Bright lights and big-hearted bus driv­ers

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - Travel@wash­

Who: Joshua Park (the au­thor); and his wife, Christina, of Ful­ton, Md.

Where, when, why: We trav­eled to South Korea, and Shang­hai and Hong Kong last year. Christina stayed from late Septem­ber to late Oc­to­ber, and I stayed an ad­di­tional 10 days.

High­lights and high points: On Oct. 5, we left the Ho­tel Gyeong­won­jae Am­bas­sador In­cheon to catch the plane to Shang­hai. This lovely ho­tel is built in a tra­di­tional Korean style, a new build­ing trend there. We greatly en­joyed the ho­tel, but there was one down­side — it is in an area where taxis are not read­ily avail­able. So we ended up tak­ing a limou­sine bus to In­cheon In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

As we were check­ing in, I re­al­ized that my wal­let — con­tain­ing sev­eral hun­dred dol­lars in cash and, more im­por­tant, sev­eral credit cards I needed to have in China — was gone. Think­ing fast, I re­al­ized that my wal­let must have slid out of my back pocket in the bus.

The young lady at the limou­sine counter con­tacted the bus driver with a walkie-talkie and ex­plained that the bus was on a high­way back to Seoul, and the driver would look for my wal­let at his next stop. Min­utes later, she told me that the driver had found my wal­let — a re­lief! — but was head­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. As our board­ing time was fast ap­proach­ing, I told the young lady to keep the wal­let for me so I could pick it up on my way back from Hong Kong.

As I was brief­ing my wife on what had hap­pened, my phone be­gan to ring. It was the young lady on the other line, who glee­fully in­formed me that my wal­let was en route to the air­port. The bus driver was able to walkie-talkie an­other bus driver who was head­ing there and handed it off. I was ab­so­lutely blown away. How of­ten does one lose a wal­let and get it back in­tact in 30-to-40 min­utes?

Cul­tural con­nec­tion or dis­con­nect: Bik­ing has be­come big in South Korea in re­cent years. The coun­try is full of won­der­ful bike trails, es­pe­cially along the rivers. As I was cir­cling Jeju, an is­land province of South Korea, for three days (about 150 miles) on a bike, I passed by many groups of high school­ers along the way who were cir­cling the is­land on foot or on bikes. Many of them were cheer­ing “Fight­ing!” (mean­ing, roughly, “Go get it!”) at me.

Big­gest laugh or cry: In Shang­hai, we took a pri­vate yacht cruise on the Huangpu River. On the “old town” side of the river (in the Bund area), we saw tra­di­tional Euro­pean-style build­ings all lit up. On the “new town” side (in the Pudong area), we en­joyed glit­ter­ing light shows on sky­scrapers, in­clud­ing the Ori­en­tal Pearl Tower, In­ter­na­tional Fi­nance Cen­ter and Shang­hai Tower. The lights were fan­tas­tic and mes­mer­iz­ing.

In Hong Kong, we took a junkboat cruise on Hong Kong Bay. The dou­ble-decker boat had lounge-style chairs on the top deck, where we en­joyed the views and sea breeze while ly­ing down un­der the spotlit blood­yred sails. Although the renowned “Sym­phony of Lights” (which takes place ev­ery night at 8 p.m.) had been a to­tal dis­ap­point­ment to both of us the pre­vi­ous night, the junk-boat cruise was lovely. The Kowloon Penin­sula was full of fla­vors, and Hong Kong was glit­ter­ing with sparkling lights.

On Jeju, bik­ing came with spec­tac­u­lar views — and bit­ter, gust­ing wind. (I saw a gi­ant wind tur­bine with a blade snapped off dur­ing my bike ride.) Climb­ing the 6,400-foot Hal­lasan — af­ter a three-day feat of cir­cling the is­land by bi­cy­cle — was ex­cru­ci­at­ingly painful, but the view from the top was worth it.

Fa­vorite me­mento or mem­ory: Of course, I won’t be able to ever for­get the lady at the limou­sine bus counter and the anony­mous bus driv­ers for their huge hearts. As a Korean Amer­i­can, a visit is nat­u­rally like a home­com­ing to me, and that feel­ing only in­creases with age.

To tell us about your own trip, go to wash­ing­ton­ and fill out the What a Trip form with your fond­est me­mories, finest mo­ments and fa­vorite pho­tos.


The au­thor and his wife, Christina, at Se­o­rak­san, a moun­tain in South Korea’s Tae­baek range.

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