Tag Archives: Korea

When Traveling, Don’t Take This Taxi

Foreign Taxi

Image courtesy of Tyrone Acres at tyroneacres.deviantart.com

By Terence Cole @talesfromterry

If you are traveling internationally, one of the first things that you’ll want to do when you arrive at your destination is relax. Traveling can take a lot out of you, and this is especially true when going to another country. However, before you get to your destination, you’ll have to leave the airport.

Nothing beats having someone who already knows the area meet you at the airport. Even if someone can’t meet you there, you should have a number of transportation options to choose from. Bus, train, subway, taxi, or renting a car being the most common (rickshaw being less common). However, before you choose a transportation method, you should ask someone else the best way to get to where you are going. The person you ask could be a friend, staff that works at the hotel in which you will be staying, or someone working at the information desk in the airport. The key is to ask someone who doesn’t have a hidden agenda, and who wants you to have as pleasant of an experience as possible.

Before I first arrived in Korea, I had booked a hotel that was near the airport that had free shuttle service from the airport to the hotel. I booked the hotel before I left the United States. I was informed that all I had to do was have someone from one of the airport information desks call the hotel, tell the hotel staff that I needed to be picked up, and the hotel would send a shuttle for me. After arriving at Incheon International Airport in Seoul, I got my bags, went through customs, and left the baggage claim area. I found an information kiosk, had one of the airport staff call the hotel that I had booked, and was picked up by the hotel’s shuttle bus.

Tip from Terence: I am not a fan of going places and booking hotels when I get there. I have been burned by this before, and it is definitely not my preferred method of travel. Of course, there are times in which this is not possible, so you may have to travel on a wing and a prayer and just show up to a city and see what is available. Some people like doing this and think it is adventurous! I salute those brave souls. But as for me and my lady? We don’t do that.

I arrived in Korea a few hours before my girlfriend. Before leaving the United States, I had told her that I would meet her at the airport so we could go back to the hotel together. After showering at the hotel and resting for a couple of hours, I returned to the airport to pick up my girlfriend, Tonya. After I met her outside of the baggage claim, we set about getting transportation to the hotel.

This is where the taxi trouble started.

A guy was walking around the terminal, approached us, and asked us in English if we needed a taxi. I told him, “No thanks,” and continued to walk to the kiosk where we could call our hotel’s shuttle from. However, my girlfriend stopped to talk to the man.

Tip from Terence: If there is a guy standing outside of the arrival gates asking if you need a taxi, this is the exact guy you need to avoid. In fact, out of all of the options you have for getting where you want to go, this is the last one you want to take!

I pulled my lady aside:

Me: “Let’s go get the hotel shuttle.”

Tonya: “I’m tired. Let’s just go with this guy who is right here.”

Me: “The hotel shuttle will be quick. And it is free!”

Tonya: “But this guy is right here. And I am tired!”

For some reason Tonya thought that having this random dude take us to our hotel would be a good idea! I told her that we should have the hotel shuttle pick us up, but she insisted that she wanted to take the taxi, because she thought it would be quicker. I didn’t want to argue, so I reluctantly agreed.

We told the taxi driver that we’d let him take us to our hotel. He then happily helped us load Tonya’s bags into his taxi, confirmed our hotel’s address, and we began driving to our hotel.

The taxi driver was pleasant, but something didn’t seem right. He kept mentioning “airport fees” and I started to get nervous. It reminded me of being with a mechanic who keeps talking about all the things that need to be done to my car. The longer he talks, the higher the bill is going to be. Either the taxi meter started with too high a fare, or it was the driver’s continual mentioning of various “fees,” but I got the feeling that the driver thought the letters S-U-C-K-E-R-S were printed on our foreheads.

Because I had chosen a hotel near the airport, the drive was not very long. When we arrived at the hotel, the taxi driver stopped the car and said we owed 50,000 won, which was about $50 USD.

$50?! He had to be joking!

We were in the taxi for 15 minutes at best, and there was no way that our ride should have cost that much money. The taxi driver and I began to argue about the fare. My girlfriend and I owed him something, but there was no way I was going to pay $50 for a 15 minute cab ride!

After a minute of arguing in English, I told the man to hold on. I left my girlfriend in the taxi and I went into the hotel to get the concierge. I explained that I needed help with my taxi driver, and he came out to talk to the driver. The concierge was also surprised at the price of the ride, and began to negotiate in Korean on my behalf.

Tip from Terence: One of the downsides of foreign travel is that sometimes people will attempt to take advantage of you because you are a foreigner. However, there are almost always people who will help you. If you feel like someone is trying to take advantage of you, airport and hotel staff are good people to ask for assistance.

After negotiating, the hotel concierge was able to get the fare reduced by 30%. While I wasn’t happy with the outcome, it was better than paying the full gouging price that was first suggested. I paid the driver, and Tonya and I went into the hotel.

Before traveling, do as much research about where you are going as you can. When it comes to transportation, it is especially useful if you can find out the best ways to go places before you get to your destination. This will help you avoid people who want to prey on your wallet.

If you do find yourself being taken advantage of, and you can’t speak the local language enough to argue, get someone who can to help you. But whatever you do, if someone walks up to you in the airport and says, “Need a taxi?” just say, “No!”

SPECIAL NOTE: If you like the artwork in this post, then check out Tyrone Acres’s website. His art is amazing!


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You Mean I Can’t Flush That?

Original image courtesy of Keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Original image courtesy of Keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Terence Cole @talesfromterry

There are so many things that you don’t know when you move to a foreign country. For instance, did you know that you can’t flush Kleenex wet wipes down the toilet in Korea? I wish I had known this. And I’m pretty sure that my landlord also wishes I had known this!

One morning, I was getting ready to go to work, when the intercom for my building came on. I had gotten into the habit of recording the voice messages from the intercom, and having one of my co-teachers interpret them for me. I recorded the message, then headed off to school. My Korean wasn’t very good at the time, but I could tell that the message was concerning something about my building.

When I went outside, construction was taking place in front of my building. I couldn’t tell what was going on, but the owner of the apartment looked upset while he spoke to the foremen of the construction crew. I greeted the apartment owner, and then went to work like usual.

At our first break, I remembered that I needed one of my co-teachers to interpret the message from the intercom. I had a wonderful co-teacher named Ms. Rose, who not only spoke English very well, but also was an angel to my family and I. She was my unofficial Emo “이모” (auntie in Korea).

I handed Ms. Rose my iPod and asked her to interpret what she heard. She listened to the message for a few minutes, and then we had the following conversation:

Ms. Rose: “They are having a problem with the sewer pipes at your apartment. Something like cloth seems to have been flushed down the pipes, and it has plugged up the entire apartment complex.”

At first I thought to myself, “Well, that puts me in the clear. I certainly haven’t done anything like that!”

But then I though to myself, “Aren’t the wipes that I use kind of cloth-like?” I looked in my bag and brought them out. Before then, I never really thought to double check and see if flushing them was okay, but figured that now might be a good time to find out:

Me: “Ms. Rose, are these okay to flush down the toilet?”

Ms. Rose: “Not at all! You see this little picture on the back of the pack with a toilet with an X through it?”

Me: “I do now.”

Ms. Rose: “That means that you shouldn’t flush them. Kleenex makes wipes that can be flushed, but these aren’t that kind.”

All of the English teachers in the building worked in a shared office, so everyone could hear our conversation. An American English teacher named Crystal then added:

Crystal: “Yeah, but even if someone did flush those wipes, they would have to flush a ridiculous amount to stop up a sewer system!”

The problem was that I did flush a ridiculous amount of those wipes. In fact, I was using so many of them, that I had started buying them in bulk packages!

I wanted to hold it inside, but my spirit urged me to tell the truth. I’ve learned over the years that when your spirit is unsettled, it will remain unsettled until you do what you know you should do:

Me: “Ms. Rose, I think I broke the sewer pipes of my apartment.”

I then explained to her that I had no idea that I wasn’t supposed to flush those wipes, and that it was truly an accident. I’d thought to myself, “How can something from Kleenex possibly be bad for toilets!”

I asked her to call my landlord and tell him what happened.

Ms. Rose then told me that it would be better if I didn’t say anything, because I might be liable for the damages to the sewer. I knew that she meant well, but I also knew that my spirit wouldn’t be settled until I had fessed up. I told her that I understood that I might have to pay, but that I wanted to be upfront with the owner.

Shortly thereafter, I headed home for lunch. While walking, it dawned on me that there was no way that Ms. Rose was going to tell my landlord anything! By nature she is a mild-mannered person who does not like to bring up sensitive topics. Talking to a landlord about how the resident foreign teacher broke his apartment’s pipes with Kleenex, is not a conversation that she had any intention of having. The only way this conversation was taking place, was if I made it happen.

I dropped my things off at my apartment, and went to the office of the building administrator. My apartment’s administrator was a middle aged lady who was very nice and helpful. She also didn’t speak any English, so on my way to the office I practiced what I was going to say in my bootleg Korean.

When she saw me, she ushered me into her office with a smile and asked how she could help. We then had approximately the following conversation in Korean:

Apartment Lady: “How can I help you, Terence?”

Me: “There is a problem with the bathrooms of my apartment. Yes?”

Apartment Lady: “Yes, there is a problem with the sewer pipes.”

Me: “Maybe that problem was from me.”

I then showed her the wipes that I had been flushing down the toilet.

Apartment Lady: “NOOOOO!!! Terence, how could you!!!”

Me: “I’m sorry, but I not know. I’m very sorry.”

Apartment Lady: “Okay, okay. The apartment is being fixed. Don’t use these anymore, okay?”

Me: “Yes. I not use them from now on.”

Apartment Lady: “Good. Also, do not tell the apartment owner. Okay?”

Me: “Okay.”

To be honest, since the entire conversation took place in Korean, I couldn’t be 100% sure that she told me not to talk to the owner of my apartment. However, I seem to remember her holding one finger to her lips in a, “Shhhhhh. Don’t tell anyone,” kind of way.

I walked back to my apartment and was thankful that I had confessed. Even though it would have been nice to try and slide by and not tell anyone what I had done, I realized that wasn’t the right thing to do. My spirit tends to guide me on things, and whenever I choose to ignore it, things go poorly. My spirit told me to fess up, so I went ahead and did it.

As I walked back into my apartment, I saw a wooden plank beside its entrance. What looked to be a pile of dirty rags sat top of the plank, and the entire mess was positioned next to an open sewer hole. I was pretty sure that those “rags” were actually a mountain of non-flushable Kleenex, that I had been flushing down the toilet for weeks.

Tip from Terence: One thing that Westerners may find surprising about many Asian countries, is that you are not supposed to flush paper products down the toilet. This could be because their sewer systems aren’t designed for this kind of waste, or it could just be a way to prevent sewers from clogging. Most restrooms will have a special waste bin dedicated to used paper products, and you are supposed to throw all used paper waste into this bin. I should have realized that this was why I should not have been flushing paper ANYTHING down the toilet, but old habits die hard. I lived in South Korea for three years, and I can count on one hand how many times I put used paper in that bin. Whoops!

Later on that day, I received a knock on my apartment door. It was the owner of the building. He was an older Korean gentleman who used to work with the American army at one of the local bases, and he spoke English quite well. The owner never bothered to speak Korean with me, because he KNEW I would understand every word he said if he spoke in English:

Owner: “I knew it was you!”

So much for the owner not finding out about what I’d done.

Me: “I’m really sorry. I had no idea that I could not flush those wipes. I’ve stopped using them. Again, I’m really sorry.”

Owner: “How could you not realize this?”

Me: “I’m really sorry.”

Tip from Terence: In the words of the master of personal relations, Dale Carnegie, “If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.” If you make a mistake, it is best to admit it as quickly as you can and not make excuses. Apologize sincerely and you will be given much more leniency than you might have received if you had tried to shift the blame elsewhere. Carnegie was an American, but his principles are timeless and work well around the world.

The owner’s face then softened, and he explained what happened because of the Kleenex. The reason the wipes caused so much trouble, was that one of the tree’s roots in front of the apartment had grown to the point of breaking through the apartment’s sewer pipes. My Kleenex wipes were caught in the roots of the tree, which is why the system had gotten backed up.

My mistake had illuminated a problem that the landlord didn’t realize that he had. In my mind, I was a hero for helping him realize his problem!

Of course, I didn’t actually say this to the landlord, but I did stop worrying about whether or not I’d be charged for the damage. The events turned out well (or at least not too badly) for everyone.

And yes, I did stop using the non-flushable wipes. I moved on to the actual flushable kind, because I still loved Kleenex wipes!


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