One of the American stereotypes with which I associate myself has always been the, ‘boy and his car’. Americans love our cars. We love to drive. We love the highways. We love to go fast (almost as much as the Germans). But what we value above all else is what our cars represent. To a red-blooded American, his car (or truck or motorcycle) means no less to him than the stars and stripes themselves. Cars are symbolic of our freedom and independence.
Since I’ve been in Korea, I haven’t had my own wheels. You can imagine how hard this would be for someone who’s had his own transportation since he got his learners permit at 16. I’ve own a car for half as long as I’ve been alive. Losing that freedom coming to Korea has been a much bigger shock to my system than I would’ve imagined. So what can I do about it? One of my goals is saving money. So I’m not going to go out and drop thousands of dollars on a car – completely out of the question. I’m not even sure how long I’m going to be here. It might be less than a year. It may be as many as three or four. Ideally I’d like to find something that would be inexpensive now and yet retain its value so that whenever I go to resell it again, I’d make my money back.
I have managed to save quite a bit of money since I’ve been here and will continue to do so, since the bulk of my expenses are food. But another big part of my expenditure comes from what I pay taxis to cart my ass around Korea whenever I need to get anywhere. A ride downtown ranges from $6.00-$10.00 depending on traffic and the kind of driver you have. So going to the main part of the city even once a week will add up at that rate. I don’t want the cabs to nickel and dime my income away one ride at a time. There are buses available but they’re so confusing. There’s no map anywhere and everything’s written in Korean. They do only cost $1.00 each way but there’s so much headache involved in trying to decode the routes, it’s barely worth the effort.
There is an advantage to not driving though. I maintain a relatively low carbon footprint here. And I haven’t been spending money on gas, tolls, insurance, registration, or vehicle upkeep (not that there are many tolls here). Public transit does have its merits and if our campus and apartments were anywhere near a subway line, this conversation would be completely moot. But we don’t. So what I decided was to look into buying a motorcycle. These two wheeled machinations of independence range from the very tiny vespa style scooters you may see driving around (engine sizes around 50cc – that’s cubic centimeters) all the way up to the super bikes (or ‘crotch rockets’) that fly by you at 150mph on the highways (engine sizes starting at 750cc). I’m hoping to find something in the middle, perhaps around 150-200cc. The problem is where to look. And I also don’t speak Korean.
I enlisted the help of my friend Jungjae who speaks basic English and is getting better every day. He’s also one of the most thoughtful and generous people I’ve ever met. He offered, without me even asking, to not only help me find a motorcycle but to also haggle with the seller to drive the cost down. What a guy! So our first stop was Otobai Alley – or Motorcycle Street. The really neat thing about Daegu shopping (not sure if other cities are laid out in the same way) is that individual goods and services are organized on entire streets. For instance there’s a car repair street, a makeup street, an electronics street, a shoe street (line up ladies), and even a motorcycle street. The problem is when we went to Otobai Alley, we discovered that they didn’t sell any used bikes – only brand new ones that cost upwards of $1,000 usd. Drawing board here we come.
For this to be cost effective for me, I need to spend less than $500 total including the bike, registration, insurance, helmet, and everything else. I did the math. With the potentially limited time I have left in Korea, spending over that amount on a bike would be insane – unless of course, I can simply resell it at the end of my contract (but that’s a bet I’m not willing to make just yet. So we’d have to go somewhere else to find a motorcycle. The Internet!
The Korean version of ebay motors is called Passo and the entire site is in Korean, which I can’t read. Well I can, but I have no idea what I’m reading when I do. So Jungjae decoded the site and we began searching for a bike. We spent a few hours searching but everything in my range was a piece of crap and everything that I liked was twice as much (or more) than I was willing to spend. The drawing board and I have become very close. We kept looking but many of the bikes looked like throwbacks to 1985 – ever seen The Dirt Bike Kid starring Peter Billingsley (of A Christmas Story fame)? My saving grace would have to be someone I already knew, leaving Korea and selling his bike on the cheap just to avoid the hassles.
So I patiently waited… and waited… and waited…
Until at last, Eureka! It happened! I fished what I wished! One of the other teachers I know has a contract ending in November and he’s preparing to get the heck outta dodge. He sold me his 175cc Daylim Daystar motorcycle for the rock bottom price of $350! The only problem NOW is that I have no idea how to ride – never done it before. So I’ll have to learn. Insert Tom – my gruff Scottish friend who’s been riding for years (and been in Korea for over 4). He promised to show me the ropes, teach me the tricks, and help me get the hang of riding for the mere price of a Philly Cheesesteak (see my entry: American Wit).
So with the beautiful autumn weather approaching, I’ll be out there learning to ride. Photos will come sooner or later but I’m just excited to try something new and get some of my freedom back. It won’t be quite the same as my trusty ole’ Mazda, but who knows what the future holds. Maybe I’ll be on two wheels for the indefinite future. You just never know.
Until Next Time…