Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hitchhiking with a safety net

First I need to make a hitchhiking sign. It has to be big, it must be appealing, it must impress. I need to hitchhike a plane, I was lucky a first (Jeju) and second (Japan) time, I might not get the third.
That's the rational me speaking. The adventurous me says: fuck that, let's hitchhike private jets and helicopters!
One day I was drunk with Jamie and Leah. I ended up coming back with a korean flag and a giant paper box. The paper box is big enough for me to standin it.
With big black characters I write: Please support my dream, buy me a ticket because that's what will most likely happen.
My hitchhiking sign, drawing courtesy of Lindsey

When I think about it, it is never the companies who have helped me, they always got stuck in some kind of administrative nonsense. They have always followed the rules with surgical precision. And the rules say: don't give free tickets to people.

It is always the people who have made the exception, smaller and less wealthy than the company but more humane. As a principle I always try the companies first however before moving to the individuals. Then I check, if only superficially if the person has the means to help me. Because unfortunately it is people with the smallest wallets who have the biggest hearts.

I have a problem however; my tabler is almost out of battery and the charger is dead for good. It has had a slow agony which started in Naryn, in Kyrgyzstan and I fear that no electricity flowing through it no matter what I do. For the last weeks I have dismanteled the cable and reconnected it at various places. It did work for some time.

You would think that it's fairly easy to buy a data cable for an Asus tablet. Then you have never been to Korea. There is no such thing on whole Jeju island, I checked whatever I could. People stared at my transformer tablet as it was a piece of whichcraft.
"Noooo!", they signaled me to go away as if my tablet had the power to contaminate their samsung phone. Unless you have either Samsung, LG or i-Crap, you are basically dead in the water.
I can understand for Samsung and LG but why do they have so many iPhone chargers? It's their main competition.

With less than 15% of my primary battery left and the secondary one depleted, I don't use the map very often. So I don't find the helicopters, I go to the private jets. However first, I say hello to my adoptive family.

I hitchhike there, one of my memorable rides in Seojin, korean girl alone in a car which looked more soviet than korean. She spoke great english, she was interesting and joyful and drove me way out of her way.
I didn't want to fold my giant sign so it acted as a sail in the heavy wind which was blowing me away.

I arrived at the restaurant of my adoptive family where I was greeted with warmth and kindness. 
They were all overly moved to see me, no idea why so much emotion. I had a great lunch and I was off to go.
"To go where?"
"Hitchhiking private jets."
"Private jets?" my adoptive jeju mother gave me a concerned look. "There will be no such things."
"But how am I supposed to get out of this island?"
"You take that money. No hitchhiking!"
"I don't want money!"
She started to get really angry at me: Take! It is not a good practice to argue with the elderly in Korea.
Anyway, I can do whatever I want, if I want to hitchhike, I'll hitchhike. But my adoptive family walks me to a bus stop.
"There will be no more hitchhiking."

They put me on a bus which goes to Jeju-si. At my destination waits Mr. Han, a Vietnam war veteran and my adoptive mother's husband. He is supposed to take me home and make sure that I behave in a proper manner and don't take any reckless risks.
However I miss my stop and meet a nice girl who is about to perform a show of traditional korean dance and drums in the arts center of Jeju city.
I get an invitation for the spectacle, free of charge, because you are special, so she says. She seems to be the lead of the show so nobody contradicts her, not even the organiser who throws me a weird look.

I meet Mr. Han an hour later than planned and he takes me home. He lives in an appartment on the fourth floor just a few steps from the beach. I can almost feel the sea from his window. I get the guest room with my own bathroom.
The beach is just out of the window
I take Mr. Han to the show; he is delighted and slightly taken aback that it is a foreigner who takes him to a traditional korean event.
"I wish you were my son," he says in a bitter tone which makes me feel kind of weird. Plus, I don't think he could possibly stand me as a child.
He seemed to be a bit dissapointed by his children.

My newfound friend performing
The show is quite strange and kind of fun. We end up dancing all together a strange type of farandole. Mr Han and me agree on a compromise. He will buy me a ticket, however I have one hour to hitchhike a boat.
"I don't believe you can do it," says Mr. Han, "but if you succeed then I stop eating for a week."
I stress to Mr. Han that he should be careful with these type of remarks because there is quite a big chance of success. But nothing seems to shake Mr. Han's conviction.
"You can try but I think maybe it's impossible"
The next day I hitchhike to Hallim Park to which I enter climbing over the fence only to discover that the entry is actually free. However I return home too late to catch the ship to Busan.
In korea, places where it is good to take a picture are labeled as such.
Here, however, the uniformity is at its paroxism: not only the picture spot is suggested but also the position of the people. Individuality died here.

The next day, Mr. Han gives me half of his food for the week just in case I died on hunger on the ferry and drive me to the ferry terminal.
There is nobody there because we are at the wrong terminal but we didn't know it. Seeing no one to show the sign to, even the counters were empty, I go to the company's office.
I explain my situation to the people there and when I attempt to prove my story by showing them the map on my dirty cardboard which has now been through half of Jeju, the lady just says:
"Passport please"
 And they print me a free ticket. Simple. No bullshit about having to contact a supervisor who must, in turn contact his superviser and so on all the way until they reach god.
I guess some companies are more flexible than others, I guess I was wrong humanity is everywhere, even in companies sometimes.
The company even drives me to the correct passenger terminal and Mr. Han follows in his car.
Mr. Han can't believe it, he finds it cool that I hitched the boat and gives me goodbye dinner.

The ride is quite pleasent though windy. Jeju island slowly dissapears in the white mist, courtesy of Shanghai pollution.
About halfway we pass a series of small island which looks like mountains in the water, in the middle of nowhere. Really nice.

The ferry takes about four hours and docks at the harbour of Mokpo.

There, Mr Han dispathed his cousin to wait for me and take me home since it is already quite late.