A regular train ride from Seoul to Chuncheon usually takes an hour and twenty minutes; however, that night it felt like it arrived earlier than expected.
Sangbong Station – People from the main metro were rushing to get inside the train for Chuncheon. There was nothing peculiar about this because it is common among Koreans to be in a hurry, always. Maybe I wasn’t tired that night that I chose not to join the race. On the corner, I stood silently and put on my earphones as the journey started. I leaned on the side and started observing the people around me. Not long after, we arrived on the next station. Luckily, one guy stood up and left, giving me the opportunity to sit down and enjoy the travel.
Before I became comfortable, I checked for stickers that stated whether I was sitting on a seat exclusively for pregnant/disabled/senior citizens. Unlike in my country, Koreans are very strict about this rule. No matter how crowded a subway is, you will still find these priority seats empty. Thankfully, the seat I’ve taken was just the ordinary and by then, I made myself comfortable. Again, I started observing the people around me. I realized that I wasn’t much different from these Koreans. We were all on our earphones and busy playing with our smartphones. I was still eighteen stations away from my stop and I got bored with this mundane setting.
I took out my class readings which were written in Korean. I have been translating this twenty page readings for almost a week already and I was far from finishing it. It was a reading about “Internet Journalism and Activism” and words like deliberative democracy, public sphere, libel, constitution, government and etc. kept appearing on the article. I took my phone and pen out and started translating my readings. Surprisingly, my concentration was immensely high that time. Despite the crowded train ride, I was enjoying the task.
Sareung station – From my peripheral view, I can see that the guy beside me was trying to read the paper I was translating. Since I was translating the other page, I tried to make the other side available for him. “It must be an interesting topic for him” I thought. Apart from translating, I was re-reading what I have translated and scribbled notes of certain concepts and highlighted important points of the article. I stopped translating for a while and looked around the train. There were a few of us left already. The seat on my other side was already emptied but still I didn’t move aside.
I took my earphones out, stretched a little bit and went back to my translating business.
The words on my readings became more and more complicated. I was translating arguments and debates over internet anonymity. I tried to keep my focus when suddenly there was a poke on my left shoulder. I look towards that direction and then it started.
Time started ticking fast.
His name was Jeong Hwa Park. A fifty year old Korean who works at a car factory. He has been to several countries during his youth – Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Japan and Malaysia. Mr. Park tried to start a conversation with me by pointing out a word on my readings. It was “속민주주의” (deliberative democracy). He asked me what it meant. I tried to scan my readings for the definition but it was full of scribbles so I ended up telling him that I, too, didn’t understand it because it was Korean.
“Is your major political science?” He asked.
“No, my major is mass communication but this reading does consist political theories that’s why” I replied in broken Korean.
Like my usual conversations with old random Koreans, Mr. Park didn’t miss pointing out the tragic economic downfall of my very own country, the Philippines. He told me about how Koreans look up to our country a long long time ago. “It was beautiful!” He exclaimed. However, on the latter part he expressed his disappointments towards the country’s current state. I didn’t know what to say or how to react. But suddenly, Mr. Park sighed and said, “There are many corrupt people, you know.” I nod to his words.
Yes, there are a lot of them.
Mr. Park tried to change the topic. He, for the second time, pointed at my readings and started telling me how difficult my readings were! He told me that the words written on the article were borrowed Chinese words that were written in Korean. If the book had used Hanja (Korean name for Chinese characters), it would probably be easier for them to read it. We had a little debate over this one though – I told him that most of my Korean friends of my age know little bit of Hanja only. “Times are changing” and the argument was settled.
There wasn’t a dull moment during my conversation, in broken Korean, with Mr. Park. A few minutes before my stop, I thanked Mr. Park for his stories and also excused myself for my bad Korean language skill. He thanked me as well and told me that I should not be embarrassed with my Korean. “Go out and enjoy mingling with Koreans, I’m quite sure they’d love talking with you” he said. I smiled, bowed at him and got off the train.
It was still 8pm. I hailed a taxi on the side of the road.
“To Kangwon National University please” I told the driver.
“So, which country are you from?” he asked.
“Philippines” I replied.
“Did you know that the Philippines was….” he started.
I paid almost 6 dollars for the usual 4 dollar trip. It was the longest taxi ride ever and I didn’t even enjoy it.