The minute I stepped off the bus, I knew something was wrong. I looked down at my red dress as if it held the answer and the lightness of my backpack confirmed my fears: My wallet was gone.
Panic set in. I turned around to see the bus disappear down the street. I couldn’t stop turning, scanning the streets, tears in my eyes, asking whoever was nearby: “Have you seen my wallet?” Of course, they didn’t speak English and avoided eye contact as mine filled with tears.
Breathe, I told myself. Sobbing by now, I found the number for the bus stop and texted my Korean handler. She replied swiftly, saying that maybe I’ve been pick pocketed. I should phone the bank and stop my cards. Sage advice.
No. No. No. No. This is Korea! Korea is honest! I refused to believe that someone had swiped my wallet. It contained my entire life – ID card, bank cards, 150 000 won in cash (nearly R2000). I’d been reading on the bus and when I got off it must have slipped out of my hands. It was hot and sweaty and the humidity was affecting my brain.
Stop. Think. I tried to call the bank, but it was Saturday, the English service unavailable. I called the central bus number, but the woman, bless her heart, didn’t speak English. She texted me a few words of encouragement (thank you Google Translate) but couldn’t help at that time. I texted another teacher, and a Korean friend.
Then, I got a phone call from the bank. The woman didn’t speak English and I realised how much I rely on body language to understand Korean. After 10 minutes she gave up. She sent me a text instead. Google Translate to the rescue. They’ve found your wallet, it’s at the police station! Google Translate has let me down before, so I forwarded the message to my Korean colleague. Yes, it’s right! It’s at the police station.
My friend came to visit me from Busan, and without her I may have given up on finding my wallet. But she helped me locate the police station on her maps app and helped me navigate the city that I’m supposed to know so well by now.
At long last, sunburned, sweaty and bedraggled, my face splotchy and red from crying, we arrived at the police station. I had to confirm my identity and the colour of my wallet but there it was! With all my cards and cash in check.
An Ajumma (old Korean woman) had felt it under her feet when she got off the bus, and handed it in at the nearest police station.
I couldn’t believe it. This country. It gets you every time. I am still in shock, awe, grateful to my core. Thank you, unknown Ajumma. Thank you.