Taxis in Korea deserve a post all to themselves.
For a start, I privately enjoy the fact that the Korean word for taxi is pronounced in exactly the same way as the Ballymena one: teksy! It’s a small world after all.
However, that is where the similarities end, for Korean taxis and their drivers bear no resemblance to the fairly ordinary cars and rough-around-the-edges but generally friendly sorts who drive them back home. Korean taxis are, in fact, hardcore. They vary in style and, erm, accessories, but they’re always immaculate and very often completely pimped out. You never know what you’re going to get until you’re inside, looking at your surroundings in awe, amusement, and occasionally bewilderment. I’ve been in teksies with padded ceilings and furry pink coverings on all the surfaces, space-themed teksies with an entire galaxy of twinkling neon stars glowing all around, and teksies with specific Disney characters or superhero action figures hanging from the ceiling. I even heard of someone getting into a teksy and discovering that it was equipped with a karaoke machine and had a disco ball hanging from the ceiling, and you know what? I believe it.
I have noticed, to my amusement and dismay, that in many cases the front seats have handles screwed into the back of them for the use of back seat passengers. The same sort of handles that are above all the windows. A friend of mine used to call them Jesus handles, because they’re the things you hang on to for dear life in the car of a driver like, well, me, and shriek “Oh, Jesus!” at every moment when you fear for your life. Well, you need to be surrounded by them in a Korean taxi.
Let’s set the scene by reminding you of the insane traffic here and the general mayhem brought about by there being no road rules – at least, not any that drivers feel the need to observe. Cars zip in and out, swerving from packed lane to crowded lane at breakneck speed, blaring horns and having narrow misses approximately every 30 seconds.
Now, let’s put you in the middle of that scene, in a teksy. The driver will ask you where you’re going, start the meter running, and then pull out into the traffic without so much as an indicator or a backward glance. Alternatively, if you’ve inconvenienced him by unknowingly getting in at the wrong side of the road when you actually want to be going in the other direction, he will most likely start muttering in Korean and then proceed to drive right across 6 lanes of speeding traffic, performing a screeching U-turn, and merge with the cars on the other side simply by driving full-pelt straight into their midst and assuming someone with more sense will slow down and let him in.
Having survived this experience (which leaves you sweating anxiously and clutching every available Jesus handle as you wonder if you could perhaps find your way home on foot after all), you find yourself on a dodgem ride from hell. Not only is everyone trying to get somewhere faster than everyone else, but your teksy driver wants to murder them all in a kamikaze mission as a result.
Outwardly, however, he remains ridiculously calm most of the time. In fact, when he’s not chatting on his phone or playing with the SatNav, he’s most likely watching TV. Yes, watching TV. All Korean teksies have TV screens on the dashboard. You might think that these are for the enjoyment of the passengers, but no. They are specifically angled towards the driver, and he will spend much of the journey with his eyes glued to the latest episode of some Korean drama or quiz show. I have had many panicky moments where I’ve watched the approach of a very large truck at a set of lights my driver has failed to notice have turned red. Or where I’ve inched frantically across the back seat in a futile attempt to get away from the bus that is pulling out right beside us, completely unnoticed by the driver. Or where the driver, bless him, has become so engrossed in his TV show that he’s completely forgotten he was ever driving a teksy in the first place, and is casually veering across several lanes as he shouts the right answer at the stupid contestant on the gameshow.
Meanwhile, the SatNav is beeping and issuing instructions and orders every few seconds, the radio is crackling with messages from base, and you’re clinging on for dear life in the back seat, trying not to scream. I’ve only yelled twice, and to be fair, I feel that one of those times did actually save my life, so it was worth the torrent of offended abuse I got in return after the driver hastily slammed on the brakes and avoided crashing right into the stationary traffic in front of us. The other time, I was just a little highly-strung after a lot of stressful zipping around and being thrown from one side of the car to the other, and let out an involuntary deep, fearful moan as the driver blared his horn and swore at the bus he’d just almost driven into the side of. He was not amused by my lack of trust.
The Korean teksy experience, ladies and gentlemen. Wish you were here…? ;)