Hunting down a handphone

I’m not a fan of cellphones by any means. In SA I had one out of sheer necessity, and I was more than happy to leave my cellphone behind when I came to Korea.

As I mentioned on a previous post SA cellphones don’t work in Korea (to my chagrin), so I’ve been without a cellphone (or handphone/handpone, as they call them here) for almost three months. After years of having it surgically attached to me, it has been pretty liberating not having to lug the damn thing around all over the place.

But this state of bliss could not last forever. Everyone here has a cellphone, and I mean EVERYONE. The kids in my classes have these superdooper souped up cellphones that can do your laundry and wash dishes. And since everyone wants my cellphone number, I finally succumbed to the need to have one, and took a stroll down to one of the gazillion cellphone stores down the road.

Luckily another native teacher had directed me to a store that sells “cardphones”. The Korean cellphone industry is not geared toward catering for foreigners, so generally we can only get prepaid, secondhand phones – here known as “cardphones”. Only some stores sell them, but there is one nearby so I popped in.

Normally I’d try and have a Korean friend with me to help with translation, but I figured I’d try it on my own first. So I walked in, said “Cardphones?”, and the assistant took out a selection. I saw one I liked, asked how much, and tried not to flinch when the assistant typed “150,000 won” on a calculator. That’s more than R1,000 for a secondhand phone that I’ll not be able to take home with me. So I said “50,000 won?”, and the assistant took out a small selection of battered and bruised phones. Beggars can’t be choosers, so I’m glad I found one that I at least liked. It looks like an old dictaphone, the camera doesn’t work, and the battery lasts less than a day. But I can phone without any problems, and sending an sms is pretty straightforward. That’s all I’m looking for, being the luddite that I am.

I was worried about the paperwork, but the assistant seemed to know what he was doing. All I needed to give him was my ARC (Alien Registration Card) and sign a couple of papers. There was some setup to do, since I went in on a public holiday, but I collected the phone two days later with no hassles. Mind you, this whole transaction was conducted in grunts and gestures, so I’m pretty chuffed that at the end I got a phone I liked for the price I was willing to pay. Not bad.

All that’s left is to work out how to find out how much my phonecalls and sms’s cost, and how to check my account balance. But in the meantime I’ll just use the phone until it stops working.

As an aside, my wife had a totally different experience. One of her co-workers arranged a contract phone for her, so she has a brand new cellphone and much cheaper call and sms rates. Foreigners usually can’t get a contract without paying a hefty deposit, or using a Korean credit card (which we generally can’t get either), so most foreigners end up with cardphones.


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