Yesterday we woke up at around 8, prepped and ready to face the shit show we knew was going to be today, aka our last full day of preparation, only to find Ricky’s landlady had cut his gas early. A cold shower later, I got out to find that his co-teacher, originally having volunteered to help us cancel our phone contracts, texted to reschedule from 3:30 that afternoon to 10:30am. Problem was we needed to run our stuff to the post office that morning (before it’s too hot and busy) and so this meant cutting things close.
Off we went to the post office though, me hunched and carrying a bundle on my shoulders like some hunchbacked bell ringer.
At the post office, they didn’t have the largest box size for Ricky to ship his computer so he had to disassemble it on the spot. Right away we knew we’d be late for meeting his co-teacher so we texted to push it back until 11:30.
Luckily it didn’t take too long; we double teamed his computer and protected everything in newspaper and bubble wrap and sent the boxes off in no time.
Walking at a speedy gait we managed to meet Ricky’s co-teacher – albeit a bit late after she changed the location of our meetup last minute. Good thing for us, the SK phone contract office was literally across the main street from our apartment. Not so good for us was the experience inside.
As a bit of a preface to this, I’ll first mention what is called the “midnight run” on foreigner contracts. Basically when leaving the country, many foreigners have taken advantage of the system and bought phones on installment plans with two-year (sometimes three-year) contracts. But many don’t stay that long so instead of breaking contract and paying a cancellation fee and the remainder of their phone (and last phone bills), they just scarper and take the phone with them.
It’s for this reason that a Korean needs to often co-sign on a contract for a foreigner – and for similar situational reasons why we aren’t allowed credit cards and have to pay upfront for expensive things like laser eye surgery. If you skip out on your phone, at least if you’re from Canada or the States, you technically can get away with it, but you’ll be blacklisted from the country and will likely face issues coming back.
For this reason, as well as my lame good-person conscience, I was uncomfortable pulling a midnight runner. I won’t lie, I did flirt with the idea, especially when so many people were telling me to just do it, but ultimately Ricky’s co-teacher kept inquiring about when and how and where we would end our contracts and then insisted upon accompanying us to help, so I figured she had co-signed and I didn’t want to get her into trouble.
As soon as we stepped inside though and were immersed in the process of cancellation I instantly regretted my conscience. We were handed pieces of paper with quotes of what we’d be paying – the cost of our phone itself left to be paid, and then vague mentions (with no numbers) that we would also be paying a cancellation fee, the remainder of our monthly bills, and “service charges”. Mine was about ₩495,000 and Ricky’s was just under ₩100,000. I was expecting mine to be around there, though it gave my heart the financial gaspings, because my phone is top of the line and I only got it nine months ago. The cancellation fee, however, we were pleased to inform them, they were wrong about because we had happily found an article saying their company had removed early cancellation fees.
Turns out in the Korean fine print, “early” cancellation is still a minimum of 24 months. Fuck. So add another ₩80,000. Sadly Ricky was at 23 months and therefore ineligible for free cancellation.
Then Ricky’s original quote turned out to be negated; sorry, they said, actually your phone was on a three-year plan and more expensive so it’s not ₩95,000 left to pay but actually ₩250,000. Having put a lot on our credit cards lately (and waiting for our final paychecks with severance pay bonuses), this simply put him over the limit of what he could pay once they added in all the additional monthly plan and service charges, well over ₩450,000.
Luckily I was sure that I had enough left on mine and after about half an hour of the SK reps and his co-teacher harrassing him, I gave my credit card to pay. They swiped it. And swiped it again.
“Is it working?” I asked.
His co-teacher waved me off.
A few minutes later they’re all still jabbering in rapid Korean, clearly very agitated.
“Did it work?” I asked again. “What’s wrong?”
I got waved off again with a non-commital shrug.
“What’s going on?” I asked, assuming they had hiked my price up too.
Sure enough it was at over ₩623,000.
“Why is it so much?” I demanded. “Can I see a cost breakdown?”
After frantic scanning and printing and circling of a long list of numbers, Ricky’s co-teacher began translating the different costs. A serious language barrier led to immense frustration on both sides as she kept trying to explain what a cancellation fee was while I kept confirming that I knew what a cancellation fee was but how much was it?
Every time they showed me a new list of numbers, none of the math added up. Every time I pointed this out, they changed the numbers. Every time the numbers changed, I became more and more enraged, a furious rhino among twittering birds, wanting nothing more than proper answers.
I should point out that I was also dehydrated, breakfast deprived, and had not had a chance to adequately rest in over a week. As such, though not as an excuse, I shamefully lost my temper and as one of the low points of my life, outright yelled at Ricky’s co-teacher. So much for making a good impression.
Finally everything got sorted, they said the whole confusion was my fault because I was asking for numbers, and I left in a fuming rage completely at a loss for why something they should be able to do with ease, like in every other country, had to be an hour-long affair.
Ultimately I regret going the honest route and paying for my phone, if for nothing else then on the principle that the whole while we were legally cancelling our phones, Ricky’s co-teacher was telling us we were breaking the law by breaking our contracts which is why were paying so much. So all I’m saying is if I’m going to break the law either way, why not do it in the way that makes me less poor?
Anyway I regret to admit that I burst into tears once back at the apartment, overwhelmed by all the packing and cleaning that needed doing on top of the stress of the morning. But what’s a last day of preparation without a good sob?
Somehow I pulled myself together and we started throwing stuff out, wiping down cupboards, vacuuming the laundry room (and wiping its blackened pollution covered floor over and over), and generally doing what we did at my apartment over again. Some particularly nasty highlights were cleaning behind and inside the fridge and the food trap in the sink.
When we finished 90% of the tasks, we took up weighing our luggage again to account for the remainder of stuff we had in our apartment that we wanted to keep. Although overweight, it wasn’t too bad and we deemed it good enough to take to the airport where we’d use their official scales to determine the final juggling of kilos.
We took a break to go for Pho in shinae for our last dinner. Not a lot of people were there, just us and three other friends, but it was the quiet, relaxed sit down I needed.
After dinner I needed to run off quickly to the art studio to pick up our drawings. I met with our old teacher there and we chatted about Korea. He’d just got back from his first trip home in four years. It was nice to hear him say that it took time for Korea to grow on him, that he hated it at first too but when he returned the little things that used to bother him so much didn’t really anymore. So hey, maybe there’s hope for me too.
Taking the bus back through the jeweled city lights, glowing with halos in the humid night, I started feeling really nostalgic.
This was the last time I’d be here, in this city that I came to alone and made a life in. The familiar store fronts receded behind me, already memories even as I tried to process the images.
I made it home and found Ricky was still with two of our friends who were simultaneously taking the stuff they’d reserved and helping us gut the rest of our inventory. It took maybe half an hour and everything was empty.
We said a heartfelt goodbye in the parking lot and went upstairs to enjoy our last night in the apartment: watching Wilfred and drinking wine straight from the bottle.
It doesn’t feel real that it’s over; all the agony that it’s been to live here as well as the smattering of good times. I can’t say I’m not excited to go home, but I am nervous. I don’t really know what life will bring but I guess that’s part of the fun.
Here’s to the end and the start of a beginning!