Written by Amy Fossaluzza ETA’11-12
This entry originally appeared on a Fulbright grantee’s personal blog and is published with permission here. The views expressed in these entries are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fulbright Korea or the Korea Fulbright Infusion staff.
When people back home ask “what’s up?” or “how was your day?” the bus stop never comes to mind. Maybe it’s because I take the bus every day and it’s become commonplace for me. Yet this part of my day is worth mentioning, and definitely worth remembering, as I often fail to do. In the tiny town of Galsan, some days I am a spectacle. People smile or gawk, and other days they pass right on by. I am on my best behavior at the bus stop. After a year, everyone knows who I am, why I am there, and if they don’t, they aren’t shy to ask. My non-Korean face doesn’t stop anyone from speaking Korean to me at full speed. Some days I get on the bus feeling confident in my Korean, like just now when the volunteer traffic-directing ajumma asked why I was leaving school so early, where I was going, and how my foot was doing. Besides me, the average age at the bus stop seems to be 85. Many of them are bent at an angle whose degree matches their age, with dark, cracked skin. I imagine them living in Galsan their entire lives. I’ve seen them wading through the rice paddies, squatting at the Galsan outdoor market selling green onions, and planting flowers around my school. They all ask about my foot. I learned how to say I have a torn ligament. They sympathize with me, and usually tell me their own story about a torn ligament, hurt foot, or some random medical problem. I usually don’t understand the full story, but I offer them a sympathetic look. They are always impressed that I know the words “torn” and “ligament,” so I must be fluent, right? There is one woman who knows an English song, so I’m often serenaded. She cackles as she tells me, “I don’t know what it means, but I can sing it!” When I see her, she grabs my hand and yells “HOW ARE YOU!” She pats me on the shoulder as I board the bus. I watch old men and women zoom by on scooters, or slowly roll by on tractors or four wheelers. Last week I saw a man driving a tractor, giving a ride to an old woman who stood in the tractor bed just holding a parasol. Sometimes the smell of manure is so strong you can hardly breathe. In a city with no bus terminal or train station, no foreigner would go through Galsan unless they were trying to. On the highway, you pass by in a few seconds. Most Koreans don’t even know its existence, unless you live nearby. I feel lucky to have been a small part of this town’s life over the past year. When I look back on my year, I won’t forget the five minutes I spent at the bus stop every day. Like many other Koreans, my bus stop friends are curious and extraordinarily kind. I’ll miss their reactions to my insa (formal bow and greeting); sometimes they look surprised, sometimes it initiates our conversation, and sometimes they just look away and smile. There is nothing more gratifying than an old Korean from the country giving you the “she know what’s up” look.
“The Bus Stop” was originally published in Amy Fossaluzza’s blog “I am in Korea, this is what happened” on June 28, 2012.