When I was in Paris last March I rented a small apartment for a week because it was cheaper and more comfortable than a hostel. I spent my days and nights exploring the city and just generally marvelling at the fact that I was in Paris. I kept meaning to pop into a store to buy a cell phone, but there was always something shiny to distract me. (You know, like the Eiffel Tower, no big deal.) I arrived back at the apartment the second night, stuffed with pastries and baguette and apricot jam and ready to sleep away the remaining jet lag. However, when I put the key in the door an turned it, nothing happened. I turned it left and right and then around and around. It just kept spinning and not opening. I had already suffered a bit of embarrassment with this door, so I was sure that there must just be some trick to opening the door. I jiggled it and wiggled it and in the end I must have done the entire hokey pokey with that lock, which still refused to cooperate. I didn’t have a cell phone yet, and I was alone. In Paris. I was alone in Paris and locked out of my apartment.
After about five seconds of panic, I decided that there was not much I could do until the next morning. I thought I would sleep in the hallway in front of the door (yes, a little like a hobo) and then wake up early the next morning and deal with the door situation. Unfortunately, after about half an hour of trying to get somewhat comfortable, I realised that the reason I was chilled was that I had left the window in the apartment open and that there would be a draft coming from under the door all night. I thought that perhaps a walk would clear my head. So I wandered around the neighborhood and eventually I found a cheap motel. (“Cheap” is, of course, a relative term when in Paris.) The concierge didn’t know what to make of this single Canadienne who didn’t even have a backpack. But he gave me a room and I had a warm bed to sleep in for the night.
The next morning I spent more money than I had intended on a cell phone and I called the apartment rental company. After a while I spoke with someone who assured me he was on his way to help find out what was going on. Excellent. I slumped against the door and waited. Before anyone from the rental agency arrived, one of the neighbours came out of his door and asked me if I was having trouble with the lock. He explained that it was because of the old locks in the building, that they always cause havoc. He got a paper clip from his apartment and showed me how to use the paper clip and my key to open the lock when it was causing grief. Poof. Just like that, a little poke with a paper clip, and a hard push with the key before I turned it and the door popped right open. I was so grateful to this neighbour, and I felt so vindicated. It wasn’t only me! So I called the rental agency and explained the situation, including how to fix it, in case they have similar calls in the future. And that was that. I went inside, changed my clothes, and carried on with my adventure.
I didn’t tell the full door story to many people. At the time I thought that the experience had been not only nerve wracking, but also embarrassing. I hadn’t wanted to provide any fodder to the unambiguously judgemental people who had told me that travelling alone was dangerous. Looking back on it though, it’s one of the funnier untold stories of the trip. (Seeing a couple break up at the top of the Eiffel Tower still tops the list. I’ll have to share that story sometime.)
I’m also telling the story now because I have just accepted a teaching position in Korea. If things go at least remotely as planned, then I should be moving to the Goyang area in January. I’ll be in the neighbourhood (dong) of Hwajeon, a few subway stops away from Ilsan. I’m told that I will be about 30 minutes from Seoul by subway. I would by lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous. I’m moving to the other side of the world, to start a new job in a country where I do not speak a word of the language. There are some pretty significant challenges and obstacles ahead of me, I’m certain. For the moment, however, I am more curious than I am afraid. The reality is that, despite having done a lot of research, I still know very little about Korea. Sure, I could tell you little about the country’s history and perhaps its socioeconomic construction, but the stuff that really matters — like how the doors work — is still a complete mystery to me. Still, I have confidence that it will all work out for the best. And, if things do take an unfortunate turn, I have my phrasebook.
얄 쇠 룰 방 에 두 고 나 와 바 럈 아 요
I’m locked out of my room.
Edit: Ha! I just typed the Hangul text into bablefish to see what it turned up. Apparenlty it translates into “[yal] In the iron rule room two comes [lyass] Oh.” Oh, indeed. Crikey, this will be an adventure!