It was with a slight hint of hesitation that I took this bus, but having committed to the idea of simply taking the first bus to show up, I soldiered on and opted for the 801. It just was not what I was used to with the 601. Unlike the 601, which is a clean blue, the 801 recalls color-graded oranges from “The Brady Bunch” reruns, sans the vivacity.
The 801 cuts through the downtown area of Jochiwon, so you are able to see restaurants and stores you may want to visit later on a walk. But once the 801 leaves “The Joch” (my term of endearment for Jochiwon), it seems like a straight shot through rice fields and little villages and paths that meander an unknown distance toward the high hills and into the line of forests.
I didn’t know where the line would end, and I didn’t want to have to deal with the bus driver turning his head to look at the foreigner with a quizzical look that says, “What are you still doing in here? Last stop. Idiot.” (One tends to expect the most boorish behavior in people when there’s no common language.) Fortunately, though, I was able to intuit the last stop, even after it was only me and this woman with style-to-burn fashion sense left on the bus.
It was late in the afternoon, so I decided to hustle up and find out what there was to see, and the first place I stopped inside was this quaint and cozy mom-and-pop coffee shop, which would definitely fit right into the social milieu of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but, thank the great Cthulhu, sans the hipsters.
As I entered, a tiny dog, probably a Maltese, sat up at attention from its seat. Very quiet, very polite, yet with that typical canine eagerness which is often the mark of small dogs. I looked around for a worker, but there was no one in the store, so I stared at the dog for a little bit, quizzically: “So…um…where’s your boss?” And I didn’t feel like yelping, “Juh gi yo!” (Excuse me!), because my Korean pronunciation is admittedly subpar.
I considered leaving, but the decor had me anchored in place. I could imagine myself here chilling with friends or just on my own, writing and reading. I began taking pictures of the dog and the decor when a woman dashed in. I ordered a coffee and waited, taking in the decor further and peopling it with patrons who I imagined would hang out there. Maybe South Korean hipsters in the countryside? It seemed like that sort of place.
I left the coffee shop behind and continued down the street and found a pizza restaurant. Being a kid from Jersey, I’m particular about pizza, because the only place in the world where you can get a decent slice of pizza is within the perimeter of the Pizza Belt, which, according to “The Pizza Belt: the Most Important Pizza Theory You’ll Read” by Max Read, is defined as “the area of the United States where the chance of obtaining an adequate-to-good slice of pizza from a randomly chosen pizzeria is greater than 50 percent.” I am a harsh critic when it comes to pizza. Hot pizza, cold pizza, pizza for breakfast, pizza for lunch, pizza for dinner, whatever. If it’s from within the Pizza Belt, I’ll eat it.
But anywhere outside the Pizza Belt, judgment cometh, and that right soon. And if a Greek tragedy had a flavor, it would be the pizza here in Korea. Despite the above-mentioned culinary arrogance and swagger, I meekly walked into the pizzeria, which was hardly a pizzeria: if you took two giant mother-may-I steps, the second one would kick the counter and alarm the delightful little daughter of the owners of this apparently mom-and-pop restaurant. When the pizza came to my table, which was the size of a personal-pan pizza, I did find myself enjoying it: “Not bad for a non-New Jerseyan.” I gave the family a curt nod with a smile, which hopefully said, “I liked the pizza, and I’ll be back to try another one.” And I meant it.
I decided it was time to go, so I walked back from whence I came, with the smell of freshly-cut lumber and the sounds of light construction in the air. I waited at the stop, and the 801 came within minutes. When I leave any particular place, a pang of regret and even sadness comes at me: the passing of side streets I never got to explore. That other pizzeria I wanted to eat at. That river I never got to walk alongside. And it supplanted that giddy feeling I had when I first arrived and wondered at the possibilities and the ooh-I-have-to-check-that-place-outs I told myself as I passed by.
Back home in the Joch, I felt like I missed so much while I was there at the end of the line, leading me to the slippery existential-crisis slope of feeling like there was never enough time to see everything in the world and that I was too curious; but knowing that there weren’t enough people in the world feeling that they were too curious for all the things that you can be too curious about in the world….
Bus #: 801
First Stop: Jochiwon Station (조치원역)
Last Stop: Jeonui Station (전의역)
Major Stops: Hongik University (홍익대학교)
Bus Fare: ₩1,200