I gripped my seat and held on for dear life!
It was the summer after I graduated from college. After much planning, I would take my first solo trip to visit my friend Jae in South Korea. I was excited, but also pretty nervous since I only knew a few words in Korean. Jae was born and raised there, though, so I figured she could give me some helpful tips for navigating the country.
After an exhausting 16 hour flight (on which I could barely get a wink of sleep), I had finally landed in Korea. Jae, unfortunately, couldn’t pick me up at the airport. Thus, I had to figure out how to traverse this strange land and get to her apartment on my own. The airport was already hectic enough to get out of, with billboards beaming an unknown alphabet and hoards of people rushing past me. I somehow figured out where the baggage claim was. After grabbing my luggage, I headed for the exit.
Jae gave me several tips. But there was one she emphasized: she told me “palli-palli” was a compliment to give to taxi drivers. Apparently, the driving etiquette in Korea is very different from that of the United States. She said that paying the cab driver a compliment was a surefire way to guarantee a smooth ride.
I said “annyeong haseyo” (hello) to the driver as I stepped in the cab, and showed him Jae’s address on my phone. Then, he sped away. The first thing I noticed about Korean driving was that it exhibited a kind of lawlessness that I’d only seen in action movies. Everyone drove fast – as if they were all late for an important meeting. Drivers cut off anyone in their way without a second glance. Additionally, there were huge sewer holes on the side of the road. I couldn’t for the life of my figure out why they weren’t covered up. If you weren’t careful, you could certainly get into a predicament getting a tire stuck in these contraptions.
After a few minutes of the driver speeding along, I gathered the courage to use my secret weapon. “Palli-palli!” I said with a grin. The driver looked back at me with raised eyebrows. Then he turned around and gunned the engine. He was driving like a madman, even faster than before. I had no idea what to do. The few Korean words I knew suddenly escaped me. I gripped my seat and held on for dear life. I texted Jae to ask her what to do, but she wouldn’t respond.
After what seemed like forever, we had arrived at Jae’s place. With trembling hands, I paid the driver. I turned around to find Jae giggling behind her hands. I was relieved to finally see her.
I gave her a hug, then told her about my nightmare first Korean taxi ride. She let out a huge laugh and revealed that “palli-palli” was not in fact a compliment for taxi drivers, but actually meant “faster, faster.” If I wasn’t so tired, I could have punched her right then! But honestly, I was just happy to have survived my friend’s prank. Little did she know that she would experience my revenge a few days later…