The Fun Thing About Almost Dying

Here's a small story from the past I nearly forgot.

I was living in South Korea in a small officetel. It was a Friday night and the country was shutting down for it's annual massive long weekend - Chuseok. This is when everyone returns to the family home, the women work their backsides off preparing food and the guys, for the most part, just lounge around and enjoy it.

As a non-Korean all you really need to know is that 24-hour, always open, land of convenience Korea shuts down. Being a Friday night this meant Saturday - Tuesday was going to be pretty quite for all of us non-Koreans.

So I'm taking a shower in my tiny bathroom with it's tiny window. I start to towel off and go to open the door. But what's this? The handle is stuck. As in, won't move. I struggle with it for a while before accepting that there's only one masculine way to deal with this problem - the shoulder barge.

Another five minutes and a sore shoulder later I realise I'm in a real fix. My phone is in the bedroom and I didn't have anything planned that would cause serious alarm if I didn't turn up. My friends would either assume I met a girl or just blew them off.

After scouring the bathroom for a tool that could help I finally decide to break the door handle off. I then use the door handle to beat a hole in the door. I then peel away the plastic strips. The door is filled with honeycomb cardboard which is easy enough to tear away. I then beat more holes through the other side and reclaim my freedom. Other than some nasty cuts to my hand from the sharp plastic I got out unscathed.

I still have the door handle as a souvenir to this day.

Above: the end result.

Below: behold the carnage! And yes, that's some blood there, too.

And finally: my tormentor and savior - the door handle that started (and ended) it all.

I had survived. I got trapped in a tiny Korean bathroom and lived to tell the tale.

There's a funny post-script to this story. My employer was paying for my accommodation and when I told them about the door they were of the opinion that I should pay for it. I disagreed. I held that breaking the door was necessary to my survival and that my survival was necessary to carrying out my work. Besides surviving a week on tap water would have cost them more in medical bills and emergency services.

Their counter-argument was that I didn't need to break the door and other means of escape were possible. "You could have yelled for help", they said. I don't speak Korean and most Koreans cannot speak English. In fact, this was the exact problem I was being employed to fix. Famously most Koreans only know how to say: "I'm fine thank you and you?" when asked something.

I told my boss that this would have been the likely conversation if I had tried yelling for help:


Imaginary Korean Person (IKP): "Annyeong!?"

Me: "HELP! I'm stuck! Can you speak English? Englishi ah-shibning-ga!?"

IKP: "???"

Me: "Yongo sunsangnim" (Translation: English Teacher)

IKP: "Shincha!?" (Translation: Really?)

Me: "Nei (Yes). Can you help me?"

IKP: "Hello!"

Me: "Hi! Please, help!"

IKP: "I'm fine thank you and you!"

Me: "Yes, I'm fin- wait! I'm not fine! Poilici, call? Phone call police, please!"

IKP: "Bye bye!" followed by the soft sound of their feet quietly padding away into the distance.

An inspection was arranged that served as an excuse for my main co-teacher, my administrator, the principal, the two other coteachers, the landlord and the landlord's wife to come and inspect the door (apparently the above photos were not enough). After observing the foreigner in his habitat it was decided that I would not, after all, have to pay for the broken door.

Sadly, my requests that the replacement door be a different make than the original door were not observed.