It’s official; we have a car! We are over here feeling sixteen again. We really had no intention of getting a car when we moved here, especially as the public transportation is great, but the opportunity presented itself. We had even thought about getting a scooter, which would be great for getting to and from work in traffic or running to the store but they don’t make for the most practical family vehicles…not to say it can’t be done.
After we finally decided to get the car, we began getting everything in order. Luckily, we took care of some of the paperwork in the States before we came, in case we ever needed or wanted to drive, which helped expedite the process. The to-do list for getting a car consisted of getting our driver’s licenses, the car title transferred, an inspection, and a few repairs.
For our driver’s license, they allow foreigners from approved countries to simply exchange their license for a Korean one. All we had to do was take in all our documents, go across the street to some fancy schmancy hospital to get a vision test and physical, and then come back to pick up our new licenses.
This isn’t a great picture of the hospital, but all the patients (besides us) were walking around in the same two piece gowns? pajamas? scrubs? I don’t know. And matching leather slippers. It felt like we were at some sort of spa. The physical consisted of us sitting down, the doctor asking if we had any health issues, telling him no, and that was it. Extremely official. And we passed the vision test with flying colors despite the fact that the font of the letters and numbers was a little different.
Oh, hey there, Asher.
The whole driver’s license process took about 2 hours, start to finish and we were the newest licensed drivers in Korea. In retrospect, I feel like they may should have at least given us a crash course (pun intended) on driving in Seoul…Oh well. So now Koreans be like.
Our car is a gently used Kia Spectra…the stuff dreams are made of. It is pretty standard that Koreans take great pride in driving nice/new/well maintained cars, so the only really fixer-uppers/old cars you see on the road are driven by people like yours truly, the expats. We are the ones looking for a deal and just happy to have a vehicle to make the ever important Costco and IKEA runs.
Then it was time to get our registration and car title transfer taken care of. It didn’t take too long but was a truly Korean experience. The building was about 9 trillion degrees because who needs air conditioning and the process was completed in a series of different stations (just like at the hospital).
So the next day it was time to get it repaired. My friend Brooke and I went to take the car in. After talking real sweetly to the car and praying for a good solid 5 minutes, it started! And then we realized we were almost out of gas, which brings me to my first experience at a Korean gas station. We pull in and they direct us to a pump. They proceed to ask how much gas we want (full-service gas stations! well, hot dog!). And then the question that really stumps me. “Would you like coffee, water, or toilet paper?”.
Say what? Brooke looks at me and says, as though it clarifies something, “She wants to know if you want coffee, water, or toilet paper?”. File that under: you know your friend’s been in Korea too long when that question makes total sense. I was under the impression that I had made myself clear; I wanted gas. So APPARENTLY you pick one of these items to get for free when you buy gas. They call it “service”. Well color me confused. I’ll take a coffee.
From there we were off to the repair shop. Yep. Pretty sure this wasn’t what I had in mind.
We told them what we thought was wrong and asked them to check it out. I don’t think there is anyway to do this encounter justice without you having been there. We kept asking questions, they kept responding in KoreanEnglish, we repeated the question, they repeated the response in KoreanEnglish, we looked confused, asked another question, and they would respond to our non yes-or-no question with, “OK”. Ex. Us: “Are you sure it’s the alternator that need to be fixed?” Him: “OK”. Perfect.
They quoted us a price that was a little higher than we expected (but still WAY lower than anything in the States). Brooke asked me if that was ok. I was in no position to haggle as my expansive Korean vocabulary (friend, baby, hello, thank you, and taxi directions) probably wouldn’t get me too far. By the time we left we were asking them to replace the alternator, fix the power locks, do a tune-up, and wash the car. They said the car would be ready to pick up in three hours. THREE HOURS.
Miracles, people. Miracles. We get back there to pick up there car about 3 hours and 15 minutes later and the car’s hood is up; I just knew that they hadn’t been able to finish. I walked over to the car and the guy went around the side and picked up a part, and tells me in KoreanEnglish that it was the old alternator and then picked up another part and tells me it’s the old power locks. He showed me that everything worked in the car and said we were good to go. As I walked to pay he said I needed new windshield wipers. Isn’t there always something else “you need”? I asked how much they were and he said, “no, service”, meaning that he had already put them on for free. I could get used to this “service” thing. And our bill was under $300. I think I love this country.
So that was it. We were off; free to go wherever we wanted. After 3 months without driving we were all pretty excited to be cruising down the road, windows down, and radio on.
And then we drove off into the sunset… to T.G.I.Friday’s at the mall, naturally, because these are the kind of natural American tendencies you just can’t shake.
Welcome to the family, Sally. We are happy to have you.