Sorry for the click bait-y title, but I couldn’t help myself. Thanks for the title inspiration dumb YouTubers. Also this happened about a month ago but I didn’t want to freak my Mom out so I am posting it wayyyy later, now that I more confident in my transportation skills and my Korean language skills.
So as you may have guessed, I did not actually almost die. But I did seriously contemplate sleeping out on the streets for a night because I was so lost.
Here is my not-so-fun story of my first truly scary moment in Korea.
I teach at two schools, my elementary school, is close enough that I can walk there.
My high school on the other hand is about a 50 minute bus ride away. All my co-teachers and co-workers have told me to take bus 677 or bus 808.
677 or 808. I even wrote it down. 677 or 808.
The 677’s are more frequent so that was the only bus I had been taking for the first few days to and from the high school. On my third day though I was waiting at the stop to go home, saw a 808 pull up to the stop, double checked my written note that said “Bus 677 or Bus 808.” Decided what the heck, and stepped on the bus.
Red flag number 1: Only one of the students that normally rides the bus with me was on this bus.
But I figured, it’s okay I had stayed a little later than normal, so maybe everyone else had already caught a bus home.
Red flag number 2: The bus driver tried to speak to me.
Since I am a foreigner in a rural area it is clear that I may not have the best grasp of what’s going on at all times. When the bus drivers try to talk to me it’s normally to make sure I am on the right bus. For example the first time I got on the 399 going home from my high school, the bus driver said the name of the town I was going to and I just nodded. This time I could not understand the bus driver at all, just kind of stared at him, so he nodded, I nodded and then I sat down.
Red flag number 3: We immediately started going a way I was not used to going.
So despite having more than enough red flags to just get off and wait for the bus I knew would take me home, I rationalized, it’s a different bus! So of course it’s a different route!
Literally about 40 seconds into the bus ride it is apparent to me I have made a huge mistake. I was really lost. I realized I really had no idea where I was. I looked down at my phone and it said 5%. Crap.
The bus stops and everyone gets out. It is very clear this is the end of the line. Confused and a little scared, I start to get off the bus. This is when my student who normally rides the bus with me says “no”, and points back to the bus. (My high school students have a very low level of English) I said what? He said “keep bus ride!” So I get back on to keep riding the bus.
Now it’s just me and the driver. He drive for about 20 minutes when he stops at a large building with a bunch of buses outside of it.
Oh no. We’re at a bus depot. At this point I just start hysterically laughing. I really don’t know what else to do. The driver is yelling and pointing at the door so I am assuming he is telling me to get off. With no other choice, I get off the bus and look around. There is no one. I’m not even sure where the driver has gone. I look down at my phone. 3%.
At this point I had two options:
- Do what I felt like doing, which was sitting down and crying…or
- Do what I needed to do, which was fix the situation.
So first, I fire off a couple of text messages to a group of other EPIK teachers who I became close with at orientation. Basically told them I was dumb and had gotten on the wrong bus. I tried to keep it lighthearted so there’d be no worry but it also acted as insurance. If something did happen there would be 4 other people who had an idea of where I was.
Next, I tried to call a cab. Now I had to look up my location, look up a taxi line, and look up how to ask for a cab in Korean.
It was on this third step where my phone died.
Great. What next? My student had told me to keep riding the bus and I am near a bus depot maybe there is another bus stop somewhere? I walked to the end of the bus depot driveway and walked along the road 15 minutes in one direction. Nothing.
Walked 15 minutes back to the bus depot and then 15 minutes in the other direction…nothing.
Finding myself at the entrance of the bus depot once again. It was starting to get dark. Even worse, it was starting to get cold.
I sat on the curb and tried to come up with a plan. I was coming up with my next move when I saw a Korean girl walking by on the other side of the road. I faintly smiled at her but continued to think about a plan.
About 10 minutes later I decided to walk back up to the bus depot building and play charades with whoever was inside to let me use the phone.
Just as I turned around to walk up to the building, I heard a voice cry out “Hey! Do you need help?” I whip around. It was the Korean girl who had walked by my 10 minutes ago! She told me that when she walked away she couldn’t stop thinking about how strange it was for a foreign woman to be sitting outside the bus depot so she turned around to see if I was okay.
She called me a cab and waited with me until it came. I am so lucky that Korea is a country that puts intense focus on helping others. I am also lucky that this girl spoke great English. And I’m even luckier that I did not have to spend the night in a bus depot. I probably could have gotten the people in the depot to help me but it probably would have taken a lot longer.
Moral of the story? I don’t really think there is one. Besides that it’s only the 677 bus for me from now on.