In a city where pallee pallee (빨리빨리, or “hurry up!”) is an essential survival catchphrase that drives the culture, one can imagine that it might not be so easy to interact with our fellow Seoulites for more than a few minutes each day. Add that with the booming local mobile and IT industry that keeps our attentions glued to our hand-held devices, and it’s no surprise we rarely find ourselves completely engaged with the people and the places surrounding us. Mobility, both in the physical timeliness and the technological usage, has certainly come in handy, but on a personal level, it has made it just too easy to miss out on the simple, inspirational, and sometimes just random, moments of life. Surprisingly though, we’ve found that these moments can sometimes be found in the most unlikeliest place. A place that actually embodies the hustle of Seoul life; in the backseat—or, if you dare, the passenger seat—of a Seoul city taxi.
“I’ve just been through a terrible breakup, so I told a taxi driver and he was like a therapist. He gave me wonderful advice and taught me some swear words to say if my ex ever called again.”
When sitting inside the taxi , we think about how much work we have, how busy our schedule look or how annoying slow the traffic is moving. We are so engrossed in ourselves that we neglect the person in the driver’s seat taking us to our destination. But then there are the brave, the curious and perhaps just the bored, who take the time to engage in conversations with the drivers. Granted, most people have encountered as many disturbing cab experiences as heart-warming ones, but whatever the case, it almost always adds an unexpected touch of humanity in our lives.
We asked people about their most memorable taxicab experiences, and here are their stories.
Every morning at 5:10 am, I hop into a cab to go to work. Usually it’s way too early for conversation but sometimes I get a couple of talkers. On a wintry morning, a taxi driver asked me if I had any ideas on how to monetize on the snow. “Plowing,” I replied without a second thought. But that wasn’t the kind of answer he was looking for. He told me that snow has a calming and merry-making effect on people. People slow down. They’ll wait an extra minute. They will fight less. Accept less. He said if he could find a way to “bottle” and share that kind of sentiment, he could become a millionaire. I sat in the backseat, silenced and touched by his words. He then proceeded dismiss his thoughts, and apologized for speaking nonsense so early in the morning. But I thanked him for his words and I felt blessed by his candor. You don’t see enough of that, especially in Seoul’s unforgiving traffic.
– Eliza, Journalist
I’ve just been through a terrible breakup. After a year and a half, my Korean boyfriend decided he didn’t want to marry me anymore. So I told a taxi driver and he was like a therapist. He gave me wonderful advice and taught me some swear words to say if my ex ever called again.
– Anonymous, TV personality
The Driver’s Education
One evening, I was in a taxi coming home from work. The 88 Olympic Highway was congested with the usual overflow of rush hour traffic. Yet, the tedious drive didn’t seem to bother the driver. He had been rambling on about this and that throughout the ride. As we neared my neighborhood, I started giving directions to the driver. The driver then asked me if I knew how to drive. “Would you like for me to give you some tips on safe driving? No one can teach you how to drive better than a taxi driver!” The driver told me to imagine that I was driving five cars. One in the front, one in the back, one on each side, and of course, my actual car. In one sentence, the driver was teaching me to broaden my view when driving and also to leave the cushion area open around the car. This was no new lesson, but no other time had this been explained to me so practically. I marveled at the driver’s wit! The driver even taught me how to pedal the brake a little at a time. By the time the taxi arrived in front of my house, I really felt I could up my driving skills now, and felt thankful for the short and easy lesson.
– Jeeyoung, Marketing Professional
If Cruelty Had an Occupation…
I had busted my foot and was on crutches. After a doctor’s visit, I hobbled across the street to get into a cab. I asked the cabbie to go to the San Woolim Theatre. Everyone knows it, it’s a landmark. I said it a couple times, but he couldn’t understand me. Granted, I don’t speak Korean very well, but he mumbled gibberish at me (literally, gibberish—mocking my Korean), then kicked me out of the cab. In my crutches.
– Alexander, Designer
The Strangest Driver in Seoul
Just last week, I met the strangest cabbie and quite possibly the strangest man in Seoul. I hailed a cab at Garosugil, heading towards Gangnam Station. Almost as soon as I got into the car, the driver, who was in his late-30’s, asked me if he could ask me for advice. I complied. He then proceeded to ask me, oh-so-nonchalantly: “Is it so wrong for a man to hit a woman, even if she wronged him?” Horrified, I told him that under no circumstances was it acceptable to use physical violence against anyone, especially women. He then spent the next five minutes unfolding the drama that is apparently his love life. Where do I start? Firstly, he’s only been driving a cab for four months. Before his business went bankrupt, he was somewhat seeing this “celebrity” (who still doesn’t know about his new job). One night, he caught the woman arriving home, coming out of another man’s black sedan late at night after ignoring his calls and messages. He told me that he ignored it and later they went to a hotel together where he confronted her and slapped her, causing her to run into the wall and get 12 stitches on her forehead. He then said something that made me want to roll out of a moving vehicle: “I was so upset that I literally wanted to fill up the tub and drown her right then and there!” As disturbed as I was, I told him that I was a writer always looking for stories and he seemed to have many good ones. He turned around, looked at me and said, “you have no idea” in a way that sent chills up my spine. I had arrived at my destination by then and I scrambled out and didn’t look back!
– Eugene, Writer
The English Student
I once got into a cab and was surprised to hear English coming from the front speakers. When I asked about it, the driver said that he had his radio tuned into an English station all time. He said that he had always wanted to learn English, but didn’t have the time or the money. So for the third year on the job, he kept the radio in the background, and now he felt like he could hear some of it now. As an English teacher, I told the driver that what he is doing is really encouraging. The driver then asked me to tell my students that a 50-year-old taxi driver warned that a time will come when studying and learning will not come as easily as it used to. His greatest piece of advice? “Take advantage of your youth, don’t waste it.”
– Kevin, English Instructor