If you’re lucky, there will be a time in your life where you rely solely on public transportation. I mean it — that would make you lucky. Because maybe a) you live in a big city which is always amazing, b) you’ve moved to a new city (yay!) but don’t have a car (boo), c) you’re self-reliant, d) you can navigate your own way, e) you’re saving money, or f) all or some of the above.
Anyway, I spend about an hour on the bus every day, so here are some tips for survival. Some/most/all of these pertain mainly to South Korea – Ulsan, to be more specific. Here in Ulsan, the main form of public transport is the lowest of the low: Buses. Ugh. (Luckily, cabbies are pretty cheap but nothing beats a dolla for a ride across town).
1. Always bring headphones. Sure, there are times when it’s nice to just sit in silence or otherwise eavesdrop whilst people watching. But most of the time, you need music. I recommend Mumford and Sons (both albums) to keep you calm and collected in an otherwise chaotic and/or precarious situation.
2. Always try to get a window seat. This is when your agility, speed and intuition come into play.
- Speed: obviously, move quickly. Try to board before the crowd.
- Agility: squeeze to the back of the bus right when you get on. It’s always less crowded in the back.
- Intuition: if you have to stand, be sure to stand next to someone who looks like they might be getting up soon so you can grab their seat.
- Signs of getting up soon: holding one’s bag in preparation of departure, alertness (sitting on the edge of seat, looking determinedly out the window, pushing the “stop” button)
- People you want to avoid standing next to:
They’re clearly not getting up anytime soon.
3. If you have to stand, always keep your knees bent to ensure balance and avoid toppling over when the bus driver slams on the brakes every 12 seconds. If it’s hot, stand next to a child to have window-opening authority (adults don’t like it much when you lean over them to open windows). You’ll want this in the likely situation it smells like fish, cigarettes, or just plain ass in the bus. During the winter, the heat is often blasted (regardless if the bus is packed with 137 people with the windows fogging up) so you’ll definitely want to crack open a window.
4. Stay productive. Read, play games, clean out all those unread messages in your email (pet peeve of mine), go on Pinterest, write a blog post about how to survive public transportation (yes, I’m on the bus right now), practice your Instagramming-photography skills. Time goes by much quicker.
Some of my favorite IGs, I owe to my almost-daily sunset bus rides.
5. Be aware of Ajummas. Ajummas are a natural phenomenon, widespread in Korea — most notably around street markets. They are recognizable by their short permed hair, floral printed clothing, natural ability to give zero fucks and impressively sharp elbows. These little old women are often seen carrying large bags or carts of various products (peppers, leafy greens, foods giving off a potent fishy odor) and are known to wear visors large enough to shade a family of 5.
Another good reason to sit in the back half of the bus is to avoid Rosa-Parks-like situations in which case an ajumma WILL glare you down, set her fishy products on your lap or even hit you with their canes they sometimes carry (true story) until you give up your seat. Save yourself the frustration and angst and avoid the front seats if possible (especially around the hours of 3pm-6pm).
6. Get a bus pass (MyB or CashBee in Ulsan). Free transfers and less hassle. Better yet, have your bus pass connected to your debit card and it’ll just withdraw however much you use once a month.
7. Download the Ulsan Bus App called “울산버스정보” – you’ll have to download it from the Korean iTunes store if you have an iPhone (you can do this by going onto the app store in iTunes on your computer. Sign out of your current account, change the country to Korea, then search for 울산버스정보, click download, create a new account with a different email and select No Payment Method, and download this life-changing app fo’ FREE)
8. Know bus etiquette:
* Some people (mainly ajummas and bus drivers) don’t like when you talk on the bus. Do buses have to be completely silent? Absolutely not. They just don’t like people speaking English. Be “respectful” and don’t talk too loud (even though the Korean woman two seats in front of you is yelling furiously into her phone).
* Don’t sit in the handicap seats unless there’s nobody else standing. But be prepared to jump up once those doors open to let more people on.
* Stand near the exit when your stop is coming up. You will only have a short allotted time to escape the musty, stuffy bus before the driver traps you in and speeds off (it’s about a 5 second window, btw. 2 seconds if you’re the only one getting off)
* Only push the “Stop” button if you’re certain. The bus driver won’t hesitate to squawk angrily at you if you push it and don’t get off.
* Understand that when you’re sitting in a row of two-seaters, the person on the aisle will rarely get up to let you pass (either to let you sit in the window seat or to let you get off the bus), despite how many boxes/bags/groceries/watermelon/children you may be holding. They will simply pull their legs in and assume that’s enough room for you to pass. You can take the high road and politely waddle by inch-by-inch, or you can make sure to smack them with your 20 pound backpack on the way out. I won’t judge.
Happy bus-riding (or any other form of public transportation), everyone! Just be happy you’re not the one behind the wheel with crazy road rage in the middle of rush hour traffic