This is a short narrative post I initially set out to write for Groove Magazine‘s “Share Story, Win Trip” writing competition. The call came out for ‘funny’ travel stories where a lesson was learned. The winning pieces would be read out loud dramatically. Frankly, there just aren’t enough of these kind of encouraging writing opportunities in Korea. I could say more but I’ll get distracted.
I started writing mine and about two paragraphs from the end I decided that it wasn’t a travel story. So I stopped writing. I came back about a week later and took another crack at it, tidied it up but left it loosely over the 500 word limit, which kind of left it for any kind of flash litt and too short to be considered anything else. Still it’s a good story. You’ll laugh. I hope.
When I was bundled out of the taxi by the Englishless man who collected me from the airport, it was exactly twenty-four hours after my flight had left Dublin. He left me there shaking hands with a tall, spectacled and skinny Korean man with a mane of hair almost comically emerging from the top of his head. He told me his name was Richard, or Reeechard as he did his best to pronounce the R sound fully. He was dressed smartly in black pants, a grey jacket, white shirt, and burgundy skinny tie, all of which seemed to shine magnetically in the heavy overcast sky.
Richard helped me with my bags as we entered a building and took the elevator up to the fifth floor. I was brought into the school where I would be working, where I was introduced to the director, a man shorter than most I’d ever met before, but he effused authority and shook my hand confidently. He directed Richard to get everything sorted and then vanished into his office.
We picked up my bags again and made for the elevator. I was told that we would go to my apartment where I could get some rest or have some food. I would be sharing my apartment with my co-worker and with the teacher who I was replacing.
When we made it outside, we walked into a large apartment complex of twenty-five storeyed buildings. To say I was dizzy wouldn’t explain it properly. I had left an Ireland where buildings rarely stretched further than three or four storeys high, and in my home town of Dunboyne (pop. 6,959) there probably wasn’t a building, other than the parish church, more than two storeys high. Seoul (pop. 10,581,728) seemingly had no room for buildings that small.
We entered one of these behemoths and walked up to the elevator. There wasn’t much chat as I was tired and nervous, and Richard seemed a little uncomfortable with small talk for whatever reasons. When the doors opened he punched the number 23. I gulped and blinked hard. With a jolt we rose and the numbers flickered higher and higher, until they reached 23 where the elevator halted with a lurch. Outside on the landing Richard confidently asserted that “finally, we are here!”.
He pulled out a key and went to the door where he jerked to a stop with an “unghh” kind of sound coming from his mouth. He stood rigid with key holding arm outstretched towards the part of the door where a key hole would traditionally be located. I looked around unsuccessfully for Medusa but quickly found the problem was there was no keyhole in the door. Instead there was a small electronic pad.
He touched it and with a beep it lit up with numbers. Again an “unngh” sound. He looked at the key, looked at the pad, scratched his mane, and then looked at me. I looked at him and felt like replying “unngh”. He then rang the doorbell, whereupon a young girl opened the door, and Richard asked her if foreign English teachers lived in the apartment. The girl said no they didn’t, and closed the door. We stood looking at the green metal door in silence.
Richard sprung into action. He pulled out his phone, dialled, waited, and suddenly burst out chattering, then stopped talking, asked me to wait a minute, then started chattering again. He then hung up asked me to please wait where I was, and then he disappeared into the elevator which subsequently plumeted to the ground floor.
And there I stood, bags at my feet, jet lagged and clueless on a tiny landing on the twenty third floor of an apartment building a good 8,000 kilometres from home, diligently waiting a minute.
Richard eventually returned smiling and reassuring me repeatedly. We took the elevator down stairs to the ground floor again, and left that building, walked around the corner and into a completely different building. Here we took the elevator to the eighteenth floor, where a door stood with a keyhole in it.
Richard somewhat less confidently than before approached the door, inserted the key, and turned it. There was a loud unlocking click, and he let out a huge sigh of relief, then looked at me with a beaming smile. We entered the apartment.
Richard left a few minutes later, and I was left standing in the middle of a room looking around my new surroundings on the eighteenth floor. The large windows brightened the room. The was a purr of traffic outside but all I could see was clouds and mountains in the distance. I took a deep breath. I had arrived in Korea, and it was good. I think.