Sunday, February 9, 2014

I didn't really believe I would make it to Jeju island

I am standing on the gas station at the highway exiting Seoul and night is starting to fall. Hitchhiking in Korea seems as weird as the first hitchhiking ever. Should I really do this? Should I stop this game at some point and just pay for a train like everyone else? Nobody's interested in my little game anyway.
"God bless you," says the gas station guy, admires my courage and gives me a chocolate. It doesn't take much in all-by-the-rules-korea to be a hero or at least an original person.

For a long time, nobody stops and I am feeling more ridiculous by the minute. I get a lift by a bus who is going to Daejon from a mountain hike.
I quickly explain to them that I don't have money but Koreans are not after gain, they just want to help and most of all, are curious.
Koreans are smart. Instead of bombarding me with questions and passing along the answers like anywhere else; here they give me the microphone.
I don't have to say much, I get a round of applause as soon as I say anyengnasayo (hello).
I also get presents, a bag of something that looks edible so I start to eat it before realizing that it is actually tea.

The trip coordinator's name is Guangsapyong, he is here with his son and he has taken a weird kind of interest in me. He serves me soju, some alcohol they drink just to get drunk and he gives me the bottle to serve everyone else in the bus. So I'm distributing soju and mandarines. He gives the mandarines to me and I give it to them. Appearently the gesture that I give mandarines to people is important.

He also tells me to serve soju to his son who is no more than 10 years old and obviously doesn't like the drink. I refuse repeatadly; this is somewhat wrong. He serves the alcohol to him anyway but at least I have no part in it.

Guangsapyong takes me home and that is very fine with me. It's not really warm outside and I am not in a mood to find a place to sleep even though it shouldn't be too difficult.
I get dinner at his mother's place and also a giant bottle of something which later turns out to be a very expensive ginseng soju with the root still inside the bottle.
I also get invited to the jinjabang, korean sauna. I'm not thrilled since I have to be naked in front of everyone but I accept, at least I get a bath and it is kind of relaxing. What is shoking though, there are children in there. This is fucked up, they censor porn in korea and they allow children in their saunas, this is just wrong.

In the morning after breakfast, Guangsapyong buys me... a plant in a flower shop. What should I do with a plant?
He drives me to a toll station outside of Daejon with a woman who is supposed to be one of his girlfriends but who obviously has the hots for me and keeps flirting with me. She is old enough to be my mother but hot enough to be my college classmate partly because of Korean world famous plastic surgery. Eventually, japanese sex robots will take over high-maintainance and physically faded western girls in the dating business but korean girls will definitly overpower japanese sex robots. With the help of plastic surgery, they can look as sexy as their fantasized android counterpart while staying almost 100% organic. Ok, maybe 95% but that's still very far from Darth Vader and quite allright by my standarts so may the force be with South Korea and its surgeons.
Sorry about that sexist remark, please take it with humour, it just came like this in my writing.

Hitchhiking to Daegu

I am picked up by Mister Han, a Daejon businessman and CEO of a company that makes god knows what for cars. He is going to Daegu which is my destination for today. He assures me that "I speak no english" but turns out that while his grammar is pretty bad, his vocabulary is good enough to have a conversation. From now on, I won't believe a word from Koreans when they tell me that they don't speak english. They do, they are just shy about it!
Mister Han was a professional soccer player and Taekwondo master (I can't imagine how a single person can manage to do both and he was now running a quite successful business. As advertized by hitchwiki, we quite often stop at service areas and he takes me to lunch.
"Tomorrow, I go Busan. Go together?"
I gladly accept. It saves me the time of walking out of daegu, writing a sign for Busan and a whole lot of uncertainty.

View of Daegu
Daegu is not as ugly as advertised. It has a lot of mountains and a really nice park which I walk through while waiting for Tammy, my couchsurfing host to get back from work. Tammy is wonderful, she is Korean-American and she can cook these wonderful peanut-butter-chocolate candies which are just one of the most tasty things I've eaten in the last months. She has a dog who is insane. It is written on her couchsurfing profile: "my dog is insane" but it's one of those things that people don't take literaly. They should. However he is a sweet playful little animal.
My mind is still troubled with thoughts of Jeju island. I have my hitchhiking sign from the art studio saying Jeju. Tammy makes me a complementary sign.
It basically says: "buy me an airplane ticket" in three different levels of Korean politeness.
The first one, hand in hand with hipocrisy would translate to something like this:
If you, by some coincindence don't already carry a spare airplane ticket, could you maybe buy me one?
Why would anyone carry an airplane ticket linked to my passport number I do not know but it is important to insert an excuse for the sake of indirectness.
The second one reads simply Please can you buy me a ticket? and the last one, probably rude for Korean standarts simply reads: buy me a ticket.
I am to use one of these three in addition to my main Jeju sign depending on my frustration mood and those of the people present.

In the morning, Tammy drives me off to the subway station with a box of peanut butter candies and I am just regretting to leave Daegu this early.
But I've promised Mister Han so I go. And as a general rule, I try to seize the oppurtunity when one presents itself in an overall philosophy of saying yes to life and it has worked well in the past.

And so I arrived to Busan where I'll be spending much of my time in the following days visiting and searching for a ways to reach Japan. I have still havent shaken this idea of visiting Jeju island. Hitching one boat is difficult enough, no need to trouble myself with reaching an island which is further than Japan not to mention that I'd have to return to the mainland after that.
But the best way to get rid of crazy ideas is to try them out and see them fail.
I start my errands by asking air companies for tickets. Jeju air does talk to me but I don't get the ticket. For air Busan I try a different approach. I go straight to the pilots quarters. The doors are locked but I jump at the opportunity when one pilots goes out using his magnetic card.
Pilots are very kind, offer me coffee and candies and congratulating me on getting passed the security.
I am becoming quite fluent at infiltrating all kinds of airline offices these days.
They get me the manager of the passenger department. As soon as I explain my story to him his jaw drops and he just says: "wait, I'll get my manager".
I get Kim, a youg bright man who seems to be the highest rank that I'll find in Busan airport. He cannot make a decision as well but he says that he'll help me, he'll bring my case to his boss who might not too far from the CEO of Air Busan actually.
This is going relativly well; however, I don't intend to return to this airport another time unless it it's to board a plane so I want to try all my options today.

So here I am holding my Jeju sign and Tammy's korean message in front of the ticket office of Jeju Air. I opted for the middle polite: please can you buy me a ticket? The one about people by coincidence carrying my airplane ticket is just too much bullshit for me regardless how polite it may sound. Very quickly, curious people start staring at me and more than ever, I wonder what the hell am I doing here. I am in Korea because of one miraculous ferry, why do I bother my head with hitchhiking planes, I should just get back to Busan and enjoy the city, it's supposed to be quite nice.

"I'll buy a ticket for you." says a man in a dark suit. He tells me this in a casual voice, almost bored out of his mind.
"Yeah! Passport please?"
The crowd accumulated around me and my hitchhiking equipment cheers and bursts into applause. I am going to Jeju island! Damn, that was unexpected. I really did want to visit Busan and now that is spoiled. Well, next time.
At that time, little does this man know that my travel didn't originate in Busan but somewhere 20,000 kilometers ago. And little do I know that this man isn't just any man. Or he is any man since we are all any men and women. But he is also a korean businessman and nation-wide celebrity as I was later told by many Koreans to whom I have shown this picture.
"I'll buy you that ticket," says the man
From there, it all goes very fast. I throw my stuff into my bag, things like pepper spray or knife that won't really get passed the security checks. I run to the gates where I am greeted by the fellow passengers and the Air Busan manager. I get some strange food, looks like dried little octopusses, looks like they eat strange stuff in Jeju.

The plane goes off and I have a strange feeling that it is really possible to get everywhere. The ferry from China was no coincidence, it is possible! People really are kind, theyr really do help. And I can get Japan, I will get to Japan! When I tell people that I am travelling to prove to the world that it's possible to travel for free I forget to tell that I am proving it first and foremost, to myself.
Flying over Jeju island

Landing this wonderfule hitch
 Jeju island looks nice and it is genuinly warm, I can actually camp there without so much trouble, in much better conditions than anywhere in China. Not long after I arrive at the airport I get a call from le mouv, that french radio which is following my trip from time to time. Had I not had this hitch I would be sleeping on some crowded airport depressed from the struggle with the airport administration.
But now I'm here, temperatures are easy and I can rest and wait for the summer.
Jeju island, panorama