Bright lights and big-hearted bus drivers
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.
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The author and his wife, Christina, at Seoraksan, a mountain in South Korea’s Taebaek range.