The Best Cabbie Ever

Coming home this evening, I was crammed into a subway car so tightly that, seriously, I could not move without pushing someone over. It was horrible. This is life in Seoul.

Sometimes, it makes me think back to the days of taking cabs and cycling back in Jeonju. Man, there were some interesting cabbies back then. Much better than the Lebanese cabbie I had the one and only time I remember taking a cab in Montreal… he was unstable, and his girlfriend was eating stinky food in the car — which was all but killing my drunk/food-poisoned friend beside me– and they were talking about how fun it had been during their first meeting, when the guy rear-ended a city bus on purposes.

You do meet some insane cabbies in Korea, of course. Some of them were just funny people, some so odd as to be alarming — “Vietnam, you know? Me, I go Vietnam! It fun! I go! Kill! Fun!” he hollered, and then, hands off the wheel, he simulated the rat-tat-tat of blasting fire from mounted machine gun at the front of the Kyobo Department Store — and some were plain scary, like the guy who drove faster than I’ve ever gone in a car in my life. (And got me to a concert on time, but… I was shaking slightly from shock for a good half hour after the experience.)

But the coolest cabbie ever was this little old lady, I swear at least 60 years old. I got into her cab one afternoon, I can’t remember why or where I was going. Now, I’d seen female cabbies before, but, in my experience, they aren’t very common in Korea. The lady cabbies you meet, here, they’re these hardnosed, somehow very compressed people, which is understandable. But this lady, she was different.

She started chatting with me in English so good that any of my students back in Jeonju would have cut off a toe, hell, maybe even a foot to speak as well as her. She said she’d learned English in school, by which, she clarified, she meant high school, some forty years before. (I kind of doubt that was the whole story, but whatever.) She said retirement had bored her, and that despite her kids worrying, she wanted to work, to do something with her time. So she drove a cab. She asked me how much money I made as a professor, and I told her that the position I had in Jeonju was the work of a professor, but I wasn’t paid like one, and then, avoided clarification by asking her how much a cabbie usually makes.

Up until then, I had known nothing about how cabbies paid for their licensing and the cab usage fees and so on, but she told me all about it. She busted open her binderful of that month’s fares at a red light, and told me she’d be writing down my fare, too, when I got out of the cab. She had an agreement where she had to pay something like, let’s say, W150,000 or W200,000 per day to use the cab, and anything on top of that was hers to keep. Or maybe it was W100,000, or less, the use fee. I don’t recall, though I think it worked out that she was making more money than I was at the time, which amused her. (It amused me less, but she was so cool I had to just laugh about it.)

Anyway, the ride went as good cab rides do — interesting conversation, instead of the virtually scripted set of questions cabbies usually ask white foreigners — and safe arrival. I wanted to give her a tip but she insisted that it wasn’t her culture, so I relented. But I haven’t forgotten that cabbie… she was the coolest ever.

11 thoughts on “The Best Cabbie Ever

  1. I had a good conversation with a cabbie one night who convinced me why Goh Kun should be the next president. We focussed so much on the conversation I forgot to point out my exit (though it only added another 2000 won or so); I decided to tip him anyway, but instead he insisted on knocking 1000 won off and thanked me for the conversation.

    Another time I caught a cab near Yonsei, which was driven by a woman. A few months later I caught a cab at Yongdungpo and there was the same driver again! And her first question was, “Do you remember me?” What are the odds?

    I asked another driver about those odds, if the randomness of it all, having no idea where you would end up that day, was interesting. He just replied ‘힘들어’.

    And then there was the time I’d had far too much to drink (in Bucheon) and took a cab home (near Kimpo airport), only to have the cabbie say “We’re here” in a place I didn’t recognize at all. I just got out, flagged a cop car down to ask for directions, and they instead drove me home….

  2. Bulgasari,

    Woah, those are some interesting stories. Why did he think Goh Kun should be the next President?

    I’ve also had repeat cabbies in different parts of town, and it was they who recognized me (and not vice versa) as well — though Jeonju is not as big as Seoul.

    I was once let off in the wrong part of IKSAN, of all places — it’s 15 minutes across town, maximum, and the guy took me to the wrong part of town. I told him that he had to take me to the right place, because it was very cold out, and he didn’t try make me pay for the extra expense of the detour. The weird thing was, he wasn’t new at the job.

  3. I think it was a bit of a process of elimination – He didn’t like the GNP candidates, knew the Uri candidates don’t have a chance, but thought Goh was closer to the center and the best choice (I realize now that I made it sound like he was predicting that he would be president – I just meant that he convinced me he was the best choice).

    Oh, and I just noticed you’re reading The Comfort Women. My copy was acquired in Thailand (the used bookstores there were great), but it has a different subtitle: Sex slaves of the imperial japanese forces. Maybe that’s because it was published in Chiang Mai?

  4. Aha. Well, we’ll see what happens next time. I can’t say I’m totally comfortable with the daughter of a past dictator ascending to the throne Presidency, anyway. She’s still planning to run, right?

    I checked to make sure the subtitle was correct for that — sometimes on AllConsuming you find books with wrong info — but it’s correct for the 1997 Norton edition I have on the desk beside me. Maybe the subtitle was changed by an Asian publisher?

  5. I assumed that to be the case. I guess Thai publishers expect that English-speaking foreigners would like to read about sex-slaves before running off to to diddle a bargirl? I’ve no idea, but I did think the title was a little on the salacious side, and found the western edition’s subtitle to be much more appropriate.

  6. Yeah, it’s a little weird, though maybe it was an earlier subtitle. Who knows? I can see it as not being intended as salacious, but inadvertently coming across that way.

    Actually, it looks like it may have been the original subtitle for the book Both editions are listed on this search, but your subtitle is on the older editions, while mine is on the newer ones.

    And yeah, the used bookstores in Bangkok were great. I got so many great books down there…

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