Monday, October 7, 2013

No Sleep For the Wicked

The train station

I haven't posted much recently because my life has been pleasantly boring. Even the advent of October hasn't shaken things up much. Unlike in the U.S., the whole month of October is not a madcap celebration of all things Ooky Spooky, and although the expat community gamely tries to compensate for this lack of holiday spirit, the celebrations haven't gotten rolling yet (which is a pity, seeing as I was ready to start doing Halloween in September).

So boring, yes, but in a nice way. UNTIL THIS FATEFUL CONVERSATION:

[Yesterday, in the train station in Seoul]

Me: "Hey hon, should we get our return tickets now, or just see how things go?"
Linus: "Let's just see how things go."


When we made this blissfully carefree decision to delay the purchase of our train tickets, we didn't know the following:

1) That weekend, Seoul was hosting a fireworks festival.
2) The last train leaves before eleven, not at one a.m. as we had previously assumed.

So around 11:00, when we and our cohort are wearying of sitting on a terrace, sipping drinks, and judging people's outfits, Linus and I decide to get on the train and go back to Jeonju.

"Uh oh," I say intelligently, looking at my phone. "This says the last train left fifteen minutes ago. Anjee, when does the last bus leave?"

"Midnight, I think."

The problem is, Linus and I hate buses--or, to be more accurate, bus drivers, who seem to be universally cranky men with secret death wishes and a predilection for skipping the bathroom stops. "Maybe we should get a hotel," I suggest. "I could use a bath and some TV."

This leads to a solid half-hour of calling every hotel we've ever even heard of in Seoul. All of them are booked, thanks to the aforementioned fireworks festival.

"Well, then, let's take the bus," Linus says.

I cheerfully agree, because at this point I'm still cheerful. It's like an adventure! We're being spontaneous!

When we get in the cab to drive to the bus station, we discover the other side-effect of the fireworks festival: traffic. We arrive at the bus station with thirteen minutes to pee, get tickets, and get on the bus. Of course we go straight to the wrong part of the terminal, and spend those precious minutes wandering around wondering where the hell we are and why we can't see the word "Jeonju" anywhere.

By the time we find the right ticket line, the next bus is at 5:30.

"The next train is also at 5:30," Linus points out. "If we have to wait that long then we might as well take the train and not the bus. So let's go back to the train station, get our tickets, and camp out on the benches there."

I agree, but not cheerfully this time. I am getting tired, and the train station is not my ideal place to catch a nap, as it's much hotter, smaller, and dirtier than the bus station.

Still, the evening doesn't really sour until we arrive at the train station.

"Sorry, we are closed," the man tells us, shooing us out with widespread arms. "Until 5:00."

"What kind of train station closes at night?!" Linus shouts indignantly as soon as we're back in the open air. I am trying hard not to cry. All I can think about is sleep.

So there we are, in the middle of Seoul in the middle of the night, in an area of town where you can't even find a coffee shop to hide in. Luckily, I have a bright thought. I remember that there's a movie theater attached to the train station, and that it frequently shows films as late as one o'clock.

They're all Korean films, with no English subtitles, as the helpful clerk tells us. It hardly matters at that point. We buy caramel corn and a chili dog to console ourselves and huddle into the plush seats of the theater to watch the historical drama.

Of course, despite the bright lights, cranked-up sound system, and idiot behind us kicking our seats, I manage to fall asleep. Linus wakes me up when the movie is over and we wander back out into the dark plaza.

Linus tries to explain the plot of the movie to me. "There's the guy and his brother and the pretty guy, and the madame with all the prostitutes. And there's the bad guy, who kills one of the prostitutes for some reason I can't explain, while they're all swearing allegiance to him. And then later the guy and his brother and the madame drug the bad guy and cut his forehead and draw three tiny dots on it, and then cover it with makeup. So when he visits the king the sun shines on his head and the king sees three dots and freaks out and runs to the library to look up what it means, I guess, and it scares the shit out of him. But then nothing happens to the bad guy!"

"Really? Nothing?"

"No, he's still in power at the end of the movie. But they killed everybody. They divided up the whole room and killed everyone who was on one guy's side and threw the bodies down the steps. But the one old magistrate had balls. I thought the bad guy was actually going to have to fight someone, but in the end one of his henchman got the old magistrate with a spiked club. They used the spiked club quite a lot, actually, in the second half of the movie."

Thanks to the caramel corn and nap, I have regained some of my happy-go-lucky attitude. "At least we're in Seoul in October," I point out, as we skirt a tiny little man, no more than three or four feet tall, who is passed out on the sidewalk. "It's Korea, so I feel safe, and it's still warm at night, so we're comfortable."

With an hour and a half left to go, Linus and I take up residence one of the benches just outside the train station. We're just in time to watch a spectacular fight between a couple, who are taking advantage of the relative solitude and silence to shout profanities at each other.

The problem is, they are doing more than just shout. Linus watches them earnestly as the boy begins to manhandle the girl more and more--grabbing her arm, pushing her down on the bench, and finally, it seems to me, twisting her wrist. At this point Linus gets up and walks briskly over. I see him shaking his fist in the boy's face before he comes back.

"How'd it go?" I ask.

"He seemed pretty shocked," Linus says. "I don't think anyone's ever intervened before."

The two argue in more dulcet tones after that. Before they leave they have clearly made up.

At about a quarter to five, we notice people walking into the station. We follow them and discover quite a crowd. Obviously, and contrary to what the guard told us, the station has been open for some time.

Without further mishaps we buy our tickets and get on the train, which pulls into Jeonju at 7:30. By 8:30 we're in bed. We had gotten up the day before at 9:00.

Yes, that's enough "adventure" for me. I'm pleased to be returning to my regularly scheduled boredom--at least until Halloween!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. It was abit like the Korean version of 'The Out of Towners" but without the danger.

  3. Ouch! Really sorry we called you so early yesterday!