Home is really just a taxi ride awayBy 6:30 a.m., the street next to the house where I was lodging in Quito, Ecuador, was always bustling. Stray chickens and scruffy-looking dogs charged down the crumbling asphalt road. School children huddled, half asleep, at the crosswalk. A hodgepodge of shopkeepers stacked crates of exotic fruits, slabs of fried pork livers and roasted chickens. Shouts and the honk of car horns filled the air.
During a three-week stay this last summer I was introduced to this incredible country. Rusted Cadillacs drag racing on abandoned roads, grand cathedrals displaying the architecture of Spanish colonialism, treacherous jungle mountains full of huge mosquitoes, road-side restaurants serving guinea pig meat: These were but a few of the highlights of my journey. It was a trip that I will never forget ― which will not be an easy thing to do, since my camera disappeared almost as soon as I got off the plane.
There were some things in Quito that made me feel at home. By my second day in the country I noticed that many cars on the streets of the city, the nation’s capital, were Korean-made. Looking out the window of a yellow Scoupe, made by Hyundai Motor, I realized I was in a sea of that company’s Sonatas. As the taxi finally made its way out of the traffic inching toward the city’s center, I felt a surge of relief as my destination came into view: the city’s cultural center. Apparently, however, the taxi driver had misunderstood my directions; he forged past the centro cultural to el centro, or downtown, despite my indignant protests. Suddenly, McDonald’s and three huge American-style malls came into view. We whizzed by T.G.I. Fridays, Samsung billboards, Kia car dealerships, Internet cafes and Korean restaurants. The signs in Spanish reminded me I was not in Seoul’s Sinchon district, a popular commercial area. Disappointment crept in.
The driver slammed on the brakes in front of a sprawling multiplex that must have been imported from southern California. “Turista?” he asked as he turned around to look at me. “Yes,” I replied in Spanish. Then I got a good look at his face and realized he was Korean. He continued in Spanish: “I remember when I first came to Ecuador. This ride’s on me. Knock yourself out.” I just sat there, dumbfounded. “Muchas gracias, ajeoshi,” I mumbled as I climbed out of the cab. He bid me a fine farewell, and I waved goodbye as he drove off.
by Phil Chang
Phil is a Seoul Foreign School student.
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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