Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Address Systems are Broken in Korea and Japan

Japanese and Korean people like to contest my assertion that the address system is broken in their countries. "It's not broken, it's just different", they'll say. And of course they don't have any problems with it, since they're fluent in their respective languages.

BOOM. There it is. If you need to be fluent in the friggin' native language in order to get from one place to another, something's wrong with the addressing system.

For background, Korea and Japan both have a strange system whereby street numbers don't mean a damn thing. Okay, they mean something - they're the order that houses/buildings went up on the street. That's super useful, perhaps if you're a street historian.

As a result, most conversations over addresses go something like this:

Person 1: Hey, can you meet us at X? It's right by Yeoksam Station.
Person 2: Sure. How do I get there?
Person 1: Just go to the station, go to Exit 7, walk diagonally across the street towards the Buy the Way, turn right at the guy selling kimchi dumplings, head 200m down the alleyway, get the password from the starry-eyed cat on top of the trash can, and use it to open the hidden door next to the noraebang.
Person 2: How do I find the door if it's hidden?
Person 1: See ya soon!
Person 2: FML.

Now, you might ask, how does mail get to its destination? How do deliveries make it to offices? Well, there is a "real" addressing system that involves a postal code as well as what I guess I would call a township code. The postal code references the general area, and the township code references a small geographic block within the town. I thought this was great, cause then I could just write this down and hand it to a cabbie, who could input all of it into his GPS system.

It's not a surprise what happened. Complete FAIL.

I told the cabbie the name of the place first, and the general location. He hadn't heard of it. I told him it's a bar/restaurant, and it's by a specific station. Then I showed him the exact address from the website.

Half an hour later, we're in the middle of some residential neighborhood with streets approximately 3 feet wide and a truck full of chickens approaching us head-on. And he says, in Korean, "Here it is."

Me: Uh, no. It's a bar, not a house. It's on a main street. This clearly isn't it.
Cabbie: Then the address is wrong.

Ten minutes of phone calls later between the cabbie and the bar, we learned that the actual place was about 500m away.

In summary, I feel really bad for mailmen in Korea.

4 comments:

  1. In the new world we think of blocks of land as empty spaces between a grid of streets, in the Korea and in the Japan we think of streets as empty spaces between blocks of land, hence we name them. Don't confuse your insufficiencies in the Koreanese language with national incompetence.

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  2. Hey, don't strawman me. I never said anything about national incompetence. I understand the difference between the systems - I just think it's telling that even natives often need to make multiple phone calls to an establishment in order to find it.

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  3. What I found fascinating is how long those phone calls last, sometimes it takes two or three 5-10 minute phone calls between the cab driver and the person who is at and understands the destination.

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  4. Exactly! Pretty incredible.

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