Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Tale of Three Taxis in South Korea

I've been wrestling for a few weeks with three incidents involving Korean taxis that occurred over the week that my sister visited. I am not new to taxis in Korea and I've heard all kinds of stories, especially involving Incheon Airport. We know that if you are approached in the airport by a taxi driver instead of catching one at the taxi stand, you have a good chance of getting ripped off, and it did happen to my husband one time years ago. The only problem I have encountered is my inability to flag a taxi. At least in Suwon, the drivers seem relunctant to pick up the foreign girl, but other than being a little irritated, I've managed.

I've been waiting for my temper to cool but that just isn't going to happen for some time so let's start the story with Taxi #1. Curt (hubby) ended up flying back to Korea from a business trip the same night that my sister was getting in and would be arriving two hours before her flight. I took the Suwon to Incheon Airport bus to meet him and to have some dinner before the girls got in. I arrived at the airport without any problems and was able to meet Curt and have a wonderful cheeseburger dinner.

We were planning on taking the bus back to Suwon but the last bus left at 10:40 pm. As it turned out, our visitors arrived late and we had to take two taxis back to Suwon. We went to the taxi stand for our area where it clearly states that the cost will be 70,000WON ($70 US) plus tolls. We've done this enough times to know it comes to about 80,000 WON ($80US). The first two taxis lined up were very anxious to take us. Curt got in one taxi with my sister and cousin. I was in the other taxi with my niece. By now, it was around 11:00pm. My taxi driver clearly was the leader of the two. He took my namecard, which has all my address information and he programmed it into his GPS. Curt's taxi was to follow us.

We went screaming down the highway at 120 - 150 kilometers per hour only slowing in the speed camera areas. We would be home in 45 minutes - or so we thought. My taxi driver had his radio screaming so I didn't hear that Curt had been calling me and that an hour had gone by. I finally answered and he said that we had passed Suwon some time ago. As I looked out, I saw the sign for "Everland" and I knew we had overshot Suwon by a good 10-20 miles. The driver pulled off at the next opportunity and said that he had gotten lost and he knew where to go now. Sure!

We did end up home after about 1 hour 45 minutes. Then came the shocker. He said we owed 360,000 WON ($360US)for the two taxis! Are you freaking kidding me????? We refused to pay that. After about 15 minutes, I tried to call both my girlfriends and my yoga buddy. No one answered but of course it was well after midnight. My yoga buddy called after a few minutes and I told him the situation. He talked to the driver and finally told us we had to pay. No way!!! I left Curt with the taxis and took everyone up to the apartment and got them settled in. I told them to go to bed and I would see them in the morning.

I came back down and Curt was still arguing with the driver. He even had Curt get into his cab to look at his GPS. A funny thing too, HE NEVER TURNED ON HIS METER! He finally did when we were haggling about the price. Curt said that his driver never turned his meter on either. Not a good sign!! I told Curt to charge it so we could reverse the charges later. Of course, the driver didn't take a credit card - isn't that convenient. Luckily, I had my camera and during the negotiating, I took a few pictures of the taxi.

We finally agreed on 260,000 WON ($260 US). We know if we had called the police it would have been worse since they probably wouldn't know English and would only get one side of the story so we did what we had to do and paid. The next day, my yoga buddy came over and got all the information and filed an official complaint with the province. We could agree to get the overpayment of $100,000 WON ($100US) refunded if we agree to drop the charges. I said that we would drop the charges if we get all of our money back. After what we went through, it is the decent thing to do. If the charges proceed, each driver will be fined 200,000 WON($200US) and have a mark on their permanent record, supposedly. Don't always believe what you hear in South Korea.

The driver did admit to the authorities that he got lost and that we had also given him a tip. That was his account of the fare amount. He did give Curt a receipt but then demanded it back before he left. Curt gave it back just to get rid of him.

I also talked to my Korean girlfriends about this and they followed up with an additional complaint against this company. They also contacted the taxi company, which wanted to see my pictures as proof. I was so embarrassed, angry, humiliated... you name it. Welcome to Korea!

The Taxi #2 story begins with my Korean girlfriends finding a large minivan that would be able to hold everyone and the luggage for the return trip to the airport. The van showed up 15 minutes early on the day of their departure. It was a good beginning. It was 6:45am and traffic into Seoul wasn't bad. After an hour, I knew he was lost. We ended up in the city of Incheon and on tiny side streets.

He finally got us to the airport after2 hours - twice as long as it should have taken. My Korean girlfriends had negotiated the price of $100,000 WON ($100 US) for the one way trip. He did have his meter on and to be honest, after it hit 100,000 WON, I stopped looking. My Korean girlfriend, Hannah, called to see how it was going and when I told her that we were lost, she didn't believe me. I had to laugh because it was just too dang funny!

When we got to the airport, the driver was very apologetic and I handed him 100,000 WON and shook my head with a look, "Don't even think about asking for the rest!" He took the money, bowed and we proceeded to the departure area of the airport as quickly as possible. I got the girls through check in and we said our goodbyes.

The trip home entailed riding the same airport bus that I had taken a week previous. Pretty easy after everything else that had happened. I went to the ticket counter and said, "Suwon." I saw that the bus was already there so I got right on and took my seat. I ended up talking to a Russian girl the whole way back to Suwon. All of a sudden, the bus pulled into an E-Mart (Korea's version of Target) and parked. The driver came through and took tickets.

I started freaking out saying, "Hotel Castle" which was the final stop for this bus. Luckily, another Korean spoke English and he told me that I was on the wrong bus. He told this to the bus driver and the bus driver pointed to the door of the bus. I had no idea where I was so I exited the bus. I couldn't believe this was happening to me. Seeing a sign saying "Happy Suwon" (yeah, sure), I knew that at least I was in Suwon but I had no idea how close my apartment was. I got out one of my namecards which has the directions, in Korean, and a map to my apartment. I went to the nearest curb and hailed a cab. I couldn't believe I got one right away.

I got inside the cab, closed the door and handed the directions to the driver. He looked at them and threw the card back at me shaking his head and talking in Korean. I kept saying the name of our apartment building but he wasn't having any of it. Then he pointed to the door and in English said, "OUT!" You have got to be kidding me. I did call him a not so nice name in English and got out of the cab.

Now, I was panicked and wondering if I would ever get home. I called Hannah, almost in tears, telling her my latest story. She couldn't believe this had happened and she was angry. She told me to stay on the line with her and look for another taxi. That's when I noticed the line of taxis in front of the E-Mart. I walked to the first one, got in and handed the driver my phone.

He gave me the phone back and Hannah said that the driver WOULD get me home. I sat back and tried to relax. The driver had been listening to some Korean talk radio when I got into the cab and after talking to Hannah, he switched the station to classical music. He kept looking back at me with a worried look and said, "Okay? Okay?" over and over again. I told him I was fine. I ended up only being about 2 miles from home. I was never so happy to see our apartment.

The picture above is from the first taxi encounter. The phone number has been blurred to protect the guilty. I don't know if this goes on in the U.S. because I've never personally taken a taxi back home. Curt has taken several from the airport to home and has never once been ripped off. My advice is that if you need to take a taxi from the airport, don't go with a driver that approaches you, go to the taxi stand and better still, avoid them unless you have a Korean with you.


CreekHiker said...

Becky, What an adventure!!!

Becky said...

Holly: That's definitely one way to put it and it's also good that I always have my camera in my purse.

Helena said...

My goodness. Crazy! Huh, I wonder why the one guy in Suwon told you to get out.

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