Sometimes There Are Nice People with Free Juice

So I don’t exactly know what to tell a cab driver yet when I need to get home.

Without mobile data on my phone, getting home via taxi is nearly impossible until I learn fluent Korean or develop a savant-level understanding of every road and landmark in Busan.

This lack of knowledge has recently bitten me very hard in the ass. Or – perhaps I shouldn’t say lack of knowledge, but rather possessing knowledge that I later found was quite misleading.

I live in Allak-dong, which is a small neighborhood located in a larger district called Dongnae-gu. My apartment is across the street from a large elementary school, so I figured that would be a choice landmark to tell a taxi driver when the subways and buses stop running.

That said, allow me to set the scene…

It’s 10:30 P.M. on a Sunday night. I’ve just arrived at the bus station after a weekend visiting friends and picking up some stuff in Gwangju. I’m rolling a small carry-on suitcase full of exercise clothes and smelly things to get rid of the dog smell in my apartment. I have a newly purchased, unlocked iPhone that I hope to use as my Korean phone once I get my new ARC (Alien Registration Card.) Of course, it only works with Wi-Fi, and the battery of my current Korean phone is dead because it can’t go 12 hours without a recharge.

While the buses and subway are still running, I decide that my small piece of luggage and eagerness to get back warrant a cheeky little cab ride home. So I hop in a cab and tell the driver to go to Allak-dong, (name of elementary school.) He asked me to repeat the name several times – in fact, more times than seemed necessary, but who was I to complain?

I began to recognize a few buildings along the way – mostly those that were far from walking distance from my apartment, so I was feeling confident. I even noticed a cute little Swedish-themed coffee shop called Cafe Fika. I made a mental note to try and track it down later on.

About 20 minutes pass, and we arrive at the elementary school. However, given that the school covers much ground, the driver clearly took me to what seemed like the opposite side of the property. I could not recognize any part of the building or neighborhood we were in, especially since it was dark. Had I known Korean, I would have asked this man to pull around to the other side of the school, but, alas, I could only tell him to either go left, right, or straight.

So this driver just keeps driving around in circles. I tell him Allak-dong, and he insists that we’re in Allak-dong. I believe him, since I haven’t been in my neighborhood long enough to navigate it properly. At this point, I start to get teary-eyed. I try telling him the name of the hagwon where I work, asks me to repeat the name at least six times, and then shakes his head. I try asking him if he has GPS or navigation, and that’s when I realized that I was screwed.

I’d say that the majority of taxis I’ve taken in Korea have had a GPS system, allowing drivers to find a passenger’s destination more easily and efficiently. But nope – this guy was sticking to the good old-fashioned technique of asking for the name of the place 6-10 times.

Then I ask him to go to Chungyeolsa, which is the closest subway station to my apartment. Granted, I don’t know how to get home from Chungyeolsa station, (I usually take the bus from a bigger subway station,) but I figured there was more civilization and helpful people in that area who I could ask. I repeat the name about 10 times, but he has no idea what I’m talking about, despite the fact that we had just passed it.

I start sobbing, because there’s no way my accent is THAT bad. (I mean, I’ve gotten by a year in Korea so far.) I keep asking, “Chungyeolsa? Chungyeolsa? Nae? Ani?” He does not respond. He asks another cab driver, “Jungyeolsa?” the other cab driver goes, “Chungyeolsa?” and me, the hysterical white woman in the back of the cab shouts, “Nae! Chungyeolsa!” It was a true eureka moment.*

But then I’m taken to the actual Chungyeolsa temple, which really doesn’t help. I hold up my subway/bus card to try and tell him to go to the Chungyeolsa subway station, which couldn’t have been that far away. This only confuses him. (This was also the last time I saw my subway/bus card before losing it.)

Suddenly, I realize that I don’t actually NEED to take a cab the whole way home. I finally tell him to go to Yeonsan intersection, where I can grab a bus and head straight home. Luckily, I only have to repeat the name maybe 5 times, so I’m feeling a bit more hopeful. He takes me there, and I pay the ridiculous fare on my card since I didn’t have much cash on me.

Then I walk up to the bus stop and notice my bus pulling away. No big whoop, I thought. I’ll just wait. I check the time and realize that it’s 11:30 P.M. The bus that just passed me was the last bus of the night.

So I reach into my pocket to take out my iPhone, hoping I could latch onto some surrounding WiFi – the phone’s not there. I put down my backpack and purse on the sidewalk, desperately searching – nope, not there.

Instead of panicking, I hail another cab. Awesome, I thought. This guy’s got GPS. He can definitely find my hagwon. He plugs in the name of my hagwon into the GPS. Once again we pass Chungyeolsa, where there’s a very large Seven Eleven that is bound to have WiFi, or at least an outlet for me to charge my Korean phone.

But then I’m taken to some dark alleyway. The driver looks up at one of the buildings and asks if it is my hagwon. It is not. So I ask him to take me back to the Seven Eleven we just passed. He does so, and I graciously pay him.

Then, right around the corner, I see a beacon of light: Cafe Fika is still open. It’s almost midnight, but the Dalecarlian horses are still fully lit and ready to welcome my desperate ass. I plug my Korean phone into an outlet. The battery’s so dead, however, it won’t even go to the home screen – and to add insult to injury, it decides to “optimize apps” without my permission, rendering the phone useless until the apps are sufficiently optimized.

Feeling guilty for just sitting there, clinging to my lifeless phone, I decide to order an americano from the nice, sweatshirted barista. He makes the sign for “We’re closing,” which in Korea is normally making an “X” with your arms. I check back on my phone. Still trying to optimize those apps so that my battery life will be even weaker once it’s fully charged.

Finally, I ask the barista if I could use his phone. At this point, I’m looking pretty pathetic, so much so that you would have to be a heartless beast to say “No” to me. (If any of you listen to the Throwing Shade podcast, I was doing my best Yarn Tethers.) He hands me his phone, proving that he is not a heartless beast. (And, if he listens to Throwing Shade, perhaps can’t wait to tell people that he saw a real-life Yarn Tethers.) So I try to log into my gmail account, since I know I can find the address to my hagwon there. But Google, keeping me so safe and secure, would not let me log in.

So I cave in and ask if he knows my hagwon. Luckily, he speaks some English, so communication is less of an obstacle. He searches it on his phone, shows me a picture of the hagwon’s lobby, and I say “YES!” ecstatically. He writes down the address, and I am good to go.

But then he tells me, “Wait 10 minutes, I will go with you.” I smile and nod, and decide to wait for him to close up the coffee shop. My frazzled, exhausted mind is thinking some paranoid Oh shit, the driver’s gonna end up taking me to an abandoned abattoir in Ulsan instead thoughts, but I decide to trust my instincts.

We hail down a cab. The barista shows the driver the address. The driver plugs in the address into the GPS. So far, so good.

The drive is starting to feel a bit longer than I would imagine, seeing that Cafe Fika was next to Chungyeolsa station, which is the closest station to my apartment and hagwon.

I then recognize a street name that I tried giving the first cab driver. Things are looking good.

I turn to my right and notice the bakery located just around the corner from my apartment. “YOGIYO!” I tell the driver. I offer the barista money, but he so kindly pays the fare instead.

The barista gets out of the cab with me. I ask for his name and we shake hands. He starts to pull something out of his tote bag.

“Here, free juice.”

It’s a small bottle of Martinelli’s apple juice.

I thank him profusely and remind myself to become an eternal patron of this establishment.

After about 2 hours of tears and blind frustration, I come back to my apartment with an overwhelming sense of relief and anxiousness to set up the new aroma diffuser I’ve been lugging around in my suitcase. I try my best to set my mind at ease about the lost iPhone, reminding myself that I can simply ask for help finding it the next day. After all, I paid with a card, and had enough information to track down the cab otherwise. Just drink your apple juice, Kimberly.

And with that, I got the iPhone back, too.


Lessons Learned: Always pay cab fare with a card, carry around the address of your hagwon with you, and just take the freakin’ subway and/or bus unless otherwise necessary.

In addition, my faith in not only the Korean people, but those involved with Swedish-related things, is restored.

Featured GIF via GIPHY


*For the record, I was saying Chungyeolsa.

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