The Maoul Bus*


I walked up and down the street looking for the bus stop on the opposite side of the street. Where I was going was only four stops away in that direction, but I soon realised that the bus only went in the opposite direction, which left me a good fifteen stops away.

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I bit the bullet and crossed the street. Before long a stubby little green bus trundled up to the bus stop. The doors jerked open quickly like a trap and an assortment of people disembarked. Once the bus was empty I stepped on, found a seat, and sat there waiting for what appeared to be the moment when the bus was full enough to move on.

I thought at first there was an age limit, me being the youngest on board by a good thirty years at least. This notion was shot once a school girl got on and buried her face busily in the screen of her smartphone, her hair hanging down over her ears and face providing the perfect shield from the banal surroundings.

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As the bus pulled away a woman carrying her toddler waved it down and she got on, sitting just in front of me, the child’s face buried in the cosiness of her mothers neck. Occasionally the child would peek up at me, and I would smile back, and she would bury her face again in her mother’s neck.

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The bus moved on and stop after stop more people clambered on, the bus seemingly rocking from each additional weight. It felt like it would collapse with every groove and divot in the street the tyres met. It hauled itself around tight bends, up hills, and over speed ramps. All the time the standing passengers held on tightly to the precarious handrails dangling from the ceiling.

There were all-sorts on this bus. An elderly couple who bickered back over each comment shared between them. A primly dressed university student talking quietly on his phone. A short and gnarled man with a glowing winter weather beaten face dressed from head to toe in black. A lady, out of place it seemed, in a long beige coat of smooth wool with a faux mink stoal around her neck, earrings glitzing, and her sunglasses black as her well dressed hair standing out against her pale makeup adorned face.

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I sat there watching as the bus winded through so many alleys I forget. It groaned up a steep hill and slipped back down on the other side, revealing a panoramic view of Seoul and its river Han adorned with highrise dressings on its far bank.

These streets it wound through were narrow and a constant battle for space ensued. Cars slipped into every possible space, while men and women walked up and down next to the bus arms full of bags and the likes. The bus wove its way through expertly and without apparent complaint.

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These streets were full with businesses whose trade was only barely recognisable through the window trappings. People gazed in at mannequins fashioned the same way for twenty years. Proprietors stood on doorways and gazed out at the world going by. The bus moved on, up another hill or around another corner.

And then I arrived. I pulled myself through the throng of passengers, pushing the stop button on my way. The doors flung open again with a clatter and I jumped clear before the shut on me as I escaped. I turned and watched as the diesel engine spluttered exhaust fumes as it excelerated away full to bursting with bundled black silhouettes destined for somewhere else in the locale.

(* the maoul bus – 마을 버스 – is a local bus service which services neighbourhoods in the bigger towns and cities of Korea. This particular bus was located in Yongsan-gu, and serviced Hanam, Bogwang-dong, and Itaewon)

Words and photographs © Conor O’Reilly 2013

Gangneung Bus Station


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What this place is is a blur. A moment of passing. Transit. From there to here or from somewhere else to another place. All that is left is the grey area, a space with less colour than grey, as distinct as the indviduality in a large packet of A4 paper. Where is there when the moments worth remembering are elsewhere? But I am here and there is this other place which I should be in and it may be where I am going – perhaps with the sun shining and flowers and colours and other weather and familiar faces and absolutely no apprehension – there is no longer part of me until the next time I see it.

Take this bus station. A point of arrival and departure that never moves but just sits here swallowing up and spitting out people moving between to positions. It’s only function is to sit in the town at a crossroads. People sitting around, waiting with boxes and bags and nervous looks on their faces. Huddled in front of heaters with collars pulled high against their chins, waiting in silence for their bus too be called. Everyone is looking at everyone, and not at their shoes like they usually do. Nervous and out of place, no one belongs in a bus station. Everything that is here is designed to convenience transit away from and to this place; restaurants, shops, cafes, seats, clocks, doors, steps, lights, everything. You could say that nothing belongs here, but I do, at this moment moving from there to here or wherever in my journey I am, looking at my feet hoping nobody sees me too clearly.

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o be in this place is to be dislocted. To be abandoned to a schedule. To be out of place. To be a number in a queue, waiting as the seconds tick away. And then you’re gone and any memory you have of the place is a mystery why it’s a memory.

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Words and images © Conor O’Reilly 2013