Riding in a taxi in Korea, moving roughly at the speed of sound — on bumpy, curvy, and winding roads — is an exercise in trust.
We trust our taxi drivers to navigate the city streets and traffic like master Frogger enthusiasts, and they trust us not to throw up on their pristine leather interiors.
Here’s a tip: always ride with family, or people you really like, (and who smell good if at all possible), because you are going to bump knees, elbows, hips and shoulders for certain. It’s also probable one of you will wind up in the other’s lap. If you choose your cab crew wisely this will make you laugh hysterically. If not, well. Goodluck with that.
Korean taxis are cozy little entertainment centers: meter, GPS, radio, CD player, and television all included. Drivers don’t always watch soap operas while schlepping for fares. But even I recognize and know the names of three different characters, one of whom is particularly adept at both dramatic screaming matches and crying at will. Just sayin’. That’s a lot of tv watching while one should be entirely focused on the task at hand; namely, keeping people from going through the windshield.
Strangely, it is way funnier than it is scary. I mean really. What am I going to do about the fact that I’m terrified? Start yelling? Yelling what, exactly? I am literally speaking a foreign language.
The only Korean words I know, off the top of my head, are the words that say Thank you! Delicious! Hello! Goodbye! How much? It’s beautiful. Bring me water. Bring me coffee. And by the way, the word for coffee is practically identical to the word for nosebleed. And no one wants a nosebleed brought to them, least of all by a cabbie watching “As the World Turns.”
None of these common Korean phrases will come in handy in a taxi, when one is nauseous from city fumes and happy brake feet.
Sometimes, a cab driver will take interest in me; wanting to know where I’m from, how long I’ve been in Korea, where I work, etc.. Recently, alone in a cab I had the following conversation. True story.
Him: Where from?
Him: Oh! Dom Dom Da Dom. Dom Da Dom Dom! (This is the Wedding March, but he thought it was The Star Spangled Banner.)
Me: Yes, America!
Him: Oh! Clinton. Good. Yes.
Me: Yes, President Clinton was a good president.
Him: Obama. Fine. Good. Good stuff.
Me: With a thumbs up: Yes, Obama is a good president.
Him: Oh. Bushy. Not good. Harumph! Not good. Two thumbs down. Bushy bad. Bad guy.
Me: I love taxi drivers. I insist you give me your personal cabbie card.
I will say this for the cabbies. They get my arse where I need to go. It’s like magic. One minute I’m spitting out broken Korean direction words (Here. There. By Novatel Hotel. Downtown? You know?) and the next I’m arriving at my destination, hair blown back from the speed of the ride, stomach swirling from…well, you know, and fully caught up on my favorite soap. It’s like my own personal roller coaster. And it beats driving – any day.