Numerous things about living in a foreign country can be stressful, and I've lived through my fair share of them. Last night, I experienced one that will cement itself firmly in the Top 3. But not only that, it will definitely end up the #1 most embarrassing thing I've done while here. Feel free to laugh--it's a funny story. Terrifying and embarrassing, but a "funny with time" kind of thing. It was a 100-dollar night, but not the kind you think... despite the fact it came with condoms. Got your attention? Good.
Let's set the scene, shall we?
It's about 10 PM, and I decide to take some recycling down (I find Sunday nights to be the best--most of the bins are empty, and the scary man who always watches me isn't there). It's cold, but I'm only going to be out for a couple minutes. I have on my jeans, white tshirt/undershirt, coat, and shoes (no socks). I take my stuff down, come back up, and... my mind goes completely blank. I can't remember my passcode to get into my apartment (my apartment doesn't use a key, but rather an 8-digit passcode put into a box on the door). I'd always worried I'd forget it one day, and that day had finally arrived. And it just so happened to happen at the worst possible time.
Picture this... it's below freezing temperatures. I'm stuck outside in just jeans, a light tshirt, a coat, and shoes. No socks, no layers, no hat, no gloves, no watch, and--most importantly--no cell phone. (And also no fake tooth--if some of you recall, I have a fake front tooth I have to take in and out because I had it pulled right before I came to Korea.)
I tried various different variations of numbers for about 10-15 minutes, constantly setting off the alarm on my door (which did nothing but annoy me). I decided to go downstairs to the office and talk to the guy down there and see if he could help. Keep in mind, this guy doesn't speak English. So I get down there, and I mime stuff to him while trying to talk. He knows what I'm saying... but can't do anything about it, so he keeps telling me no and shooing me out. This is when I start freaking out.
I go back upstairs and ring Naomi's doorbell, but there's no response. I try different passcodes. Nothing. I sit on the floor and try to relax my mind. I try again. Nothing. I go down the elevator to try the office guy again. He's gone. The office lights are off. I go back upstairs. Try again. Nope. I ring Naomi's doorbell a few more times, and knock at least a half dozen times. Nope.
I'm freezing. I'm panicking. And then I realize we have an internet cafe in our building. So I go down to the third floor and head into the internet cafe, where I can't figure out how to use the freakin' computer because they're all new fancy machines with no towers in sight. The guy comes over and helps me turn it on. I get online and hit up Facebook, where I see my former neighbor, Jon (whom Naomi took over for), is online. Maybe he has the code. I message him, but he goes offline. So I message my sister, as she's usually awake at that time, and because she's good at calming me down and helping me out in tough situations. She quickly responds and tries everything she can to relax me and help me figure out what to do.
We talk for a while, and I realize I'm not going to remember this passcode tonight. So that left me with two options: 1) sleep uncomfortable in the internet cafe and pay a hefty sum in the morning, or 2) find my way to Geumjeong to the Smart Hotel there where my parents stayed while they were here. By this point it's about 11:45 PM. The trains stop running in Gunpo at midnight. If I was going, I needed to go now. So I shut down and go to pay the guy at the front (and realized I had 3-ish dollars in my pocket, and it was a little over a dollar). I also realize I don't have my T-Money transit card, which is with my phone inside my apartment. So before I go to the train station, I'd have to get another card.
I walk outside. It's snowing. Snowing. Within seconds, my body is shivering rather intensely. I hurry down to the convenience store for my new T-Money card, which is a little over 2 dollars... and I couldn't pay with debit card. In my pocket, I had 1 dollar and change. I scrounge through the change and end up with just enough. Seriously. I basically had a nickel left after I paid. I take the card, go over the crosswalk, and literally run down the alley towards the train station, because it's basically midnight and the train would be there any second.
The escalators are off, and people are coming down the other side. Had I missed the train? I rush up the stairs, stop at the ATM to get out some money and put some on the new card. Then I ask the attendant lady if there's another train coming. It took her a minute to understand, but she says no. I'd missed the last train.
Still freezing, I walk down to the ring of cabs. I'd just take a cab to the hotel. I try one, but the guy tells me I have to take the cab at the front of the line on the other side. I sigh and run to the front cab. I tell him "Geumjeong, Smart Hotel." He seems to have no idea what I mean or where to go. So I try "Geumjeong yok (station), Smart-oo hotel-uh" (that's not racist... sometimes you have to say the words like they do for them to understand). I even tried some miming directions. But he didn't get it. So he just drove towards Geumjeong Station until we saw the hotel to the side (to which he responds, basically, "Oh! Smart-oo Hotel-uh!" Yeah). I pay and go inside.
Luckily they had a room (for about 76 bucks), though the guy behind the counter seemed a bit befuddled by my late-night appearance. I got the same care package my parents got (including complimentary condoms!) and went up to my room. By the time I get to my room, it's about 12:45. I get on the computer in the room to let my sister know I made it OK (and post up my cryptically vague Facebook status) before getting ready for bed.
And that's when I realized there was no alarm clock in the room. Because I had no watch or phone or any of that (and because there was no window in the room), I would have no way of knowing what time it was or a way of setting an alarm to wake up in the morning for work. So I turned the computer back on and found an internet alarm and set it for 6:45 AM. I wanted to get an early start so I could attempt my door again--otherwise, I'd end up going to school in exactly what I was wearing.
I didn't sleep well, understandably. But mostly due to the fact I didn't fully trust the alarm to wake me up in the morning. At about 1 or 1:30 AM, I suddenly remember what I think is the passcode to my door. I'm like 99% sure it's right. But because I'd already paid for the room and didn't want to go all the way home only to realize I was wrong, I just stayed the night.
I got up a minute before my alarm went off and got ready to head out. I checked out of the hotel and walked through the now snow-covered streets and sidewalks (and it was still snowing) towards the train station. Luckily for me (sarcasm), the train decided to be about 25 minutes late (complete with Korean announcements apologizing for the delay). The train didn't arrive until about 7:45 or 7:50, after I stood in the cold with a bunch of other waiting passengers. When the train did arrive, we all packed in like sardines due to how many were waiting to get on by that point. But Gunpo is just one stop over, so it didn't take long.
I hurried back to my apartment, took a deep breath, and put in what I was pretty sure was my passcode.
I go inside, change, put on warmer layers, and get ready for work. My phone was dead by this point as it was off its charger, so I grab the charger to take with me. And after all that, I still manage to be the first one in the teacher's office this morning, getting there the same time I usually do.
I eventually tell everyone the story. Much laughing at me was had, and Naomi remained perplexed as to how she didn't hear the doorbell or knocking (she was asleep by the point I had tried, but the bell alone is pretty loud).
And that's the story of last night.