The day I ran out of cash and got eaten by the subway

Adventures await those who enter the wrong PIN three times consecutively. Even greater adventures await those who do so with their Korean debit card. Yours truly was that particular species of idiot this past Friday, after she ran out of won and attempted to withdraw cash from an ATM. One of the beautifully frustrating things about banking in Korea is that if you forget your PIN and enter the wrong one three times consecutively, your debit card will be suspended until you visit a local branch in person to reset the PIN. The other beautiful thing about banking here is that most branches are only open while I am at work. I was aware of both of these facts beforehand, but alas, there I was, and there the cash wasn’t.  I began calculating how long I could subsist on my remaining supply of yogurt and bagels. Visions of begging for won in the subway danced through my head. (Not seriously, but I thought about it for the entertainment value.) I needed a plan.

Friday night

Step 1: Do not panic. (Thanks to my former music theory professor Dr. L for this life lesson.)

Step 2: Download app and scan T Money card (pre-paid subway card) to see if enough money is left to get me to Korean class on Saturday, and church on Sunday. Barely enough remains.

Step 3: Research bank branches open on Sundays (there are two such KEB branches located in Seoul).


Step 4: After Korean class, go to Myeongdong to convert $20 USD to won. I found this cash when I was unpacking in Seoul; someone gave it to me before I left (thank you, Kathleen, for this “airport food” money!) and it ended up separated from my wallet and didn’t get converted at the airport. I knew there were many places to convert cash in Myeongdong, and I also read that it is supposedly one of the best conversion rates in Seoul (although I wasn’t very concerned about that at the time).

Step 5: Use some of the cash to re-load the T Money card so I can get home from Myeongdong, and so that I can go to church on Sunday (I was asked to play for the service, so I needed to be there). Realize that my American debit card still works to cover transactions, although I can’t withdraw cash with it anymore (long story; my American bank account is being closed within the next couple of weeks because the bank doesn’t have the right licenses to do business with people in Korea).

BONUS: Get caught in the subway doors by trying to board right as they are closing. Shock the bystanders in said subway train and station via this action, then quickly pull out leg and arm before the train takes off along with them. Be thankful it didn’t hurt (there is rubber padding on the doors), tell myself that this will be very funny someday, wait for the next train, and carry on with life.


Step 6: Go to church. Arrive early to practice with the guitarist, who will be leading worship for the service. After service, get accosted by a tiny elderly Korean lady who hands me some sheet music, grabs my arm (which is still attached to my body, praise be), tells me it’s very nice to meet me, and drags me back into the sanctuary to have me play the music. As I stumble through sight-reading the hymn, she begins to sing along with a rather astonishing opera voice. When we finish, she tells me she’s been attending this church since 1969, and she wants me to practice the song so that she can sing it next Sunday. She has no idea who is in charge of determining such a thing, and is ostensibly relying on me to work out all the logistics. I smile and nod, which is always the right answer when you are clueless in Korea.

Step 7: Have a nice lunch with some of the people from church, then head off for the KEB branch that is reputedly open on Sundays. Talk to Jesus on the way goes something like this: “Thank You for all of the character-building adventures this weekend has brought. I understand if You want me to have more adventures by experiencing even more banking nonsense and running out of cash again in a foreign country, but I would really appreciate it if this bank branch is actually open like the internet says it is, and if they would actually help me and not give me a vague, mysterious Korean reason why they can’t. Thank You.”

Step 8: Arrive at KEB location, smile because the door is literally propped open, and receive kind assistance from employees therein (I was offered iced coffee twice). Successfully reset PIN and withdraw cash from ATM. Bask in a grateful feeling of silly accomplishment, thank Jesus for the grace He gives me when expat life brings out the idiot in me, and realize that overcoming frustrating difficulties is sometimes the best way to make us realize how much we have to be thankful for.


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