Who needs a car?

Lebogang Mogashoa
Lebogang Mogashoa
I was on the bus the other day when the driver stopped at the red traffic lights and lit a cigarette. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen it happen but it still galled me.

“Who the hell does he think he is? What are we supposed to do, twiddle our thumbs until he decides he’s had enough nicotine for the rest of the trip?” I thought. Like a professional, he was back in the driving seat seconds before the lights turned green. He’d obviously done that sort of thing before.

That he brought with him a suffocating plume of smoke didn’t seem to matter to him or the other passengers. “What is this?” I thought. “The high school boys’ bathroom?” I hated that I didn’t know the proper Korean and courage to express my indignation.  

Four weeks ago I needed to renew my alien registration card. On my way back from the immigration office, feeling like I’d been through the washing cycle twice, I took what had proven (the day before on a failed renewal mission) to be a one way bus back to my neighbourhood. An hour into the ride, the driver stopped the vehicle and yelled at me.

I gathered from the tone of his voice, a few easily understood words and his hand movements that I needed to get off the bus. There was no one to explain the perplexing turn of events, so, I pouted and did what I was asked.

Then what happened

Outside, in the middle of nowhere, probably home to wild animals lurking behind the tall dry grass, I wondered where I’d gone wrong as a human being and a regular bus passenger. A quarter of an hour later, another bus approached. It was the same number as its predecessor but it followed the expected path and the earlier event remained a mystery.
I’ve ended up in exactly the opposite of the place I needed to visit because the two areas essentially had the same name and I’d intoned improperly. I have seen people choose to stay on their feet for more than an hour instead of sitting next to a foreigner on the bus. The list goes on.
But with all my little gripes and misunderstandings, I sometimes think I insist on staying here for the public transportation. South Korea has hands down the better transport system compared to South Africa.

There’s a sense that the government actually cares about convenient citizen movement. Even if it might just be to cart them from one spending play-house to the other. People are not left to their own devices like millions of South Africans are.

Public transport easier than cars

You wouldn’t know it with the chicken entrails of traffic into Seoul on weekends but Koreans ultimately don’t need cars. Some families maybe, but the few times I went to Seoul in a friend’s car, the normally forty-minute trip (by bus or subway) took a total of three hours. The whole thing was an argument against car ownership. I just need to travel with a family of four to complete my hypothesis.

In Korea you can wake up on a Saturday morning and decide to take a three hour trip to a different region without having to think too much about the logistics. There’s no need to plan ahead or book one of only two daily Greyhounds from one province to another.

It’s thrilling, especially for someone like me, the kind of weirdo who would rather ride a bicycle than drive a car. That I am actually afraid of driving is beside the point.

It’s not that I like to brag about things that don’t belong to me; my eyes have been opened to the possibilities. Someone from our transport department needs to sell their BMW (or whatever the latest luxury symbol car is) and spend a few months in Korea to see how convenient things could be.

- Read Lebogang's blog Ramen Ranch.

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