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Korea: Final Reflections- I’m not in Vancouver Anymore

November 10, 2011

On our second to last day in Korea, James was out at an invitation-only men’s ultimate game and I was getting caught up on writing in my journal back at the apartment. I received an email from James indicating that the field was easy to get to and that I should grab a taxi and come to take pictures and watch. I thought why not; better to be out exploring this new culture and city, rather than just writing about it.

So, I headed out and easily hailed a cab. With the park name in hand and James’ friend Jacob’s cell number just in case, I headed for the field. It was meant to be a fairly short journey – maybe 15 minutes at most – but it was an hour later that I arrived at the field, with some pretty angry words for James. Here’s why:

I got in the cab and greeted the driver in my one of three known Korean phrases: Annyong Haseyo! Then I told him the name of the park. He replied with what sounded like a slightly different name so I repeated the name. He said “ok ok” and we were off. As we got closer to where I hoped was my destination, we were at a fork in the road and the driver asked me which way he should turn. Of course I had absolutely no idea. All I could do was repeat the destination that I had initially requested.

To make a long story short, the next 45 minutes included the driver stopping to ask for directions four times, me getting out of the cab to ask at an information centre, me crying with frustration and fear, which made the cabbie very anxious that I stop the tears. I think he was worried he’d get in trouble. There was also some humorous (in retrospect) charades in which I tried to explain that I was looking for a sports field. I stupidly started with ultimate, which he mistook for tennis. After him going through a handful of other sports, including handball, I gave up. Every time the driver asked for directions, he gave me hope with his “ok, ok”. I naïvely thought this meant he knew where he was going.

Each time we ended up more lost than ever as he pulled up to a variety of incorrect locations. We even called the translation service that is designed for circumstances such as these. I gave the person on the phone the same location name I had given the cabbie and somehow the cabbie reported to know better after that interaction. He didnt. After the first 30 min, he indicated “discount” to me, recognizing that he was lost, and reassuring me that he wouldnt charge me for his mistake. At the 45 minute mark he turned off the meter and pointed that out to me. I don’t think he realized that whether the ride cost $6 or $60, I was not reassured, I just wanted to get there, and would have paid anything to make it happen.

All’s well that ended well, I found James just as the final point of the game was being played. Not to say I didnt give James an earful first! It wasn’t really his fault but it definitely felt that way at the time.

Our final day – Monday, November 7th

A second incident occurred that cemented some ideas that I had about Korean culture. James called the airport a day ahead to find out if we could store some belongings for a fee while we went to Indonesia. The response he got from information was that yes, we could store a large bag of items for a cost of $55. We thought that was reasonable so arrived at the airport with our extra bag ready for storing. When we arrived, we were met with the alarming charge of $168. This was more than triple than what we expected. Again, to make another long story short, we were anxious to check in for our flight, and therefore checked our extra baggage before heading to the information desk to inquire and complain.

After 30 minutes of waiting and talking, we were able to speak to the same person James had talked with the day before. From her we learned that the storage staff the day before didn’t speak English, so instead of transferring James (who would also have been able to converse in Korean), she blindly made up the rate of $55. Surreal to me; who does that at an international, world-renowned airport? She assured us that she was very sorry.

After fuming about how this would cause us to have too much stuff to travel with around Bali, I asked James if it’s in the Korean culture to never say no. He said yes. So, I learned that you may end up on a frustrating adventure, at any time, if someone doesn’t know the answer to your question. Lesson learned: ask the same question at least twice before you accept it as the truth.

I can see how Korea would be an interesting place to live and teach English. James has some amazing friends from his adventures and his eyes light up when he has the chance to speak Korean and eat the food, even in Vancouver. Unfortunately for me, having not lived there, I can’t really imagine a place I’d rather be less.

Firstly, especially in the city, it’s ugly. There’s a lot of pollution and few trees. The culture is one that values nonsensical English words that they display everywhere, from their clothing to their shop names. They also seem to love cartoons and what I find to be very childish accessories.

Certainly most people are nice and will go out of their way to help you if you ask, but they’re also very aggressive, akin to other Asian countries, such as India. Top that off with the food – mostly spicy, fermented, and either meat laden or almost devoid of protein, and you really couldn’t describe a place I’d rather visit less. Every country and every culture have unique and beautiful things about them. I feel honored and lucky to have travelled as much as I have. This is simply the first time I have no desire to return. At least I know that future trips to Korea will be had by James alone, and I’ll sip on a coconut until he’s had his fill and can join me at the beach.

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One Comment
  1. Nicole, say it ain’t so! Don’t give up, I’m sure James can win you over on Korea.
    Ask him to have you visit the defunct military installations along the beaches of the east coast, the cute little cement bunkers on the beach with the plywood soldier manequins with painted-on uniforms . . . all surrounded with barbed wire . . .

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