I live in the town of Jeonju, South Korea. It’s a medium-sized city of 650,000 people in the southwest of the country. It has always been famous for being a traditional, historic Korean city.
Then they elected a new mayor: Mayor Kwak Min-Gi. He was young for a mayor and had an artistic temperament. He wanted to make Jeonju into a easy-going, free-spirited, stop-and-smell-the-roses sort of city. Not a very Korean ideal and a bit of a hard sell.
One innovation was the “karaoke stoplights”. Now, instead of being on timers, each intersection has a song assigned to it. Directional mikes are set up and the side that sings the loudest gets to go next. If you get stuck with a bunch of sullen drivers, you can sit there for twenty minutes or more. People were a little resistant at first, but it slowly caught on.
Now, to get across town to my friend’s house I have to sing three Korean ballads, two K-pop songs and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Don’t think you can just let everyone else pull their weight either. Men in business suits will be leaning out of their windows, singing at the top of their lungs and yelling to everyone else, “Sing, dang you! I’m late for work!”
Another innovation was the “artistic vehicle” movement. Cars in Korea are almost complete black, white, or gray. Mayor Kwak offered huge discounts in vehicle taxes to anyone who decorated their own car. Koreans are natural artists and everyone likes to save money, so it didn’t take long to catch on. Now, you can look out on a traffic jam of green, yellow and neon pink cars; cars with Hello Kitty on the hood; cars with childish scribbles on the doors; and vans plastered with the entire casts of Korean dramas. The upside is that it is now very hard to lose your car in a parking lot.
My favorite innovation, however, was the “meanderbuses”. These were buses that did not have a set route. They just went wherever the driver felt like. These took a little longer to become popular and even now, they’re not used a lot. After all, it’s hard to take one to work when you don’t even know where it’s going. Which is precisely the reason I love them.
You have to keep your eyes peeled. There are only five meanderbuses for the whole city. You can follow them on Twitter if you want to know where they are currently, or just use the old-fashioned method, which is a group of spotters who keep each other informed.
Every time I ride one, I find a new place. Once the bus went out into the mountains on little one-lane roads for about an hour and drove past five toothpick factories in a row. Another time I found the Jeonju Museum of Culinary Snake Meat Substitutes. Who knew?
Last Thursday I was waiting at the bus stop to go to work when a meanderbus showed up. Of course I took it and called in sick. It was good that I did too. Mayor Kwak was on that bus, showing off the program to a group of reporters and government officials. They asked me how I liked it and I told them it was great. We cruised around Jeonju for a couple hours and then had lunch at a galbi restaurant that was housed in a former bomb shelter complex, built under Mount Hwasan. I didn’t even know it was there before.
July 30th, 2012 at 12:06 am
That sounds totally fantastic. The traffic lights are ingenious. Gives a new meaning to “singing for your supper”. The meanderbus too. Haha! You’ve got to love it 😀
July 31st, 2012 at 12:53 pm
Thanks. It is fiction, I’m afraid, but I would love to see this. I’d like to ride that bus. 🙂
July 31st, 2012 at 5:33 pm
Well done then, you made it sound so believable. A testament to your writing style
July 30th, 2012 at 12:07 am
Reblogged this on Mondrak's Blog and commented:
This sounds fantastic. More countries should adopt this idea 😀
July 30th, 2012 at 12:43 am
Well, as an American tourist, I am definitely intrigued! I think all of these innovative ideas are stellar. I can’t even pick a favorite. : )
July 31st, 2012 at 12:46 pm
Thanks. I think the karaoke stoplights is the most implausible, but I’d love to see it in action. 🙂
July 30th, 2012 at 5:13 am
July 31st, 2012 at 12:45 pm
Thanks! I’m glad you liked it.
July 30th, 2012 at 9:11 am
“meanderbuses” is interesting. I remembered that there is “mystery buses” in Japan. People who didn’t know where they would go for travel.
They can some famous tourist spots. 🙂
July 31st, 2012 at 12:45 pm
That’s an interesting idea. I’d love to go on one of those and find some new place. 🙂
July 30th, 2012 at 2:30 pm
Great work. Loved this!
(and I love karaoke) 😀
July 30th, 2012 at 5:08 pm
So funny. You’re on to something here with the Meanderbus. That’s fabulous. I want to ride one and get lost. It would be a big hit!
July 31st, 2012 at 12:43 pm
I know, right? I wish this wasn’t fiction. I’d love to ride that.
July 31st, 2012 at 12:54 pm
The Meanderbus could be a great adventure, except you would have to make sure you can get a ride back. 🙂 This could be yet another great story….
July 31st, 2012 at 1:19 pm
Fabulous imagination you have there! Loving karaoke stoplights… Combine them all for a great adventure. Someone at Burning Man will likely give it a try!
August 1st, 2012 at 2:18 pm
You had me hooked and nearly a believer. I have to tell you, this actually sounds quite a bit like my Burning Man experience. If you’ve never been, Google it. Also, you should go. It will give you more material to write about than you can even imagine. I live by the desert where it takes place. Let me know if you ever decide to venture this way. You are welcome in my home anytime, and we can sit around and make up fabulous tales together!
August 2nd, 2012 at 12:08 am
I’ve heard of Burning Man, and seen videos about it but I’ve never been. It seems quite an interesting, eclectic sort of event. If I ever go, I’ll let you know. 🙂
August 1st, 2012 at 8:44 pm
meanderbuses are bit scary though 🙂
December 11th, 2012 at 1:03 am
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