I am FINALLY road ready! In the height of the winter cold, I decided that I wanted to buy a car. Knowing I would take an extended vacation in Dec/early Jan, I made up my mind to begin looking for an economy vehicle and planned to make a purchase in late January or early February 2010.
I began my journey by asking friends if they knew what it takes to obtain a Korean Driver's License. Fortunately, one friend had already obtained his and sent me a link to a pdf document detailing the process. It seemed easy enough: for Americans, we would be required to take a 20 question test (in English), provide our valid state license and fill out some paperwork. …. Oh, Korea!
A friend of mine took me to the driver's license office here in Ulsan– well about 30 minutes on the outskirts– on January 26th. Much to my disappointment, I was informed that testing was only offered (in Ulsan) once per month and the next testing date was scheduled for February 16th, 2010. Fortunately for me, I had that day off. I went ahead and processed the rest of the paperwork, bought the study book (170 pgs), paid the fees and took the physical tests: a stand-squat-stand test, an eye exam (which impressed the examiner– thanks iLasik!), and a test to make sure I was not colorblind. PASS–ok.
I read the study book in it's entirety. REALLY good entertainment. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from the book:
- "An international driver's license issued in Korea is not effective in Korea." (p. 16)
- "Think of your children, your parents, your brothers and sisters as you are driving on the road. If you think of everybody on the roads as your family, you would not drive recklessly." (p. 33)
- "When driving, a driver should stop for a while to rest upon sensing the following: …. Hearing yourself snore a bit." (p. 37)
- "For injuring a person and fleeing, and thus causing the injured to die, the punishment is the death penalty, life imprisonment or more than 5 years imprisonment." (p.141) They ain't playin!!!
- penalty fee of 90,000 won (aprox. $85 US) for: "Allowing passengers to engage in disturbing acts in the vehicle."
- penalty fee of 20,000 won (aprox. $17 US) for: "splashing water on others" (p. 144)
- No penalty is assessed for driving with blood alcohol level of less than 0.05%,(p. 89) but … "While driving and considered 'dead drunk' with alcohol level at 0.1% or higher" one gets his license revoked. (p. 136)
So, as you may already conclude, driving in Korea is a bit different than in the States, lol Another reason why I chose such a small vehicle, is due, in part, to how folks drive. It will be easier to park, and move out of other's way with my little gold box. So, I found an ad in the classifieds (yes, in Korean– help from friends) for the vehicle that ultimately became mine. I took a couple others on test drives and even took one to the mechanic, but it was a no go. On February 3rd, 2010 I became the proud owner of a 1998 Daewoo Matiz MD.
In Korea, one must purchase car insurance a year at a time. I did this, paid for, and registered the vehicle the day after I test drove it & got the mechanic's approval. WOW! I own an 800cc economy ride! For those of you who don't know, 800cc is smaller than most motorcycles!! The gas is economical, the parking is halfprice and you can park those babies in the tiny parking spaces that Korea provides.
~Car? check… Driver's License? not yet~
Well, the big day of the exam was a disaster! My friend, who was going to take me, backed out at the last minute. I took a bus and got lost in the middle of nowhere. I made it to the driver's license office, but was 2 minutes too late to take the test! "Next time." I left with tears in my eyes, frustration screaming through my veins and a feeling of defeat. But those who read this, likely know that I don't accept defeat easily. It's in my DNA to be stubborn and to go after what I want. SO- I decided I would take the 1 hr trip (one way) to Busan the next day…. afterall, they give the test every weekday & had I was on vacation! Busan proved to be more of the same disasterous hoops. I failed (miserably) the test. BUT to make matters even MORE complicated, the requirements had changed as of 2/1/2010 and I was now require to GO TO the U.S. Consulate in SEOUL in order to obtain a certificate. I JUST RETURNED FROM SEOUL 3 DAYS PRIOR!! uggg
After some run around, calls, and checking of websites, I found out that "it just so happened" (Thanks, Lord– I needed that!) that U.S. consulate officers would be in Busan on the 23rd and 24th of Feb. Excellent! I have Wed the 24th off due to no school! On Tuesday night, I read the study book for the 3rd time, took out my map of Busan, and a friend helped me write down exact addresses and directions needed for cabs, subway lines, buses, etc. I woke up, mentally prepared for the day ahead, spoke out in faith "I WILL come back with my driver's license today!", and got out of my house by 7:30am on the 24th— they would only be available 9a-noon. I finally arrived at the correct location at 10am, leaving just 30 minutes later with these "encouraging" words from the consulate officer, "Since this is such a new change, and the Korean government didn't tell us what specifically they want, I hope this works for ya." [insert thought: "I just paid $30 US and went through this HUGE hassle– I am hoping it works"] My reply, "haha… Yes, I am HOPING so."
Made it to the driver's license office. Took a deep breath. Paid my testing fee again (that's the 3rd time now) and headed to the 3rd floor to take my test! The room was like sauna~ maybe b/c of all the people, maybe b/c of my blood pressure– maybe a combination of both. I sat down, took the test– and… PASSED!! Barely– but I passed! Hallelujah!!
I came home after some lunch, filled up my gas tank and took the car in for it's first oil change under my ownership! WOW~~~ What an adventure!! But not one I want to repeat!!