which was my final destination. He told me to get off at Dongbu (동부) and take another bus from there. Dongbu was on the west side of the island; I was being forced into a detour that ended up amounting to more time than if I had just taken the 2-hour island-circumnavigating bus. Anyway, I got off at Dongbu -- it was about 5:45 -- and was soon confused again because I couldn't find the bus stop. A nice lady who ran the local convenience store explained that her store was essentially the bus stop; a printout of bus times had been posted on the window. She was kind enough to explain when the next bus would arrive (6:25pm), but didn't let me recharge my phone when I asked. I was forced to shut it off to save my battery from going completely dry.

After waiting for longer than I could patiently bear, a bus finally came! I hopped on, asked the driver if he was going to Hammok, and got a jumbled reply that I couldn't exactly decipher until after I'd found a seat. I purposely sat down next to a map that showed the bus routes and realized that the one I'd boarded wasn't going to stop at Hammok. It would, however, go to the two stops before and after Hammok. I realized that the bus driver had told me to get off one stop before Hammok, at Hakdong (학동). So after another half hour on the bus, winding through pretty hills at dusk, I hopped off at Hakdong, watched the bus drive away, and realized that I was definitely not in the right place.

It occured to me, after having closely studied the map and geography of the island during my desperate phone use on the first bus, that where I was currently standing in relation to the sea didn't put me as close to Hammok as I'd thought. I asked the first people I saw, a couple, how close I was to Hammok. The lady shook her head and said that it would take at least half an hour walking. The man suggested I take a taxi. I gritted my teeth and said that I'd try walking. The lady said that perhaps if another bus came by as I walked, I could easily flag it down and hop on.

So I started walking on the road. And it was a real road, meant only for cars, no sidewalk or pedestrian path of any sort. Tons of cars passed me, as well as a few trucks and taxis... but not a single bus! So I kept walking, and walking, and walking... I came upon a roadside rest stop after twenty minutes. The woman looked at me like I was crazy when I asked her how much farther Hammok was, and then replied another fifteen minutes. I continued walking, and I briefly considered trying to hitchhike the rest of the way, but I figured that nobody would be familiar with the concept; maybe they'd just think I was giving them the thumbs-up (and a tired, peeved, pouty face to go with it). I wondered if I could trade a slice of birthday cake for a ride... and I kept walking. I walked for 4.5 kilometers. (I know because I checked on that freaking map app later.)

At 7:30pm, I finally reached Hammok and its very cute cluster of guesthouses and pensions right by the shore. I knew it was the right place because a peninsula of the island jutted out into the sea... and I also caught sight of the windmill on Windy Hill. Miraculously, when I turned on my phone, it was still at 2% battery life, so I called my friends and met up with them in time for a barbecue dinner. I was exhausted and extremely hungry, but my joy at finally meeting up with my friends made up for all of it. We ate, drank, and were merry, and also ate the birthday cake and made it a night almost worth a ridiculous day.

Of course, I was still really annoyed about my experience that day. I'm a big fan of public transportation and I always give it a chance in any city I'm visiting. But Geoje's buses completely failed me. I think even if I hadn't made any dumb foreigner mistakes, it would have taken me far too long to get to where I wanted to go.

Needless to say, for the rest of the weekend, my friends and I took taxis to every sightseeing spot on our itinerary.
The view of the pebble beach and the ocean from our pension!
Okay, so I know this post was boring. But I just needed to get it all out. Again. I already ranted about this in Korean on lang-8. More fun in the next post, I promise: Windy Hill and Camellia Island!

- - -
realize = 알아차리다.
거제도의 대중교통이 엉망이 되는걸 알아차렸다. I realized that Geoje's public transportation system is a mess.
overestimate = 과대평가하다.
그의 실력을 과대평가하지마라. Don't overestimate his abilities!
allow = 허락하다.
마트주인은 제 휴대폰 충전을 허락하시지 않았다. The shopowner didn't allow me to charge my phone.
at last = 마침내, 드디어.
마침내 펜션에 도착했다! I finally arrived at the pension!
indicate in writing = 적히다 (write down = 적다).
여기에는 버스시간표가 적혀있지 않다. The bus schedule isn't indicated here.

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