Hitchin' a Ride

Cheju-do, South Korea, 1997.

I left my temporary 호떡 haven and made my way afoot for the bus terminal. I stopped to rest in front of the Post Office, near a famous landmark building in the heart of town. I must’ve looked lost and lonely. A kind foreigner came up and sat next to me and asked if she could help me with anything. I said no and we got to talking. She was a Canadian who was teaching English in Shin-Cheju. She quite liked it. I told her I taught English some 10 years before in Busan and was back to have another look around. I told her I was using my Lonely Planet as a guide and I planned to head east, circle the island clockwise, and see as many hot spots as possible. She wished me luck and we parted never to see one another again.

I grabbed a bus and headed for 성산일출봉—a volcanic crater on the eastern tip. It is famous and nearly every visitor to the island gets a look at it at least once. I must’ve missed a memo somewhere along the way because the bus dropped me off quite a long walking distance from the crater parking lot itself. Feeling like a silly foreigner I started hoofing it toward the crater. Before long a Korean man in a van pulled up alongside. The van carried the name of a church in Cheju City and the lone figure driving it asked me in poor English if I wanted a ride. I rode.

It didn’t take long to see that he didn’t have much English but I wasn’t ready to play my trump card yet and so I stuck to English. This bad habit of mine really drove JT crazy when we were together in Seoul. He couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t use the “great gift” that I had. Anyway, I always leave it to the Korean to dictate the language we use to converse. It seems like more often than not they want to use English even if it doesn’t really work. Then I would only turn to Korean out of necessity. I stuck to English with this guy, and as a bonus, it helped keep the dialog to a minimum.

We parked at성산일출봉 parking lot and I walked back to get the following establishing shot of the crater.
If you look closely at the van with the back door up, you can see my driver setting up a table and some other stuff. I had no idea what he was doing, but when I got back to the van, he had a travel cooking stove burning and he was boiling water. As people passed he called out asking if they wanted a hot bowl of Ramen noodles or a cup of instant coffee. He was trying to charge 5,000 Won for the Ramen and 1,000 for the coffee. I thought the whole thing very odd so I grabbed my backpack and headed for the path up the crater. I hoped he would be gone by the time I returned.
When I descended from the top, he had a hot bowl of ramen ready for me. I ate it. I did not give him 5K Won for it. As I ate, he put the burner and the table back in the van and readied to roll. He said he was happy to keep driving me to other popular tourist destinations on the island. Me, not wanting to see the gift horse’s teeth, I accepted…

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