Diary of a Greeter

Leg 10 – Seoul, South Korea

This was kind of a good news – bad news leg, diary. The bad news? Evil still walks among us. The good news? I didn’t start World War Three. So I suppose we’re even.

The less said about the Pit Stop, the better. The percentage of Jon and Kelly in the group was reaching near toxic levels, so I didn’t spend much time watching the eat-sleep-mingle. I did stay for a little while because Al started doing some tricks. (What can I say? The clowns are growing on me. I think they do well by comparison to everyone else who’s left.) Anyway, it was all good until he tried to pull a quarter from behind Jon’s ear. Jon just kept spinning his head around, and around, and around. He thought it was pretty funny, but by the fourth revolution I was starting to get queasy. I decided that enough was enough and went for a nap.

Turns out I was more tired than I thought. By the time I woke up, the teams were already heading out. I had been warned that there was some flying coming up, and I knew it would be a while until we had to go to airport, so I figured I’d get a little refreshment before the production team headed out. I was on my way to the buffet table when BVM pulled me aside.

“Where the Hell have you been? Never mind; I don’t actually care. Get over to makeup. Now.”

“Makeup? We’re not even in country yet! Why do I have to get make up now?”
Ordinarily I’d be all in favour of a good flaying – hell, I’d sell tickets – but I still need you for a couple more legs.
“Well, you’ve done such an excellent job of keeping a low profile that every actors union in Asia is now on the lookout for our scab labour. We’re going to try to sneak you across the border incognito. Besides, the doc tells me that if you keep that shoe polish on for very much longer, it’ll start to react with the spirit glue from the orangutan suit. Apparently the effect is kind of like a full-body chemical peel. Ordinarily I’d be all in favour of a good flaying – hell, I’d sell tickets – but I still need you for a couple more legs. So move, while you still have skin to save.”

He didn’t need to tell me twice. Besides, I was kind of missing my natural pasty complexion.

Unfortunately for me, to save time and keep me low-profile, they decided to take me straight from South Asian to Korean. At the time, I figured it was just as well: I’d get more of a break at the other end, I’d might get better treatment from the locals, and I would avoid being beaten to a pulp by disgruntled Korean actors. Those guys invented tae kwon do, so I was especially happy about the last bit.

Yes, yes, I’m an optimistic idiot. You’re just noticing that now?

The flight to Seoul was uneventful. We had tickets booked for an earlier landing via Hong Kong; BVM figured that would put us ahead of the Racers. Unfortunately for us, a couple of the teams managed to wangle standby tickets on the same flight, so we all arrived at the same time. BVM wanted to get us out of there fast.

“Go grab us a cab. A good one. And remember, you’re supposed to be local. Try to blend in.”

It didn’t take long for me to find a van big enough to take eight of us. The driver looked at me, waved his hands, and said…. something. Anyway, he seemed to have to go see somebody before he could deal with me. I wanted to make sure we kept the cab, so I just hung out by the open door. Then I heard those fateful words.

“TAXI!”

I turned to see Jon, Al, and two vaguely familiar guys barreling towards me, followed by their camera and sound guys. Half their kit was in the door before I even knew what was happening.

BVM’s words echoed in my brain: Try to blend in. “Uh, konichi-wa kung fu chow mein great wall chun king wing chun panmunjom!”

“Sorry dude, no habla,” said the slightly more familiar guy. “Uh, English? Nam Sang tower?”

One of the camera guys caught my eye and shot me a look that said Roll with it, buddy.

Indeed. “Um, little English. Take you to Nam Sang tower in taxi, kimchi? All of hyundai you?”

“Yes please, and step on it. How much?”

“Ten dollars. American. Each.” If I was going to roll with this, it was going to be worth my while.

Eighty dollars later we were on the way. Luckily for me, I had spent half the flight over flipping through a Seoul guidebook, which I still had with me. I seemed to remember something about Nam Sang in there. I pulled it out of my pocket as I walked around to the driver’s door and opened it to the map page. A little nonchalant glancing down at my lap on the way there and no one would be the wiser.

“Uh, dude, didn’t that sign say one way?”

Crap. “No no no is special Korean sign. Only taxi goes this way.”

“Everyone’s honking, dude.”

“Oh, that guy my cousin. He saying hello.”

HONK HONK HONK!

“Hello Kimchi!”

The rest of the trip is a blur of horns, headlights, and “Dude!”s. Finally I saw the lights of the tower and pulled in. “Enjoy your visit. Bye bye!”

“Hang on, dude. We might need you.”

Crap. Sure enough, forty-five seconds later they all came barreling back down towards me, leaving a trail of little paper strips and clue envelopes.

“Can you take us up North?”
North. That would be towards the paranoid dictator with nuclear weapons and his heavily armed cult of personality. I think not.
North. That would be towards the paranoid dictator with nuclear weapons and his heavily armed cult of personality. I think not.

Al spoke up. “We can pay you. Quite well. One hundred dollars. Each.”

Someone had been saving his pennies. Maybe it was all the quarters he’d been pulling out of ears. Well, in for a penny, in for eight C-notes, as my old man used to say.

“Okay. Where to?”

Which is how I found myself on the way to the Sundam valley. I soon realized that there was a lot of English on the signs, so I figured it wouldn’t be that hard to find. Not only that, but there were people just about everywhere. Whenever I got confused, I just pulled over. It was all fine until the fifth or sixth stop.

“Dude, another bathroom break?”

Not knowing the Korean word for nervous bladder, I just grinned at him and ran into the store. This time, though, they all got out and followed me. One of the sound men walked up beside me. “Busted!” he muttered. Bastard.

Well, there was nothing for it. I laid the map out and started yammering at the clerk. He looked at me as though I had two heads, and yammered something equally unintelligible back. The racers were all totally mystified, so I saw my opportunity.

“No, no, in English! For them. Sundam valley?”

He rolled his eyes and started pointing at the map. I caught “road,” “turn,” three different numbers, and “Get to the bridge, go across, it’s not far.” That would have to do.

“Thank you! Kimchi! Bye now!”

The racers were dozing off when we came up to the bridge. One of them perked up. “Didn’t he say not to cross the bridge?”

I smiled into the rear view mirror. “It’s okay. He said not too far! Kimchi!” Then I saw the row of tanks. And the guy waving. And the guns.

“This can’t be right!”

“It’s okay! Kimchi!” I said, grinning maniacally while racking my brain. Did the guy say Get to the bridge, go across, it’s not far, or was it Get to the bridge, no across, it’s gone too far? And would they really shoot a taxi?

The South Koreans? No. But by this time I was bearing down on a barricade with some distinctly itchy looking North Koreans behind it. “Okay, we turn around now!” I grinned.

Hmmm, handbrake turn, or bootlegger 180? Decisions, decisions. Go with the handbrake; there’s a reason it’s a classic. As we spun around, tires spinning, gravel flying, I heard a number of distinct pops. Oh crap, that’s the tires, I thought. Then I saw three little holes in the back window. Oh crap, that’s not the tires!
Luckily, my passengers were by now cowering on the floor, so there is no actual footage to prove that I kind of had what the papers call a border incident, or what the army calls an invasion.
Luckily, my passengers were by now cowering on the floor, so there is no actual footage to prove that I kind of had what the papers call a border incident, or what the army calls an invasion. I’m pretty sure that I only got two wheels into the North, and they were moving pretty fast back to the South. I doubt they even stopped.

No one looked up until we were back across the bridge.

“Dude…”

“All good! My friends pointed direction with rifles! We okay, get there soon. Kimchi!”

The nice thing about traumatic stress is that when you come down, you get real lethargic. No one bugged me for a good half hour. I eventually saw the Sundam valley sign and pulled in.

“I wait for you, okay?”

Al gave me a look. “Okay. Yeah, you wait. It’s not like there’s any other cabs here.”

It was pretty cold, so I wandered down to the tents by the river where everyone was waiting. BVM spotted me and bore down, thunder in his brow and my destruction on his mind.

“You little…”

“Hello! I just taxi driver. Kimchi! Your racers give me good money, see!” I said, waving the eight hundred dollars. “See?” I repeated, pressing it into his hand.

“I see. We’ll talk later, taxi boy.” He stuffed the money in his pocket and walked off. Easy come, easy go.

Meanwhile, the racers were getting ready. It turns out that they had to swim under the ice. There was a doctor there to take their temperature before and after and make sure they were okay. I looked over while Jon (no, the other one) was getting prepped. The doc seemed a little confused; he kept checking his thermometer, then trying to take Jon’s temperature again.

“What’s up, doc?” cackled Jon.

“Hmmm… I think it’s broken. It’s just showing me… air temperature. It must be broken. Oh well, you look fine. You go ahead.” Jon just grinned. The temperature dropped another four degrees.

I decided that heated tents or not, I’d feel warmer back at the cab, so off I went.

I had dozed off when there was a knock on the window. “Dude, uh, can we go now?”

I looked at the two of them suspiciously. “Where your friends?”

“Uh, they, uh, they’re a little busy. But it’s okay. Can we go. Uh, now?”
A look which, as I recalled it, said You almost got me killed. Screw me over again, and I’ll repay that favour. With interest.
They were really keen to be on the way. But I remembered Al’s look. A look which, as I recalled it, said You almost got me killed. Screw me over again, and I’ll repay that favour. With interest.

There’s a good reason kids think clowns are scary. They are scary. Time to stall.

“Okay, we go. Where we go?”

“Back to Seoul, dude.”

“Sure, Kimchi! Which Seoul?”

“Which… what?”

That got them. While they conferred, I grinned and waved. “Got to turn cab around. Be right back. Kimchi!”

Turn cab around in this case was Korean for Drive around block four times. I figured that would be long enough for the clowns to finish. Sure enough, just as I pulled up they were arriving.

The Dudes were acting all happy to see them, and I just couldn’t let that go by. “Hello Dudies! You ready go now? I not see other guys. Ohhhh, there other guys. Hello! Kimchi!”

Al’s eyes narrowed. “You weren’t going to…”

“Good job turning around Dude! You got gas? Great, my friends will be happy to hear that. Let’s go!” Heh. Looks like someone else has got the fear of clown in them.

Having driven up from Seoul, I found the return much easier, although those holes in the rear window did make things drafty. The racers wanted to go to some subway station. I tried to get them there – really I did – but we hit Seoul in rush hour and just got locked down. Adding to the problem was the fact that I actually had no clue where I was going. I was also beginning to wonder about getting to the Pit Stop.

Fortunately, I had succeeded somehow in establishing my total incompetence in the eyes of my racers. Thus it only took a few wrong turns, a couple of well-timed head scratches, and one long, long wait at a green light to convince them that their chances of actually getting to the next route marker with me at the wheel were roughly equivalent to those of Chuck ever knowing the love of a good woman. Soon enough they bailed out. Jon managed to shout “Thanks for the help!” while simultaneously whispering “I’ll see you in Hell, you pathetic excuse for a cabbie!” Must be one of those circus tricks.

Relieved, finally, of my burden, I pulled over to the nearest piece of sidewalk and abandoned my bullet-ridden cab for good. I left a ten-spot in the glove compartment; given the exchange rate that should let the real driver replace his rear window and pay to have his floor mats steam cleaned. Which, after our little border contretemps, they desperately needed. I won’t mention any names, I’ll just say that mine wasn’t the only nervous bladder in the cab that day.

I was just about to start looking for a phone booth when a black Suburban with tinted windows pulled up beside me. Four eight-foot tall goons clambered out, picked me up (one limb each) and threw me bodily into the back seat.

“Ahh, BV. Good to see you again,” I grunted.

“Shut up. And just be thankful we give our camera crews cell phones. If the sound guy hadn’t text messaged me your co-ordinates, I would have actually had an excuse to abandon you here. Now then, let’s see. By my count, today you’ve violated the laws of at least three countries plus the United Nations. Tell me again why we hired you?”

“’Cause I work cheap. And that eight hundred I gave you – what would Standards and Practices say about a game show executive accepting payments from contestants?”

He glared at me. “You wouldn’t dare…”

“What are you going to do? Make me your monkey? Oops, too late!”

“Just… just shut up.”

We hopped out at the Pit Stop. “Get to costume.”

“But I’m already in costume, remember? That’s how all this insanity got started.”

“Yes. Yes it is. And how much more insane will it be when our racers are greeted at the mat by the insane cab driver who tried to have them shot dead at the border?”

Sigh. “Okay, costume it is.”

They weren’t really for me to have another costume. Which explains the giant papa-san chair they gave me to wear as a hat and the forty-seven feet of wooden love beads around my neck, not to mention the World’s Worst Fake Beard. Seriously – the thing looked like it was made from Naugahyde. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. Until I saw Phil. And the sweater.

“Lose another bet, Phil?”

“As a matter of fact I did. I bet BVM that you’d fall through the ice and drown. That’ll teach me to engage in wishful thinking. Now shut up, they’re coming.”

Oh crap. There they were, the Prince of Darkness and his bride. As they approached the mat, I thought that he was kissing her hand. Silly me. It turns out that her knuckles were bleeding for some reason, and he just wanted a snack. Shudder.
. I swear that when they turned to hug each other, I saw a tentacle growing out from behind Chip’s ear – and it was moving. What is up with that?
Phil awarded them a cruise to the Caribbean. I hear that three volcanoes erupted in honour of the occasion.

Next up were Chip and Reichen. I’m starting to worry that Jon is having an effect on the other teams. I swear that when they turned to hug each other, I saw a tentacle growing out from behind Chip’s ear – and it was moving. What is up with that?

Then I heard an unearthly howl. I looked up to see Jon and Al charging at me. Oh crap, I thought, they’re clowns. They’ve seen every fake beard on the planet! They made me! I can see the headline now: Man strangled by an enraged clown.

(No, really, I can. It was in this week’s Enquirer.)

Lucky for me, they were too happy to hear that they were in third place to pay much attention to me in my poor-man’s-Charlie-Chan get-up. I just kind of mumbled and looked at the ground.

Last, and least, were my old traveling buddies, the Dudes. They were quite relieved when Phil told them it was a non-elimination leg. I’m pretty sure that they’re going to overdub their original reaction with something more TV-friendly, so I’ll reproduce it here:

“Dude!”

“Sweet!”

“Dude!”

“Sweet!”

“Dude!”

“Sweet!”

Yeah, I know. Eloquence, thy name is Goats. Still, they were happy. I just had to congratulate them myself. “Good job. Kimchi!”

Heh. That sure shut them up. See you later, diary.