13 September 2008

Pink Post It Note

I know this looks like a valentine, but it's not. It's the directions to a chapel. Last October I went online and found the address, then asked my supervisor at work to write out the directions in Korean so that a taxi driver could easily take me there. I usually go to church in Seoul where I can attend an English meeting, but I've always meant to visit the local Korean congregation. This weekend I had travel plans fall through, which meant that I had a substitute arranged for my class in Seoul already, so it seemed like the perfect week to go check out the Bucheon ward.

I didn't expect it to take more than 15 minutes to get there, but I left an hour early just in case. I handed my pink post-it to the first taxi driver that pulled over, and we were off. Within ten minutes we were over by Bucheon station, and lost. The taxi driver drove slowly up and down the narrow streets peering out the windows in all directions.

He pulled over a few times to ask for help, passing my post-it out the window to pedestrians and fruit vendors. Finally we reached the intersection where the building ought to have been, but it wasn't. A woman in the corner market stall read over the note and verified the corner, but asserted that there was no church there. The taxi driver apologized, handed back my post-it, and asked if I wanted to go back home, offering to take me for free. I thanked him, paid him, and got out. I wasn't ready to give up just yet.

I stood on the street corner for a few minutes, trying to decide what course of action to pursue. Across the street I noticed a nicely dressed gentleman walking resolutely along and carrying a Bible. It's a pretty big holiday today, and Korea has a big church-going population, so I knew the chances were slim that he was heading to the same church I was looking for. For a lack of any other plan, I decided to follow him anyway. Five or so minutes later we were part of a large crowd of dressed-up church goers scaling a flight of stairs toward a cross-topped mega church. It clearly wasn't the church I was searching for, and I stopped across the street from it wondering what I should do next.

A man wearing a black suit and black framed glasses was posting a notice on the doors of the church, so I approached, handed him my note, and tried, with my broken Korean, to ask if he knew where it was. Instantly I was the center of a counsel of well-dressed older men. My post-it was passed around. There was a lot of pointing and a lot of Korean I didn't understand. In the end, the man I'd originally approached took charge of the situation. He took the note and told me to follow him.

I followed him for the next twenty minutes. We walked up and down the streets reading numbers on the sides of buildings. Dozens of passing mega church-goers greeted my guide as we passed and I started to wonder who this guy was. Thirty minutes before his meeting started he'd dropped everything to take a walk with a lost foreigner, and it was growing quite clear that he wasn't just another face in his congregation. When he reached the end of his own navigational resources he asked another man for some help. They consulted over the not for a few minutes, and the new man took charge. Like a parade the three of us marched along, following the pink post-it.

Finally we arrived as the intersection where the men had decided the church must be. A familiar looking woman stepped out of the corner market stall and approached, probably telling the men the same thing that she'd told my taxi driver. Clearly there was a problem with the address. Had the church moved? It had been almost a year since Alice had written down the directions for me. I decided I'd have to save this visit for another day. I thanked the men and reached out to take back my post-it. The man from the mega church turned to the other and said what I think was, "She's saying goodbye!" and laughed.

He didn't relinquish the post-it. Instead he said goodbye to the other man and the woman from the market and indicated that I should still follow him. Ten minutes later we were standing in a police station. Apparently that's what one does with lost children and white people. There were two young officers on duty, one of whom spoke pretty good English. They took my post-it, turned to a computer, made a phone call, flipped through a rode atlas, and said they'd found it. I said goodbye to mega church man and thanked him again before I was seated in the back of a police cruiser. My post-it was stuck to the dashboard.

Within a few minutes I was back at the intersection. The corner market woman watched us drive past shaking her head and laughing. Three times the post-it had brought me to this intersection. It was past time to give up, but how? I was in the back of a police car. I didn't even have my own door handle, and even though one of the officers was wildly scanning a map, the other was still driving. When they stopped the car it was in front of another police station where two more young officers stepped out with a map to peruse my post-it and offer suggestions.

I was left alone in the car with the officer who spoke English. "I think the note must be wrong," I said. "It's OK, we have a new map," he replied. I wondered what good a new map would do if we had a bad address. The other officer climbed back behind the wheel, said something I didn't understand, started the car, and drove me directly to the church building I'd been looking for the whole time.

It turns out there was one word wrong on the note that had everyone looking at the wrong map. Somebody along the way had speculated that this must be the case, so we got a new map, and it worked. I was thirty minutes late, but I made it, and it was great. I met some cool people, exchanged phone numbers, and enjoyed the meeting very much, even though I didn't understand most of it.

So thanks. Thank you taxi driver who was friendly and patient even with someone who doesn't speak your language, had bad directions, and no phone number for you to call for clarification.

Thank you man from the mega church who was willing to drop everything to help a lost stranger in a strange land.

And thank you Bucheon police department for doing something that I'm guessing doesn't fall under your job description, and being so nice about having to do it on the biggest holiday of the year.


Sarah McBride said...

thats hilarious. i am glad you found it finally.
How nice that everyone was so helpful.
I especially liked going to the police station "lost children and white people".
I laughed out loud.

Jessica F. said...

Sort of sounds like our first day in Barnaul!!!
I totally miss you!!!

Dee said...

Denice, I laughed until I cried when I read your post it experience. I wondering if you are a McBride and embelished it a little. I wish I was coming with your parents to Korea. Enjoy their visit. I love you. Nana Dee

Denice said...

I just read through to see if I had gotten carried away and embellished a little (I admit, it's happened before.) Not here, though. This one's the genuine article.

Kristina and Brett said...

Hey when are your parents coming to Korea? Cause I feasibly could come this time. Kristina is airborne once again!