Korean cabs are a like a box of chocolates.
My experiences in Korean cabs have been as varied as the flavors of kimchi I have sampled. Some are a little sweet, some are sour and some are outright regrettable.
Usually my cab rides work out well. I mumble a few phrases that may or may not be Korean and wind up at the massive supermarket by my house. As long as you say Home Plus –UH and not Home Plus you generally get there. They are pretty cheap and save for the small talk that neither person can comprehend, uneventful.
One particular evening I was not so lucky.
I muttered my usual “Suesong Gu Home Plus-uh” with a confidence gained by 5 successful trips in a row. The cab took off and we were on our way. I was already congratulating myself on my acclimatization to Korean culture when I realized we were headed the opposite direction of my house. Although I was proud of myself for recognizing this as I am directionally challenged, I had no way to communicate it with the cab driver.
Quickly, I sifted through my brain for solutions. The neon sign clad streets whizzing by my window, drawing me further and further away from the 16 square feet of Korea I find peaceful. I repeated myself ‘Susong Gu Home Plus Uh” the driver nodded “Neee” meaning Yes. I was at a loss. I thought maybe I could pull the map up on my phone but my phone, of course, was dead.
I had no option but to ride it out.
The Taxi driver was watching TV.
Did I mention that?
The taxi driver was watching a TV show, on a small device clipped to the dashboard. I surrendered to the situation and let the taxi whisk me away to a Home Plus on the other side of town.
When we stopped I told him no. Wrong Home Plus.
He said something in Korean.
I said something in English.
I said all the words I could think of that might get me back to where I wanted to be. One of them stuck and he burst out laughing. Feeling slightly embarrassed but mostly relieved as the Taxi U-turned back into the wild traffic and headed out the opposite way.
I try not to take things too personally when they go wrong. But this cab driver called his friend laughing out loud. Now I can’t understand much (read:any) Korean but I could understand he was telling the person on the other end of the phone what had just happened. He was laughing and the snippets I could understand were Home Plus Susong Gu” and “Home Plus Hwangeum Negari”. He was laughing at me. In front of me. And there was nothing I could do.
I try not to let travel mishaps sting too bad because they are just bound to happen. But something about this man rubbing it in my face that I had made a mistake was upsetting to me. He was jovial, relishing in my calamity and profiting off of the running meter. He had no empathy for me, he had no understanding of how vulnerable you feel stepping into a car with no control and just hoping for the best. (Yes, I should learn some more Korean.) I was feeling so frustrated I even tried to type into my google translator “You don’t know how hard it is to live in foreign country where you can’t communicate with people and I am just doing my best!” But half way through I gave up and made a mental note to memorize my address.