11:40 PM last Sunday. I step off a bus at "Express Bus Terminal" in southern Seoul. I am returning from Jeonju.
A taxi is lurking nearby. It's almost a rare sight in Seoul to not see a taxi. I get in. Surprise: The driver is a woman! She is in her late 30s or 40s, I think. Thin. She speaks quickly and enthusiastically. Her voice reminds me of my first boss' voice, from Ilsan. She grips the wheel tightly, at ten o'clock and two o'clock. She drives quickly. She makes at least one obvious wrong turn, despite being led by GPS, and says some Korean equivalent to "Aw, damn!" (or worse).
I was surprised that the driver was a woman, of course. It's the first time in my life that I've seen a woman taxi driver. I wonder about her. How did she get into that business? Why? When?
Why was I riding a taxi?
The intercity bus passengers, me included, mostly wanted to get into the miraculously-cheap subway network (the base adult fare for which is only 95 U.S. cents in 2013, at any time of day. My ride was longer, but I'd still get home for a delightful $1.25). The station-guard turned everyone back. We'd narrowly missed the last trains. -- Okay. -- No big problem -- Just inconvenience. -- I'd have to get a taxi to Seoul Station, and then get on a long-distance bus to my home in Bucheon. (Plan B, taxi and bus, would cost 8,000 Won for the taxi and 2,000 Won for the bus [bus travel time: 45 minutes, traveling on the highway, limited stops]. Total extra cost: $9.00.)
At the nearby shopping center at which I buy a lot of my food (called "HomePlus"), there are twenty or thirty "checkout lanes", places at which cashiers scan your groceries and you pay. At certain busy times, all the lanes are full. When that's the case, there are always a couple of male cashiers. Otherwise, the job of supermarket-cashier is 100%-female in Korea, in my experience.
I have often noticed something strange, in these cases. When male cashier clerks are present, they always, always have the shortest lines. Few want to go into their lines. Koreans would rather choose a line with three people ahead and a woman cashier, than a line with one person ahead and a male cashier! It's a waste of several minutes, which Koreans usually don't tolerate. I also find myself doing this, that is, avoiding male cashiers. I can't explain it.