Lost and found

There’s a part in any adventure where things get a little complicated, or even a bit scary. Yesterday was one of those times for me.

Friday night, my boss took all of the teachers out for dinner. We all sat around talking about the students, cultural differences between America/Canada and Korea, and we swapped idioms in both languages. Pretty great evening. After dinner, just the teachers (school director/boss went home) hung out for a bit longer. Around 11, I decided to get a move on and bow out for the evening (I have asthma, which makes Korean restaurants a bit more tricky for me–smoking is totally allowed in many of them).

Heading out, I hailed a taxi and jumped in. Showing him Jerry’s address written in hangul, we were soon on our way. A few minutes later, the cab rolled to a stop outside of Jerry’s apartment complex and I handed the driver money. I put my wallet into my tote bag before thanking and bidding the driver farewell–in Korean! 🙂

Flash forward about eight hours and Jerry and I are both awake, getting started for the day. Jerry wasn’t feeling especially well, so I offered to run down to the minimart nearby and grab something to help. Walking to my tote bag, I look inside for my wallet… and it’s not there.

I look in my purse. No, not there either. Back to the tote bag. Purse again. Pockets. Nope. Nowhere. I took out everything from my tote bag, blankly staring at the empty bag wondering why my wallet couldn’t be found.

And that’s when my heart stopped. Where was it?

Jerry helped me look for it, reassuring me we’d find it as I struggled not to panic. After a few moments of hysterically crying on Jerry’s shoulder and him reassuring me it was somewhere, we’d find it together, we go downstairs to try looking for it.

I pull it together long enough for us to get downstairs, walk the length of sidewalk between where the cab dropped me off and where his apartment building was, looking to see if it’d fallen out of my bag on the sidewalk. We couldn’t find it anywhere. I burst into tears again because I really am appreciating the weight of what happened–EVERYTHING I could have needed was gone… money, credit/debit cards, my driver’s license and my passport. BIG PROBLEM. I had no way to get anywhere, no way to access my own money, and no way to prove that I am who I say I am, much less verify that I’m legally in Korea on a work visa.

Jerry moved into problem-solver mode, hugging me and reassuring me that we’d find it together. “We’ll call cab companies to see if anyone turned it in…” This alone is enough to make me feel overwhelmed–how many cab companies are in Cheonan? how many of them will have someone who speaks enough English to help us? “We’ll figure it out. I’m right here and we’ll figure this out together, okay?” he says evenly. I stop crying and try to take a deep breath… Okay.

We agree to go back to my apartment, where I knew I’d be getting internet installed that day, so we know we’ll have an internet line to use to start looking up what we needed to do next. A cab ride to my apartment later and we’re waiting (less-than-patiently) for the internet guy to come. (Note: In Korea, you MUST have alien residency in order to obtain internet for yourself, however, my school is really kind and has taken on the task of having the accounts set up in their name for all of us new teachers so we have a lifeline to reach them in off hours–they did the same thing for our cell phones. When the bills come, they’ll come to LangCon and they’ll then deduct the amount from our paycheck. Easy peasy.)

The guy arrives and installs internet in my apartment. About 45 minutes later, we’re online. I’m looking for anything that can be helpful, including phone numbers for cab companies to ask if they have a lost & found. I find online forums where people are addressing similar problems and swapping ideas–is there really a centralized lost & found phone line for items lost in cabs in Korea?

Best I can tell, this is certainly a solvable problem… The cash is gone for good, but it’s going to be quite a feat to replace that passport… I’ll need to go to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul (double trouble: I have to figure out how to loop the school into this so they know I’ll possibly need to miss work to square everything away), hope they don’t print “Dumbass” on my future passport somewhere and wait a few weeks for it. The credit/debit cards would be the easiest part because I can cancel them online. In my mind, I’m already determining that I’ll have Bank of America send new cards to my parents’ address and then ask them to FedEx them to me… Not “easy” really, but compared to the passport, a lot more feasible. My brain starts to wrap around the lengthy to-do list in front of me to get all of this completely squared away when…

My cell phone rings–one of my coworkers is calling.

“Hey, Robyn… Are you missing something?”

My voice goes up about a zillion decibels as I shout that my wallet is missing and I’m trying to find it. Brian patiently waits for me to finish my sentence before telling me that the wallet’s been found–the cab driver spotted it last night and had the good sense to look inside where he’d found a business card belonging to the school–I had casually tucked it into my wallet THAT DAY after trying to figure out what’s the best way to get mail. The driver contacted the manager to let her know he’d found it and verify that it belonged to one of their teachers.

“Where can I meet him? I’ll go anywhere!” I shout, relief washing over me. Brian explains to me that the cab driver isn’t working again until Monday (and thus, can’t drive it anywhere as mileage needs to be accounted for on the cab), but that he’s able to come to LangCon and meet me there to drop it off then. Brian then tells me that, just as a heads up, typically when cab drivers do this, they ask for compensation for the length of the cab ride to drive the missing item. I enthusiastically tell Brian that that’s MORE than fine–I couldn’t care less because in my mind, I’m happy to pay him fivefold considering how much money and time he’s SAVED me for trying to replace it.

What had bothered me most about the whole thing was that even though I knew everything would be fine–the school’s got copies of my identification that I can use temporarily, Jerry was so helpful and supportive–there was a letter tucked inside that my Grammy had written to me before I left for Korea telling me how proud of me she was, how excited for the adventure she was, that she was holding Jerry and I in prayer while we were gone… I had kept it in there since she gave it to me–I read it on the plane and several more times since she’d given it to me. The thought that I had lost that was rather upsetting, to say the least.

Best I can tell, in the dark cab, I must not have seen where I had ACTUALLY placed my wallet and that it slid out or off of my tote bag when I grabbed it to get out. But I could not believe that not only was my wallet safely found, it was accounted for less than 18 hours after it went missing.

Korean cab drivers, man… I TOLD you they were awesome.

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On getting lost in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language

Anyone who knows me well knows that I don’t exactly have the best sense of direction… I get lost WITH GPS–don’t judge… it’s a talent, really. So on Saturday night, after I dropped my things off at my apartment, I took a cab to where Jerry lives. Trying to then get BACK to my apartment the next day, though, proved a bit of a challenge, to say the least.

Jerry and I basically live across the city from one another. It’s not an exceptionally large city geographically, but it’s big enough that walking from one apartment to the other probably isn’t really an option. Maybe bikes… maybe…

The city is divided up in an interesting way–there’s a ‘upper’ portion (where Jerry is) and a ‘lower’ one (where I am). In each one, there are smaller districts (neighborhoods). The streets are named for the district. As in, I live in the Buldang district, so it my address is 27 Buldang 7 Gil. (‘Gil’ is like ‘road’ or ‘street’.)

I had only one landmark in mind when I left for Jerry’s place–an enormous walking bridge that surrounds a major intersection close to my apartment. It doesn’t have a name, but it has a very distinct look to it. What would have also been useful would have been to memorize the major streets that cross underneath this, but I guess that was a little too logical, so I didn’t bother to try… So when Jerry and I took a cab to my apartment, we were only able to get about halfway across the city as I’d confused a nearby train station for the bus terminal I’d been to the night before (spoiler alert: we end up making the SAME MISTAKE twice in one day). Whoops.

We regrouped in a cafe–using the free wifi to Skype with our families and get some email happening. Then we got another cab, which got us much closer to where I was supposed to be, but the cab driver didn’t understand English and our repeated pleas of “Buldang… Buldang…” coupled with pointing at a hand-drawn map done up by a kind barista at the cafe just weren’t quite enough. (Side note… Seriously MAJOR props to said barista who was kind enough to not only try to help me understand what to tell a taxi driver in order to get back to my neighborhood, but also DREW A MAP FOR ME with instructions of what landmark to ask for.) The poor cab driver was able to get us close, but could tell we were not quite satisfied with the end result–definitely not HIS fault, just concern on this end over the “I don’t recognize ANYTHING I’m seeing right now” thing and an inability to communicate such. We left the cab with slight frowns and my blood pressure was going up a bit as I worried about whether or not I’d miss my lunch meeting with my boss and not even be able to CALL and tell him where I was (no cell phones yet).

Thankfully, Jerry’s iPad was able to get enough of a signal for wifi that we could use his Google maps app and figure out that we were definitely close. Right district. Walking in the right direction. Just several blocks away. But soon enough, we turned a corner and I saw it–the massive walking bridge I’d seen the night before. Hurray! We ambled around the smaller portion of the neighborhood until we actually found my street (took some trial and error, guys) and were able to make it back to my apartment to unwind for a bit before meeting my boss and his family for lunch. (Also, to enjoy some AC… Did I mention it is SO FREAKING HUMID here?!)

I’m getting a bit more familiar with the neighborhood, though. I’ll try to find a small map to include so you can see how the small streets are laid out. It’s cute, really. Small, narrow streets filled with buildings of all sorts–restaurants, cafes, a mechanic’s shop is right across the street, etc… Lots nestled into a pretty small area, but it’s interesting to see. So it might take me a few laps to figure out EXACTLY where my building is, but I do recognize it when I find it and I think I’m doing okay despite the fact that I haven’t been here for more than two days yet.

The getting lost thing this morning was really just compounded by needing to be on time to meet my boss and the fact that neither of us are proficient enough in Korean to express specifics yet. But cab drivers here are patient and helpful, which is more than either of us could ask for. Pro tip, though: should you ever find yourself in Korea, make sure you ALWAYS have your address written in hangul (Korean writing/characters). Preeeeeetty crucial when cab drivers might not recognize words written in the Roman alphabet. As it turns out, GPS isn’t as helpful as one might think in Korea, so cab drivers have to really rely on their knowledge of where they are–just in case. With the city divided into districts, it’s pretty helpful to know which one you’re in to express that–all of the streets (save for major roads) are named numerically. Meaning you’ll never mix up where Main Street or Campbell Avenue are–they don’t exist. Just know you’re going to the Buldang district and you’re already lightyears ahead of the game. From there, you can look for your numerically-named city. Kind of easy once you get the hang of it.

Until later… 🙂

Landed!

Annyeonghaseo!

Greetings from Cheonan, South Korea!!!

I’ll be honest… I’m still a bit in disbelief that I’m here. As in, it almost feels like it hasn’t sunk in that this will be my HOME for at least a year. The process to obtain a visa was jam-packed and moved so quickly… Usually, when recapping the story to the many friends who’ve asked questions over the last several weeks, it’s difficult to remember when things were happening because so many pieces were moving concurrently and the process itself seemed so fast.

But we pulled it off. And that is kind of a “Whoa…” moment unto itself.

We still aren’t “official” I guess, though. We need to apply for alien residency cards (ARC)–a document noting our immigration status/employment, etc. So we still need fingers crossed if you happen to think of us because if we don’t get these cards, we don’t get to stay.

Once we get our ARCs, we can get cell phone contracts and internet so we’ll actually be able to call each other and will be a bit more accessible to all of our friends back at home. As it turns out, our apartments are a bit further than we’d expected–or maybe we’re still just not used to getting from one to the other… After all, I’ve only been here 24 hours as of this post. This will get easier, I’m sure. (God bless Korean taxi drivers, though–what a helpful/friendly lot! One made sure I wasn’t seriously overpaying him, one cheerfully practiced English expressions with Jerry and I, and another patiently helped us find my neighborhood when we got lost. All of them were helpful and patient despite a HUMONGOUS language gap.)

I landed in Incheon airport yesterday around 4:30 pm. The flight was great! I flew Asiana and they were so friendly and accommodating. But despite how wonderful the airline was, almost 11 and a half hours in the air and boy, was I glad to be off that plane! It’s a lot of sitting still–something I’m not exactly good at. Watched movies, started going through the first season of “Elementary” and played some video games–all accessible via the little television mounted in front of my seat. Awesome.

After landing, I grabbed my bags. Plural, guys–my behemoth of a suitcase I’d planned to take individually turned out to be WAY too heavy for the airline, so I ended up buying a giraffe-printed suitcase at SFO (Fiona, I know you’d LOVE it…) figuring it’d be easy to distinguish on the baggage carousel in Incheon.

I moved quickly through customs–I had nothing to declare–and made my way to the bus area outside of the airport. I quickly purchased a ticket for the express bus to Cheonan, per the instruction of my recruiter. A girl approached me to ask if we were in line for the bus to Cheonan. After glancing at my luggage tag, she recognized my name–we had been emailing each other over the last few weeks as we are both teaching at Avalon Langcon. (Hi, Sarah!) We used the bus ride to Cheonan to get to know each other and talk about our experiences with the visa process.

Per our recruiter (we both came through the same one), we were told to get off the bus and “look for a coffee shop called ‘STARBUCKS COFFEE'”. I’m totally not making this up–I totally laughed reading that, too. You can’t swing a stick in the U.S. without hitting one. Trust me, Madeline, I think my Starbucks radar will still work in a foreign country… We met up with Claire, the new manager for Langcon, who took us to the van where we loaded our luggage and were off!

Pulling through Cheonan, I immediately noticed the bright, colorful signs. I don’t know if it was the hangul that caught my eye or if they are just that different from the types of signs that I saw so much in the U.S., but they stuck out to me. The city itself is smaller in size, but is still home to approx. 500,000 people. Claire and the guy who came with her (my brain didn’t absorb his English name, unfortunately) took us to Langcon, our school that we’ll be teaching out. It’s in a high rise building named the Hyundai Medical Building. Perhaps it’s just the experience I have with medical facilities in the States, but I actually thought it would look, well… medical. Nope. Big, colorful signs all over the building for a variety of businesses–it was almost easy to miss the smaller sign for Langcon. We rode the elevator to the appropriate floor and took a look inside.

Clean, polished, sleek and incredibly modern-looking–all words that immediately came to mind taking a look at my new workplace. There was a small room with the class pets for the school–a small aquarium of small catfish and a terrarium with something creepy-crawly… I think it was a beetle, but I wasn’t inclined to look too closely. At the school, we also met Julius–my new boss. Julius is the director of Langcon and told us he’d be taking us to lunch the next day. Awesome. 🙂

Next up, Claire took us to our apartments. We each have our own apartment located right nextdoor to one another–convenient, because we’ll be working the same schedule, so we can walk to work together if we’d like. Our apartments are about 10 minutes walking distance from the school.

These apartments are itty-bitty, but cute and cozy in their own way. Clean, too. Our building is on a tiny street, which is a common theme I’m seeing–roads are narrow and many cars have small cubes of foam rubber on the edges of their doors, to keep from banging into and damaging other cars when opening doors in tight parking spaces. In the apartment, I have a tiny little gas range (a modern miracle, in my opinion, as I’ve been using an electric stove for the last four years) and some cabinets in the kitchen. My bedroom is actually pretty spacious–minimalistic and clean. I have a big cabinet to put clothes in, a small bed and a little stand with a TV on it. There’s a separate washroom where my washing machine and drying rack are and it’s adjacent to the bedroom. The bathroom is probably the most interesting part, though–there’s no separate shower, just a shower attachment to the sink. The floor is lower and has a drain in the middle, so you have to step into the bathroom and you just shower there in the middle of the room. Very space efficient, really. It reminds me of moving into the dorms for the first time, really, except it’s a bit more modern-looking than my dorm room ever was.

After unloading our things, Sarah and I decided to walk around our neighborhood a bit. We found a restaurant that was open and went in for some dinner. The school was nice enough to have some grocery items (cereal, milk, fruit) in our apartments, but it’s nice to have a hot meal when you’re really hungry. We split some soju and I couldn’t even tell you WHAT we ate (we picked a picture on a menu), but it all tasted very good.

Overall, my first impression of the country is very good. People are kind and accommodating. As we were getting to our building last night, a man came across the street from the auto body shop to introduce himself and ask us where we were from, etc. Today, Julius took Sarah and I to lunch with his family (he even invited Jerry to tag along, as well), which was really nice. Tomorrow, another foreign teacher named Michael arrives from Canada, so we’ll have another person to join our posse.

I’m really glad to be here, though. There’s lots to see and take in, that’s for sure. It’ll be quite a year, I think… 🙂 Right now I’m sitting in a cafe in my neighborhood. It’s decorated to look rather European, I suppose. It’s quite cute. There are other familiar things here, though–Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Dunkin Donuts, 7-11… Though they’re not high on the list of establishments I plan to frequent (not by a long shot) it’s still nice, really, to have something recognizable so far away from “home” when I know trying to communicate a desire for something specific to the States might be hard.

The video below is a tour of my apartment building and a glimpse at my cute little street. I’m really liking it so far. And now that I’m unpacked, it’s actually a little more “homey”-looking… Until later!