In Gwangju (South Korea) I take the public bus every day to school and home, as well as to explore the city. Compared to the new subway system in Seoul, Gwangju’s public buses are much harder to ride and the system is quite complicated. It is very easy to miss your bus and to even get lost. Because I chose not to buy a Korean phone plan, I also cannot connect to Wifi on the streets, which makes bus riding a little more tedious. Without the Internet to guide me along I have to be much more cognizant of when buses come, where they go, and how to transfer from one bus to another when trying to get places.
So far only a week and half has passed, yet I already have many interesting bus stories and tips to share.
- Around 5 o’clock the buses are PACKED. This is when schools get out and a lot of people return home. Today the bus I took from 전남대 to 시내 was so full that people were standing on the steps that lead into the bus and are right next to the door that swings open. I was practically sitting on some random guys lap because standing room in the aisles was so crowded.
A scene I have yet to truly experience — an empty bus. This picture I found online.
- Depending on the bus, you need to signal to the driver that you want to get on. My bus going home does not come downtown as often and its route is quite long because it goes into the countryside. If the driver does not see you standing on the edge of the curb and leaning out to the oncoming bus he might not even pull over at the stop.
- Same goes for when getting off the bus — you must push a button that signals you would like to get off. If you do not, the bus will just keep going past your stop.
- Once the bus arrives it leaves in about 10 seconds. Koreans waste no time. Last week I was still getting on the bus and climbing up the stairs when the bus driver started to pull away, even with the door still open behind me.
- Bus drivers do not wait for you to find a seat before they pull away from the curb. So either run to a seat, a pole, or depend on your own balance.
- Last week I almost missed my bus… I saw it pull up to the stop as I was walking there so I sprinted as fast as I could to meet the bus. By the time I got to the stop the driver had already closed the front door. I hopped off the curb and knocked on the glass door to see if he would let me on, which he did. This is actually quite common for people to do here in Gwangju.
- At certain hours of the day, particularly late at night the bus does not run as often. This happened to me today after I spent the majority of the afternoon and night in 시내 (downtown) with a classmate and two Korean friends from Gwangju. We went out to a 고기집 (meat grilling restaurant) and by the time I tried to take a bus around 9:30 many were not coming for another 35 mins to another hour.
- So I had to take two buses and transfer — which is hard to do if you don’t have wifi and do not know where the next transfer bus stop is located. Fortunately the student from Gwangju was able to help, for which I am super grateful. We ran from one stop to the next during the transfer.
- In Korea there are bus cards. During my transfer today I wanted to reload some money onto my bus card and so I went to a nearby drug store. However, there machine was broken and so I had to play it close. Normally I would have walked another block to a different drug store, but it was night and I did not want to miss my second bus. After my transfer I had 20 cents left on my card. (pheww).
In the end, the bus has its own plusses. While riding from one place to another I can see what is going on outside on the roads, restaurants, stores and parks. I also meet the same people who tend to leave at the same time as me. These are both not possible on the Seoul subway.
Below is a picture of fruit vendors on the sidewalks. I took this picture from inside the bus. After taewkondo class I sometimes get fruit from these type of vendors, who are usually 아줌마s (older women).
I also feel much more confident taking public transportation in cities now. It is a significant milestone to master a bus system in a foreign country. Gwangju makes the NYC bus system feel like a piece of pie.