Sunday, May 2, 2010

An Unsung Hero

The other day in Korean class, we had an activity where we were supposed to describe the person we respected most. My other classmates, all good filial sons and daughters of China, almost invariably chose either "mom" or "dad." The only exceptions were a couple who went with a grandparent. I, with no hesitation at all, said "bus drivers."

It's not that I have anything against my parents. But out of everyone in the whole world, I've always thought of bus drivers as the one group of people who do a job I could never do myself, even if I trained for 50 years. They must have amazing powers of concentration, to keep circling around the same route over and over again, never getting distracted or missing a stop or overlooking a person running to jump on. And maneuvering that massive vehicle around the chaotic streets of Seoul without ever so much as scraping a fender, when disrespectful drivers are constantly maneuvering in and out of the bus lane and motorcycle couriers are trying to cut in front, is a feat worthy of a medal in my opinion. Plus they have to be patient with little old grannies who step in the doorway and ask which bus will take them to such-and-such, even when they're running late and it's rush hour.

I take two buses to get to school every morning. First the 162 city bus, which takes me from my neighborhood to a stop near my school, and then a school shuttle which takes me up the long, steep hill leading to campus. Both buses are absolutely jam-packed with people before 9 am, and sometimes the driver has to holler at everyone to squeeze further in so that he (it's always a man) can shut the door.

To pass the time, I've gotten in the habit of assigning nicknames to each of the school shuttle bus drivers. There's Spike, who has a spiky crewcut, Chewbacca, who's always chewing gum, Michael Jackson, who only wears one glove, and Amadeus, who teases his bangs into an artistic swirl.

For the city buses I pay by swiping my city transit card when I get on and off. It usually costs 900 won (about 85 cents) unless I ride a really long time. The school shuttle bus takes little yellow tickets that I have to buy periodically, 250 won each. Compared to Kyoto buses, which cost 220 yen (about $2.50) no matter how far you go, it's a steal.

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