There comes a time that you really need a helping hand on that very moment and you seemed helpless at all where to find such help. You were not aware that what you were looking for was just around the corner. This is my story in search of “a little help from my friends”.
We only had a day left before we pack our things up and fly back home so, we decided to spend our free day for the final shopping. We got no guide for this shopping spree so we’re on our own. As they say, “No guts, no glory”.
I was the one who’s excited about this shopping trip to Myeongdong, Seoul, South Korea. I had some short dreams in my sleep and that made me woke up several times in the night. Mustering some sleep extension made me “mind-list” my things to buy. Thinking of home for a minute, yawning for a while, then “rest in the arms of Morpheus”. Waking up at six in the morning but getting back to sleep for some time again, then adjusting the timetable for the preparation. Arising from bed was hard to do because of the cold spell outside the hotel. We even turned off the air-conditioning unit because the temperature outside and our room’s were at the same level of coldness. But what’s bothering me was the thought of how to get to Seoul on our own.
After a quick hot shower, we devoured what was left of last night’s dinner. Ramen noodles, fried chicken, some bread and the complimentary hot coffee and chocolate.
Indeed, the morning was freezingly cold and the rain has lightly soaked us. The wind was a bit strong and equally wintry. Who do we ask our way to Seoul? What do we ride to get there? Bus? Train? Taxi? Which way do we catch a ride? These questions disturbed my concentration while going to the highway.
We already knew beforehand that Koreans don’t speak English. If there were, only a handful. With the buzz and discord that we made on the street, pandemonium broke loose. We stumbled upon a human being who understands Clinton’s language but couldn’t speak with fluency. He’s a “chopsuey” speaker, being able to speak a little English and a barrage of Korean tongue follows. “You go ##&&&$$$%%%%”. “Take a ###&&&&&&%%%@@@# then, ###&&&%%%$$$@##”. Countless times of hand signals, hip swaying, head rotation, eye-popping, and finger-pointing didn’t do any good. “Oh my God”, that’s the only sigh we could react at that time of his remarks.
Giving our thanks and leaving him at the center of the sidewalk made him looked like a Korean male doll displayed at the counter of an international doll house. His skin was so fine and pinkish, a typical Korean complexion.
Finally, we thought of inquiring at the restaurant where we bought our food last night. Thanks God, she spoke English well, interspersed with some Korean words. At least there were more English words than the Korean thesaurus when she spoke. True to our wild guess, we got her directions printed in our minds. “See, I told you the younger ones speak English understandably and clear”.
We crossed the road and hailed a taxi going to Incheon Korail Station. From there, a train would transport us to Myeongdong, Seoul’s shopping district. What was interesting is that the amount told by the lady was exactly the same as the meter reading in the taxi, W200. No hanky-panky business happened.
Arriving at the station, another buzzing was experienced. More animated than before. We were wondering how we could buy our tickets from ATM machines. There was an English translation but we couldn’t follow it through. We don’t even know nor read which station to drop by for a connecting trip. There were series of drops and take offs. There were no guards to ask, only a throng of commuting public. So, we observed, observed, and observed for about 20 minutes. We have nobody to talk to. Everybody was in a hurry. We don’t want to slow down their pace. We observed once more from some commuters and almost all of them were in the Fast mode and already have their tickets for their trip as we saw them holding it.
Again, we tried once more how to operate the ATM machine. But I guessed how to read those alphabets must come first. Reading must take the lead before operating the machine. At last, a middle-aged woman kept staring at us and smiling as if inviting us to follow her. Figuring out her gestures lead us to conclude a “Come on, follow me” invitation. And so we did.
The woman walked fast that we followed her pace so we wouldn’t loose her. Banging the bar that segregates commuters on a “one-on-one” entry was the first I have experience in a series of disarrayed behavior of the day’s labyrinth of confusion. Because we have no card ( ticket) to insert into the entrance machine, I tried to catch up before the iron bar closed and open again for the next passenger. And I succeeded, just in time. But it hit my bone below the knee as soon as it closed for the next commuter. The rest followed me but they jumped over the bar and there we went. It was easy for them. Why didn’t I think of jumping over it, too?
As we were walking, the thought of being apprehended by the guards or police was in my mind. But there were none. Peace keepers were not necessary at the stations as all passengers were disciplined and dishonesty were uncommon at the stations.
After several flight of stairs and left and right turns, we saw ourselves standing by the train’s doorway entrance signage waiting for its arrival.
(This is the woman who helped us in the station. She was showing me some English translation of the most common Korean conversation.)
We’re still discussing about the necessity of having the tickets for the ride to Seoul on our seats in the train. We might get apprehended and questioned for dishonesty as soon as we alight from the train. I was explaining to the woman about our plight for the train ride and I observed she understood little about what I was saying. Again, that language barrier was the culprit. Why was English not taught in schools in Korea? I thought about the question because I was already at the tip of my patience. Still this kind woman haven’t explained to us how we could secure tickets for us. With all the fuss and exhausted body gestures, there was no clear signs of understanding.
Unknowingly, not far behind us were two fellow countrymen just observing the whole scene in its progression. They approached us and introduced themselves. We told our story and they said that we could get our tickets at the next station and offered to get these themselves. What a sigh of relief we made at that moment of uncertainty and the untimely possessor of cold feet. They offered help until we reached Myeongdong district. As if they’re not contented with their outpouring of help to us, they offered their time to accompany us back to Incheon, just a station away from the direction of their home.
Setting the time and place where we would meet them for the trip back was a clearing of mind so we could begin our shopping without the worries of returning safely to our hotel.
Our shopping and wandering began.