About a month ago
On a Saturday morning, a couple coworkers and I take the 45 minute KTX ride to Busan with the intention of lounging on the beach for a couple of days. My skin hasn’t seen much sun this year so I kind of look like a vampire. No, I don’t watch True Blood.
Busan, the second largest city in South Korea, is a two-hour car ride south of Daegu. It’s on the southern tip of the peninsula and it is the fifth largest port in the world. There’s more to do there than in Daegu, like going to the beach, so it doesn’t suck. My first time there, back in April, I went to Shinsegae, the world’s largest department store. Shinsegae makes a typical Macy’s look like a kiosk. There is an ice rink, so I went ice skating, nearly killing several young Korean children (stopping on skates isn’t my thing). We make it to Busan Station go outside and immediately look for a cab. A taxi driver who looks to be in his mid 50’s with leathery skin sees us and recruits us into his car. I notice that his car is all black and that it says ‘Deluxe’ on the side, spurring me to voice my concern to my friends. We reason that it can’t be too much more expensive and hop in.
Normally, a meter will start at 2200 won (close to $2), this particular cab is 4600 won out of the gate. It’s clear we are going to pay more for leather seats. I communicate in piece-meal Korean to the driver that this is expensive. The driver replies in a sandpaper voice that its alright, he says something else that I don’t understand, and then he chuckles. At this point I don’t trust him, I don’t necessarily dislike him, but I don’t trust him. My two coworkers are laid back (one reason they are good company) and they aren’t overly concerned with the price. We decide that if the fare seems out of control early on we will get out and hail a new cab.
About 5 minutes pass when we reach a part of the city littered with oil refineries (I think). There is nothing like a steady whiff of oil. My gaze out the window is interrupted by a quick glance at the meter. It reads 17000 won. We aren’t near Haeundae Beach yet and we aren’t in an area to find another cab. A cab ride from the station to Haeundae is normally 15000 won. While this cab is higher in price because there is a decal on the side that boasts that it is deluxe, I think we also fell victim to the take-advantage-of-the-foreigners-traveling-in-a-new-city scheme that some unscrupulous taxi drivers employ. I become irritated and again mumble that it’s too expensive. Our only option is to bite the bullet, continue, and hope the price isn’t too high. At this moment, I regret settling for the deluxe cab and save the experience into my enormous lesson learned file.
When we finally reach an area where we are able to find a more reasonable cab, the meter has jumped to 25700 won. We decide to get out where we are rather than pay this guy over 30000 won. We all throw in our money and I begrudgingly pay the driver. He pops the trunk and gets out of the car to hand us our bags (which must be part of the deluxe experience). I snatch my bag out of the cab drivers hand and we look at one another for a while. I study his face. He studies mine. His eyes narrow and he mutters something to me as he is getting into the driver’s seat. I notice that my friend forgot to shut the backseat passenger door. The three of us look at each other thinking the same thing: should we shut it? Before we know it the driver pulls off with the backdoor still ajar. We watch frozen with our mouths open. The car moves close to the side of the road. So close that the open door is in danger of hitting a pole, tree, or pedestrian. He doesn’t drive more than 10 feet before the door clips a street light on the edge of the sidewalk, slamming the door shut. The cab screeches to a complete stop. We catch a glimpse of the driver looking around frantically not knowing exactly what happened. The three of us erupt in laughter while we search for another taxi.
We jump into a new cab and two minutes later arrive at the beach.
The highlight of the trip came about an hour later at an Indian restaurant called Namaste. Delicious.