It sounded simple enough. Last year, I didn’t have to make the trip because my boss went for me (so I could teach classes, and so she could skip out on hers). With all the delays that took place while processing my Visa, there were still a couple of steps left to complete. I had to apply for an alien registration card at one place and then travel another destination a half hour away and show them my college diplomas. I had a couple of maps in hand and all the necessary documents.
The first place was easy enough to find. It was in Omokgyo and there were clear signs denoting the distance and direction to the office. I had an appointment for 11:10 and arrived five minutes early so I didn’t even have to wait in line. I went downstairs to buy a special stamp, filled out a few forms, got a receipt and I was on my way. Exiting the office, I noticed one small problem: my name is not John Patrenau. You see, if I’d been John Patreneau, then I would’ve been able to leave the office right then and could have easily picked up my Visa and alien card a week and a half later. As exciting as the prospect of stealing another person’s identity is, who’s to say the real John Patreneau wouldn’t show up first, then I’d have no identity to speak of. Besides, who would get to be me? The next person in line? Is that how it works? It might have been really great. I guess I’ll never know. I ran back up to the counter, ignoring the new line forming and the client the teller was presently talking to, and pointed out the mistake. A few minutes later I was handed a receipt with MY name on it and a potential disaster was averted. Off to the next place.
I made it to Yangcheon-gu Cheong Subway Station without incident, that is, until I had to decide what exit to get out of. I believe there were eight options and the map I had didn’t specify which would lead me to my destination. You see, Korean maps are like pieces of a treasure map, they only show part of the puzzle. The map I was provided with looked similar to this:
only with less detail and the comment “about 5 minute walk” written along the bottom.
I thought I was on the right path when I found a sign, in Korean, which matched up with writing on my map. This sign was directing me left. A couple hundred meters later, there was another sign telling me to turn right, then a few hundred meters later, yet another sign, directing me to turn right… see where this is heading? Back to the road I started from. Is this some cruel joke? I decided to consult with my map, which displayed five roads, three different subway stations, and an SK gas station. I’d already seen at least two SK stations. After a half hour plus of roaming the empty streets (Yangcheong-gu was pretty desolate) I was about to give up and hail a cab, but then I turned down a random street looked to my right and what did I see but that Immigration building.
I drank a few envelopes of water and headed up to the counter. The teller instantly told me “No no no I don’t do that here… not extension.” I said “I’m not getting an extension… first time.” I handed him my receipt and told him to call the guy. “Okay okay, I call Mr. Kim.” Fifteen minutes, later I had all the stamps and signatures I needed.
Now I just had to find my way back to the subway. This proved to be the most difficult leg of my journey. I dropped by Hansot for some Chicken Curry, but made the mistake of not eating it then and there. Figured I’d find a subway station if I walked down a main road long enough, but I was wrong. Half hour later, I caught a bus thinking it would take me to the subway. I said Sindorim, thinking it was close, he said “No no no” and I said “Okay, any station” and he said “Okay”.
What station did he bring me to? The bus station, of course, and his bus was now off-duty going to fuel up. He pointed to another bus, figuring they’d take me, or that at least he’d get me off his bus. There were about 20 other buses in the direction he was pointing. I approximated the direct line of his finger and headed there.
The new bus driver was fixing his bike in the middle of the empty bus. I decided to just take a seat. Shortly thereafter he said, “This bus no. Where you go?” I said “Sindorim.” He said “Sindorim, no.” I called up my coworker and told her of my predicament; she got on the phone with the bus driver. They had a lengthy conversation and I saw his hand pointing this way and that. I talked to my coworker and she said that it wasn’t on the bus route, but it was. I was looking right at the bus route and Sindorim was the 5th or 6th stop. After I got off the phone the bus driver sighed and said “Okay”.
He started up the bus and we were on our way. Now he was ready for some English conversation practice! We went through the where are you from? My family… Your family??? Exciting stuff. I started to notice that he was foregoing stops on his route. There were two girls waiting at a bus stop, one of his stops, and he just waved at them and kept driving. He was skipping all of his stops and taking me directly where I had to go. Very cute, but where did he take me, but back to the Immigration Office, of course. I just smiled and politely thanked him. He was waving happily, feeling proud, like he’d done his good deed for the week/month/whatever. He was still watching me to make sure I safely made it to the office, so I pretended to go back in and waited a few minutes.
How did this happen? Well my coworker misunderstood me and thought I hadn’t been to the office yet, so she asked for directions from the subway station, so she could relay them to me. So when he hands were flailing around he was thinking out the directions to give her, but then took it as his sole responsibility to get me to the station, which was really gracious of him. This sentiment was not lost on me, even though I myself was still lost, and it made the twenty minute trek to the subway station bearable. Disregarding the rules, I sat in the station, regretting my decision to wear dress shoes, and ate my Hansot, which I’d been carrying around with me for the past hour and a half, then headed back to my job. I only had to ‘work’ for two hours that day, but I’d just as soon work overtime for free than relive that journey again. It wasn’t all for naught though, I now have my alien card in hand and a long-winded tale to boot.