Getting Lost in Korea (literally)

This would happen to me.

Day 1 in Daegu: I met a few of my new co-teachers for my two middle schools here. One of them drove me to my apartment and literally spent about 4 hours helping me settle in, taking me to my school to look around, taking me shopping at the local E-Mart (which is basically the best store ever, by the way; it’s huge and has everything you could possibly want or need and then some), and even setting up my internet router for me because the instructions were all in Korean. I felt a mix of incredible gratitude and incredible guilt at my helplessness.

This awesomely kind co-teacher was very worried that I wouldn’t be able to find my sister’s apartment and meet up with her, so she then offered to drive me there. I reluctantly agreed (at this point very conscious of how much unpaid time she’d given up to help me out). My sister’s apartment is a straight shot from my place, about 10 min by car and about 30 min walking. When my co-teacher asked if I could walk back to my place on my own, I said yes because I didn’t want her to have to do anything else for me.

After all, it was just a matter of walking straight back up the road for about 30 minutes, right?

Wrong.

I left my sister’s apartment around 6 p.m. because I wanted to walk back before it got dark. Started walking up what I believed was the same road I’d come from… and 25 minutes later I realized nothing looked very familiar and it was getting very dark very fast.

Okay, no big deal. I’ll just turn around and go back to my sister’s apartment.

Aaaand 25 minutes after THAT, I realized I was 100% undeniably lost. In a foreign country. Without phone service, without the contact information of any of my new coworkers, and most importantly, without even my home address. My co-teacher had written all these things down for me… and we’d left them at my apartment.

Panic started to set in a little bit because it was very dark and very cold. It felt a little nightmarish, like This is not happening to me. After a few more minutes of helplessly wandering around and imagining the news story the next day about a foreign girl dying of exposure to the elements on the streets of Daegu (no, this was not a rational thought; I was sort of freaking out), I decided hailing a cab was my best bet. No, I didn’t know my address, but at least it was warm.

Thank God that there is no shortage of taxis in Korea. The old ahjussi inside smelled like smoke and when I hesitantly, feebly told him the name of my apartment building (a name which, I now know, was incorrect and unhelpful), he said “Eh? Where?”

*Please note: Although I will recount our conversations in English, everything this taxi driver said was in Korean. My communication with him consisted of broken Korean and some random English words. In the end it worked quite well. And it turns out I know more Korean than I thought, in terms of listening and understanding anyway.*

With some difficulty and my limited Korean vocabulary, I made him understand that A) I was lost, B) I’d just arrived in Daegu today, C) I didn’t know my home address and D) my phone didn’t work here yet. Basically, I threw myself on his mercy.

He started driving me in the general direction that I pointed him in, and then I thought of telling him one of my school names. He took me there, and seeing that I still had no clue how to get home, he pointed out a Daegu police station across the street. He then proceeded to take me there, saw that it was closed, told me to wait in the car, got out and called the police to come to the station and help me out.

The two police officers spoke even less English than the taxi driver (aka none). However, the taxi ahjussi explained my situation in Korean, causing looks of bewilderment and consternation on the cops’ faces that I would’ve found funny if it weren’t for my extreme embarrassment and general state of cold, hungry exhaustion.

The taxi driver told me he would leave me with the police now, and took me outside to check the meter and pay him. 11,200 won (about $11) in exchange for not freezing to death on my first night in Daegu? I consider that a good deal.

Back inside, I gave my passport to the cops so they could find my name, and managed to explain (in Korean) that I’m an English teacher for so-and-so schools. This led them to somehow contact one of my co-teachers (not the one that took care of me today). I then had a cringe-worthy conversation with her in English about the fact that I was lost and at the police station.

Yes, that’s right. I haven’t even started my job yet and my employers have already received a call from the police about me. I’m off to a great start!

Co-teacher: “You’re lost?”

Me: “Yes. I’m so sorry.”

Her: “It’s okay. Do you know your address?”

Me: “No.”

Her: “Okay, can I talk to the police officer?”

About 10 seconds later, the cop hung up the phone… and said nothing to me. So I sat there for a few minutes wondering if I was going to get picked up by my co-teacher like a juvenile delinquent being picked up by a parent.

Then I saw the map on the wall behind the desk, which looked really familiar to the map my co-teacher had shown me earlier. The cops noticed this and ushered me behind the desk to point at where I thought my apartment was. (As it turns out, the place I pointed to was almost exactly where my apartment actually is, although I didn’t know how accurate I was at the time.)

The cops then guided me to their car and said (in Korean) they would drive me around what was hopefully my neighborhood. While they were doing so, a small miracle happened. My phone picked up a smidgen of somebody’s open WiFi and a few Kakao Talk messages popped up from my co-teacher (the one who went shopping with me). One of them included my address in Korean.

I showed this to the officer, they showed it to a local shop owner, and minutes later one of the cops was escorting me to my front door. He then proceeded to write my address on a sticky note and give it to me. I apologized and thanked him in Korean and hurried my humiliated self into my apartment. It was 8:20 p.m., almost 2 1/2 hours after I’d left my sister’s place.

To top it all off, about 30 minutes later my landlord and an administrative official FROM MY SCHOOL (not the school they called – the OTHER school that wasn’t even supposed to know about this) show up at my door to check if I’m okay because “they heard I got lost.” The admin guy came over on a Friday night to check on me. It’s both sweet and embarrassing. So basically, everyone knows. Everyone. Knows. I have branded myself as the waygook (foreigner) who got lost before she even started.

Well Daegu, I’m here! I’ll be in the corner memorizing my address.

Lessons learned from this fiasco:

1) NEVER go ANYWHERE without my address written in Korean. And English.

2) Korean people are so kind. The taxi driver could’ve taken my money and made me get out, but he didn’t. This was just one example of the genuine kindness and desire to help that I’ve seen here already.

3) Did I mention the importance of knowing my address?

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7 thoughts on “Getting Lost in Korea (literally)

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  6. Just re-read this … almost three years later! … and I still remember vividly your call on Kakao telling us all about this AFTER you were safe and sound back in your apartment. What a great story this is!! Although at the time, probably not so great. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Noobish mistakes in Korea – Introvert in Korea

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