Our First Korean Road Trip (or: How GPS ruined my life)

My dad has told me that I am somewhat prone to hyperbole.

That’s not quite true.  I ADORE hyperbole.  I think it is the best thing in the whole wide world. 

Regardless, the title is not an exaggeration.  GPS ruined my life yesterday. 

A few weeks ago we decided to take a trip to Osan to watch the DAHS Warrior football team play their rivals.  After much consideration, a car trip seemed to make the most sense both economically and practically.  After all, traveling with 4 kids and luggage is an expensive headache on a good day, so having our own car was supposed to make it an easier trip.

Please note that I said supposed.

Yesterday I picked up Kevin from work at 2:30 pm for our 3-hour car trip.  The kids and luggage were loaded, and we had a borrowed GPS navigation system from some friends.  We hadn’t driven outside of Daegu yet, so it should have made the trip easier.

Please note I said should have.

The trip began marvelously.  Once ouside the city, the highway became a wide, perfectly paved and painted ribbon of asphalt.  Traffic was easy-breezy.  The verdant mountains, with just a hint of the autumnal color change, were beautiful to behold.  We passed quaint villages and ancient temples.  Golden rice fields and expansive gardens dotted the hillsides and valleys.  The highlight of the trip for the kids were the plentiful tunnels that led us straight through many a mountain.  (A note to parents of young PBS-watchers: all the kids enjoyed saying “Time tunnel! Time tunnel approaching!” as we prepared to enter each and every one along the way, a la Dinosaur Train.)

But then it all went wrong.  So horribly, terribly wrong.

As we got close to our supposed destination, the GPS did this funny stuttering thing.  It went from being 20 km away to 38 km away.  It went in and out of range.  At times it looked like the little car icon on the screen was careening off the road.  We got nervous and pulled off the road at a rest stop.  (Even the rest stops are incredible here.  An information booth, gas station, mini-mall, clean bathrooms, and plenty of parking.)

Kevin called our friend who lent us the GPS.  We tried to give him our location and he was a bit stumped.  It didn’t sound like we were anywhere near where we should have been, but he couldn’t say for sure.  At that point it seemed like the GPS kicked back in and so we tentatively got back in the car and continued following the directions.

Soon after we were on fairly remote roads.  Sure, there were stoplights and businesses, but nothing that resembled a military base, which was where we were heading.  We had been driving at this point for about 3 and a half hours.

Finally, finally we reached our destination.  Only… it wasn’t our destination.  It was a driveway of a broken down auto garage.  The garage was off a windy two-lane road that at some places had little in the way of pavement.  As the hollow, empty voice of the navigation system welcomed us to our “destination,” Kevin and I looked at each other in horror. 

What now?

The tension and uncertainty that had been niggling at the back of our minds suddenly hit us with the force of a KTX high speed train.  We were lost.  Alone.  In Korea.  In a remote location, with barely enough Korean to ask for a map, and not nearly enough to read the map, nor understand any help well-meaning Koreans might offer.  Oh no.  Oh NO.  Oh no no no no no no.

By then the kids had been asking every 5 minutes for the last hour when we would get there.   “There, my sweets?  According to hollow-voiced lady in the tiny computer, we are there.”  I think I may have  actually snapped something I’m not proud of.  Something along the lines of, “I’ll TELL you when I KNOW when we’ll get THERE.  Right now I’m trying to figure out where HERE is.”  Poor kids.

We pulled into a gas station to think and regroup.   I furtively glanced around for restaurants and possibly a hotel.  I tossed the contents out of every bag to find my Korean phrase book.  Who knew what I would need to ask?

Kevin called our friend again.  Bless him.  He had a solution, but one we did not exactly trust.  See, his solution was to use another of the “Favorites locations” in the GPS. 

The evil, evil GPS. 

Yet it seemed like all other options were closed to us.  Our hollow-voiced companion was the only way out of the backwoods.  We entered the new location and up it came.  We were only 65 kilometers from where we wanted to be.  65 kilometers and 1 hour and 11 minutes.  You have got to be kidding me.

Back into the car we loaded, by now with a shrieking baby.  He was fussy before, but by now he was downright ticked off.  Who could blame him?

Skeptically, we headed off on the back roads.  As Kevin sardonically noted, the GPS knew the roads well enough to 1) tell us to slow down when we were over the posted speed limit, and 2) warn us of approaching speed bumps with surprising accuracy, but not well enough to get us anywhere near the location we needed to be. 

It took us about 25 minutes to make it to a highway.  We still were not convinced.  About 25 minutes after that, we saw signs for Osan.  Hope blossomed.  Another 20 minutes later, (after a a couple of our own wrong turns), we entered the military base.  Hallelujah!

I know you are all very concerned about this next part.  Yes, we arrived in time to watch most of the football game.  It was just a few minutes into the first quarter when we pulled in.  The Warriors did not win, but fought valiantly, and scored a touchdown in the last 4 seconds of the game.  The final score was 35-25, and the team did wonderfully. And even though they lost, due to the point spread, they got a place in the Far East football championships. Yay!

Ok, so now I have to admit that the GPS only ruined my life temporarliy.  It was only a hectic couple of hours in an otherwise lovely trip.  Rest assured, however, that the hollow-voiced navigation lady has no seat in my car in the future.  I’d rather get lost on my own, thank you very much.

By the way, I really wish I had pictures for this post.  The first part of the trip was so wonderful that I didn’t want to stop to take pictures.  The second part of the trip was so harrowing that I couldn’t even bear it.