Lost, Alone, and Halfway Around the World

A few years back, I traveled to South Korea to visit one of my best friends who had taken a job there. It was perhaps the greatest trip I've ever taken, and yet it also provided the scariest moment of my life.

As I got off the plane in Seoul from 17 hours of torture, I ran through the checklist of steps Martin had provided before I left. First, I looked for a pay phone to call him. I found a bank of phones in the airport terminal, but I was quite certain one needed a doctorate from M.I.T. to figure out how to work them. At the same time, I was being hounded every two seconds by people asking if I needed taxis, phone cards, and who knows what else. This was my first time abroad, and I was starting to panic. It didn't occur to me to ask someone for help, for fear of being the stupid American tourist who can't work a pay phone. So I decided there would be no call, as surely Martin knew my flight had landed, and would time his arrival to pick me up accordingly...

My next instruction was to exit the terminal, and purchase a ticket from a kiosk for the bus ride to his town.

"Gwangju please." I asked in my clearly American, and slightly country accent.

"Gwangju." The attendant repeated.

There was a slight problem, in that the way I had pronounced Gwangju, and the way she did were quite far from one another. How did I know I had a ticket to the right city? What if there was another city with a similar name, and that's where I was going? The panic started to return, but before I had too much time to think about it, the bus arrived.

It was a four hour ride, and as Martin had told me before, there would be a rest stop at a mart along the way. I decided to try again to find a phone, thinking perhaps it would be a different sort. I found one, but this one looked even more complicated than the previous. So after buying a Starbucks bottle Frappuccino, I boarded the bus for the remainder of the journey.

The entire time I kept trying to work up the nerve to ask someone to confirm where we were going, but I never did. My first time abroad, halfway around the world, on a random bus going to who knows where in the middle of the night, and I'm too afraid to ask the guy next to me where the heck I am. Well the question was soon answered, as we pulled up to a "station" and began to disembark. I say "station" because the extent of this facility was a sidewalk and a street sign with a picture of a bus.

My last instruction from Martin was that he would be here waiting for me. The street was a wide 6 lane boulevard lined with buildings, and lots of bright lights. This photo isn't the same location, but if you replace the people with lots of cars it gives you an idea.

I looked down the street to my left...No Martin. I looked down the street to my right...No Martin. I decided to sit tight for a few minutes and see if he showed. Problem was, I'm standing alone on a sidewalk in the middle of the night, with tons of luggage. In my mind I was a sitting duck, and I needed to move. So I looked up and down the street for a refuge, somewhere I could ask for help, because now the fear had taken enough hold that I wasn't afraid to ask for it. I noticed a Best Western hotel sign a few blocks down, and decided that was my target.

Where the heck was I? Am I even in the right city? Where the heck was Martin? What if I'm clear on the other side of the country? All these were thoughts racing through my head. The Best Western sign was to me, like the green light on Daisy's dock was for Gatsby, a symbol for hope.

A few moments later, a tall, lanky, and clearly Western guy appears on the sidewalk ahead. I decided regardless of who it was, I was asking them for help. But there was no need for help, the stranger was Martin...I was saved. At that very moment I could have kissed the guy I was so overwhelmed with relief.

The days ahead were filled with lots of memories, and some awe inspiring sights. Yet I'll always remember the nervous start to this adventure. All because I couldn't work a pay phone....

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~


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