Notes from Namhae: Where Cabbies Refuse Our Money Because They’re Too Honest

NAMEHAE IS NOT DIFFICULT TO REACH, but once you’re in, it’s surprisingly difficult to get around. It is the kind of rural island where every day must feel like a weekend, where shop hours are unpredictable and if someone doesn’t know your first name they don’t know you at all. Taxis swarm the bus terminal but elude streets elsewhere, which is a problem because local buses are awfully infrequent and the stops aren’t easily to spot.

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But the drivers are decent, and this is what’s important. V chose Namhae as her birthday destination (a decision she was shocked to discover was mimicked by some chick literally one week before us), and we arrived by intercity bus via Busan a little after sundown on a Friday. We had no trouble finding a cab, and asked in Korean where the nearest mid-range motel was. (A prerequisite of V’s, which I have never been adverse to, is the demand for motels that look swankier than they cost.) The cabbie, rather than usher us into his car for as long a drive as his meter desired, simply pointed down the street and told us to go straight and turn left.

We did this, and found a motel perfectly acceptable for a mere night’s sleep–less so for a birthday getaway. So we tried another cab driver and asked him, plainly, to take us to the nearest swanky motel for around 80,000 won.

“No 80,000-won motels here,” the cabbie replied. “Most is 50,000. Busan, Seoul, they have motels for 70 or 80,000, but not here.”

“No 80,000-won motels here,” the cabbie replied. “Most is 50,000. Busan, Seoul, they have motels for 70 or 80,000, but not here.”

“Okay,” I replied. “Where’s the nicest for 50,000?”

“Right there, across the street,” he replied, helpfully. “Is it not open?” Before I could answer that we’d just come from there, he jogged down the street, looked up, saw the neon red signage and returned. “It’s open,” he told us, smiling.

We lied and said they had no rooms available, and now burdened him explicitly to just “take us anywhere.” For most cab drivers in Asia, this is an open invite to drive us wherever you goddamn please, but this dude just shrugged, drove us 30 seconds down the street to another motel and walked in ahead of us, ensuring a room available and checking us in. I basically had to yell that it was okay for him to leave, patting him on the back and laughing, assuring him that we had it under control–but he seemed genuinely worried that we would be left out on the streets alone that night.

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The motel–Manhattan, it was called–was indeed nicer than the other one, and we were happy to pay the 60,000 won. The cab driver handed me his business card, which I really should have kept, because finding a cab down to Sangju Beach was arduous in the summer heat the next morning, made worse by the fact that it’s about a 25,000-won ride from the city and buses are so finicky.

But the beach itself is gorgeous. Surrounded by high peaks and only a little littered with seaweed, it’s wide and well complemented by cozy seafood restaurants. There’s a dude renting out ATVs on the sand and some white people showed up en masse at around 5:30 to set up a confusingly professional looking volleyball net. Compared with Busan’s crowded sandy offerings, this one felt much more like a proper city escape.

—–

En route back, we shared a cab with an American couple from I think Jinju. The dude was well built and wore a black tank top and has bore the not-so-secret dream of being a school principal ever since watching and being profoundly inspired by the lukewarmly-reviewed 1989 Morgan Freeman picture Lean On Me.

The other noteworthy thing about him was his Hebrew tattoo, clearly visible on his left shoulder, which he seemed surprised that I could read. It was a quote from Philippians 4:13, roughly translating to, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” Now, I couldn’t read the scripture well enough; dude knew it by heart, and merely chose to have it permanently printed on his body in Hebrew for hipstery reasons of being different.

V piped in immediately: “Oh, my sister has that same tattoo in English.”

The HeBro muttered, “Oh, cool,” possibly disillusioned at the mainstream catchiness of his etching. I probably didn’t help matters when I pointed out how ironic it was that anyone who could read his tattoo was probably Jewish and therefore couldn’t appreciate it, and anyone who could appreciate it couldn’t read it.

He nodded in silence at this observation, and the subsequent 10 minutes of taxi ride were quieter than the first.

—–

 Photos by V and her iPhone.

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