Monday, May 23, 2005


If you've ever lived in a country where you can't speak the language, you will probably quickly find out how hopeless things can get. Spending time in one's home country, where most of the people can speak the same language as you can generate some "taking it for granted-ness" about what you can do. Are you sick? Go to the doctor and tell him or her what's wrong. Are you hungry? Go to a restaurant and browse the menu and tell the waiter or waitress what you want. Are you in need of other services? Open a yellow pages. Call someone. They'll sort you out.

Not so here. When I'm sick, yes, I go to the doctor, and I point at where it hurts and say "apumneeda" -(sick.) When I'm hungry, I can go to a restaurant and point at something on the wall menu (usually) and hope for the best. If I need other services, I am useless and require the assistance of others who speak the language.

The extent of my uselessness was oh so apparent recently. As I mentioned previously, I had a university pal come and visit me recently. He was here about a week and a half and we had a great time. It was especially nice to speak rapid-fire English with him. It was also great to get out and about and show him around interesting Korea. Highlights of his visit were walking around Gyeungju (I have heard it described as to Korea as Kyoto is to Japan) and it was very interesting. Not a high-rise in sight, traditional old houses and architecture, and a lot of grass covered huge mounds, which were actually royal tombs! Walking through the vast markets in Pusan was great, as was having a good ole all-night dance and drink fest at a cool club near Pusan's University.

Actually, we had been walking so much over the past week and all day in the markets before heading to the club, that I was tired and my legs were aching. There were a couple of cool "pump-up-the-crowd" live bands we enjoyed, but the music afterward wasn't to my liking. I don't know how to describe it, maybe "latino-jungle-trance?" Does such a beast exist? My friend G got his dance on. Having spent the last 3 years in a city in northern Japan sans dance club, he was overdue. He danced and I cheered him on. With my barking dogs, and lack of excitement over the music, I just couldn't feign enthusiasm.

Watching G, though, made me so happy. The joy on his face and the unlimited amount of energy he had was something to see. I'm sure the crowd thought so too. The smallish dance floor was super-crowded (which was another reason I wasn't on it) and so G jumped up on the stage. Because he was so hyped up, and because he is a really excellent dancer, they let him stay there. Everyone was watching him, and he pumped them up. I'm sure they enjoyed him, but I'll tell you, I adored him. He's such a good man, I hope he finds a great girl soon, because I know he'd like to.

Anyhow, I have gotten off-topic again.

G was set to leave on a Monday night. I had to work, but he came down and met me. We were going to do a little shopping at Wal-Mart, which G had said he wanted to check out, just to say he'd been in a Wal-Mart in Korea! Then we would have some dinner and I would take him to the bus terminal where he would take an overnight bus right to Incheon Airport in Seoul.

Things went as planned. We did some shopping, had our so-so last meal at a 5,000 won all-u-can-eat bbq place where an old drunk Korean man kept coming over to give us soju and share all his learned English phrases with us ( a lot of "I love you's" and "I am Korea's!) G and I took a taxi to the bus station and sat outside talking for about half an hour before his 12:30am bus arrived. We actually had a conversation along the lines of what I was talking about at the beginning of this post.

I bid G a sad goodbye with promises of meeting up again soon...probably in Canada, as that's where he's headed after a month or so of dancing his ass off in Tokyo.

I headed back to my apartment in a cab and got ripped off by the cab driver. A normal 12,000won ride came up to over 20,000won on his meter. I knew he was ripping me off as soon as I got in the cab and realized he started the meter at 2700, where it should have read ,1800 (the price goes up a bit after midnight.) I couldn't just jump out of the cab, though, as the route home from the bus terminal goes quickly from downtown to industrial complexes. If I had insisted on his stopping, I'd be stuck waiting for another cab to roll along indefinitely. I did protest in my very limited Korean and sulked and sighed a lot as the meter flipped up and up, and when we finally arrived at my apartment he handed me back 5,000 from the 20,000 I had given him, with a lot of apologies.

Anyhow. Tired and sad I climbed the 4 flights to my apartment only to search for my key. My key. Where the fuck was my key??!?!

I'll tell you where it was. It was asleep in sleeping G's pocket on a bus to Incheon.


I have no cell phone, and stupidly, also did not have the numbers of my boss or any of my co-workers in my bag. Besides, it was about 1:30am by this time. The gruff old man who sleeps in the "management" office was no help at all. He wrote down note in Korean with a number for me to call in the morning. I was embarrassed to almost start to cry in front of him, pleading in English for him to "help me" and miming a "lock-pick."

Too bad so sad. He resumed his sleeping pose on the couch in the office, pretending I wasn't there anymore. I stepped outside into the chilly night to go over my options, while staring up at my balcony with my open door way up on the 4th floor. Could I convince my sleeping neighbor whom I'd never seen to shimmy over? No, that's dangerous. Could I climb up there? No, that's super-human. Spider-woman, I am not.

The Mystic Being who controls the universe (Yoda?) smiled on me that night, though, because after about 20 minutes standing outside trying to figure out what to do, a couple drove up in a car, parked, and were walking toward the apartment building beside mine. I quietly said "Hi, do you speak English?" To which, the female said, miraculously, "Yes, I do!" Her fiance did not, but this woman's English ability far surpassed even the English teachers I work with! Amazing. After placing a few calls on both of their cellphones, (I think they even called 1-1-9, the Korean equivalent of 9-1-1) they established I was indeed SOL for the night, but they drove me to a yogwan about 10 minutes away, and she returned for me in the morning after visiting the local locksmith and arranging for him to meet us at my apartment. He had me back in my digs in about 30 seconds.

I wanted to squeeze the locksmith, and my beautiful Korean angel so hard that their ears popped, but I refrained and instead gave them many deep bows and thank you thank you thank you.

Five minutes inside and the phone rang. It was G at Incheon saying how sorry he was. He didn't realize he still had my key until he emptied his pockets at the security check.

Ah, these things happen, and all's well that end's well. I guess the morale of the story is, make sure you have the phone number of someone who speaks the language and can help you out. Better yet, get off your lazy ass and learn the language already! Oh, and make copies of your keys! I've made one and taped it to the roof of my mailbox. If you can figure out where I live, come on over and come on in. If your intentions are not pure though, Kamikaze the Sumo-Cat will bite your ankle off.

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