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The Failed Motorbike Journey – Jinju Lantern Festival

The story begins with an ambitious plan. It was a Friday afternoon and Natalia had to work Saturday morning. The Jinju Lantern Festival was in full swing and we didn’t want to miss it. It was only a journey of 120km from Busan and thus we thought we could head there after school and make it back the same night.

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Speed bump #1:

As I headed to school this very day my scooter turned itself off while driving for the first time! Still coasting at considerable speed I lightly touched the brake and hit the starter. It rattled back to life without issue and I thought nothing more of it.

The hills in and around Busan are no joke. Upon arriving in Busan I quickly bought a scooter and explored every twisty and hilly road I could find on Google Maps. Little did I know, I overworked the poor little (air cooled) machine. 16% grades with 2 westerners on top wasn’t the nicest way to treat it.


Speed bump #2:

My school was having its first teacher’s dinner since I had arrived a couple months before. This is not something I should miss, but I thought I could do both! After all, who wants to see lanterns in daylight? The real show would be after dark, and if I made it out of the teacher’s dinner by 6, we would be in Jinju by 8pm at the latest.

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The dinner went according to plan and Natalia was even invited to join my school’s teacher’s dinner! When my fellow Korean teachers heard of my plan to scooter to Jinju they were all horrified, but I was getting accustomed to that reaction as it had cropped up a lot when describing my weekend events. I politely refrained from drinking Soju and we were off!

The first third of the journey was uneventful. As usual, the scooter sounded like it was dying when going above 80kph but tried my best to keep up with the intercity traffic. We were taking the old highway 2 because scooters are not allowed on the main freeways in Korea. I think this isn’t the nicest policy for owners of 600cc motorbikes but I completely understood why they didn’t want rickety Daelims competing with speeding cars. I had studied the map well. After stopping to double check that we were still on course in Changwon we continued towards Jinju. Leaving Changwon involved a long climb into a tunnel, with a steep downhill back into a valley.


Speed bump #3:

It died.

Just as we neared the end of the tunnel the scooter lost power. A confused Natalia on the back was wondering why we were slowing down as I tried to restart the scooter. We coasted all the way to the bottom of the long hill and I had no luck restarting it. After a few more attempts I noticed a gas station on the other side of the divided road (which may as well have been a highway at this point). We decided to push the scooter for about 15 minutes just to make it around the barriers to the gas station.

Success! It was getting dark but surely we would get help here and be on our way. I called the Korean attendant over but was answered with a curt phrase in Korean. A few attempts later he reluctantly came over to see what the problem was. I tried to start it in front of him to demonstrate that it wasn’t working but he quickly shook his head and motioned for us to leave! I tried to use a translation app on my phone but he wouldn’t even look at it! I was shocked. Most Koreans have been extremely helpful, more than I would expect. Now, when we needed it most, we met a real jerk. A few futile attempts to get his attention later and we knew we were on our own.

Going back the way we came was out of the question. It was a huge hill into a tunnel with traffic moving at highway speeds. Looking at google maps I could tell that if we continued forward we would enter an industrial area of sorts and perhaps there we would find someone to help us. We assumed pushing positions and tried our best to stay out of the way of traffic. We pushed for 20 minutes… 40…. 60… and I began to reluctantly abandon the idea of making it to Jinju. After one hour we began to re-enter civilization. I asked around using my best charades skills to indicate the problem and we were directed to continue. Finally after 90 minutes of pushing the scooter we found a shop. By now it was 8:50pm. By some stroke of luck we found a scooter mechanic just before he closed up for the night. He tinkered with it for a while and replaced a few cables and it started!

With work the next morning, Nat & I decided to head back to Busan. On the way back through Changwon we heard a live concert just off the road. With our Jinju plans foiled we risked a little stop to check out the music and another musical fountain filled with happy kids.

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As time went on this scooter became less and less reliable. Eventually we traded it in for a much nicer, faster, and water-cooled scooter. We paid a handsome sum for it but it was totally worth it for the freedom. Having said that, I still have fond memories of the little Daelim that took us on 2500km of adventures, including the failed Jinju adventure. We made it to the Lantern Festival a few days later but I’ll leave that for another post!

Have you had journeys that were as interesting as the destination? Comment below!

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