Friday, August 12, 2016

ha ha—Kakao Taxi!

Koreans Koreanize. When something nifty and/or novel comes from overseas, South Koreans will adopt it as their own instead of buying that foreign product or using that foreign service. It's somewhat analogous to North Korea's notion of juche, often translated as "self-reliance." Now, in North Korea's case, juche is a joke since the country is so obviously dependent on the largesse of other countries just to survive. South Korea doesn't have an explicit juche policy, but it's economically strong enough to stand on its own two feet; if anything, it's one of the foremost global economic powers at play in the world today. But South Korea also likes to indulge in the myth that everything good comes from inside itself, hence the quick adoption and Koreanization of anything foreign that's nifty and/or novel.

One example of what I mean—and this is my favorite go-to example—is Doritos corn chips. When Doritos came to Korea, Koreans loved it, but instead of allowing the US to have a significant share of the Korean market, Koreans copied the formula—resulting in a much-inferior chip—and have been selling their own Doritos clones ever since. Koreans like Doritos (and you can still find Doritos in Korean stores), but buying Doritos is a reminder that Koreans like—and in this case crave—a foreign good. Much better, then, to create the same product (well, something similar) in-house, thereby shutting the Americans out and allowing the public to forget that the concept of this tasty corn chip came from... out there.

Name your extra-Korean product, and there's a Korean clone for it, whether we're talking cars or electronic devices or services like Uber. Yes: Uber tried to break into the Korean market, but Korean taxi drivers went nuts, and despite this being, at times, a wildly capitalistic country, this is also a wildly xenophobic country, and the thought of Uber taking over was just too much. So Korea Koreanized, and Kakao Taxi was born. Fuck you, Uber.

For those who don't know: Kakao Talk is a Korean software program (an "app," for you fogeys reading this) that allows people to send each other instant messages as text, audio sound bites, photos, or even short videos. Texting has, of course, been around for ages, and Kakao Talk is user-friendly and usable internationally: I chat with my brothers, for free, using Kakao, which I convinced them to install on their phones. (Actually, David is off Kakao but on Skype, thereby supporting Microsoft, whose software Skype now is.)

Kakao Talk has other services, like Kakao Groups for group chatting, or Kakao Story, which is a sort of limited type of Facebook-style social-media software for sharing photos. Kakao Taxi, then, is yet another tentacle of the Kakao octopus, and its purpose is to allow a cell-phone user to call up a taxi after naming his or her destination. The phone's GPS locator generates a map pin that allows the taxi driver to get within a few hundred feet of where you're standing; you receive a message telling you which 4-digit taxi serial number to look out for so that you don't get into the wrong cab when many cabs are whizzing by.

So tonight, I tried my hand, for the very first time, at calling a cab via Kakao Taxi. I typed in my destination (Daecheong Station), hit "call," then waited. Within two minutes, a cabbie had responded, and I saw on my phone's screen a real-time, moving map pin that pointed out the cab's position in relation to me. I also received ETA updates: "2 minutes to arrival... 1 minute to arrival..."

I had hit the 1-minute mark when a cab swung up and I got in. I suspected that this wasn't the cab I had called, but I'd already gotten in. I asked the driver if he'd received my Kakao message; he said he hadn't. I told him to just go on ahead; the other guy had taken too long, anyway (I'd already been waiting in the evening heat and humidity for ten minutes before I'd decided to try Kakao Taxi). I sent a text message to the Kakao'ed cabbie saying that I had taken a different cab. Best to be up-front, I thought.

While we were rolling along, my phone rang. Guess who it was. The Kakao'ed cabbie said, "I'm waiting in front of the store," and I replied, "I've already gotten in another cab."

"What?" the driver said.

"I said I've taken another cab."

A second later, I hit "end" because the cabbie was screaming curses into his phone. It was almost like something out of a comedy. I felt guilty for having inconvenienced him, but he had seen my destination and knew the fare would be under W7,000. Was it really that huge of a deal? Was it that traumatizing, losing a W7,000 fare? It's not even as though the guy had wasted a ton of time driving across town: when he pinged me, he was only two minutes away. Granted, I was at fault for having blithely taken the wrong cab. But the cabbie's screaming, "Fucking son of a..." seemed a bit out of proportion. I rode in silence for a minute, then felt my phone vibrate. The furious cabbie was trying to call me again. I slid my finger over the red "X" that meant "reject call." He called again. He called one more time. I calmly went into my phone's menu, hit "Add to Reject List," and that was the last I heard from the guy. It's been blissful radio silence since then.

I imagine that Kakao Taxi allows taxi drivers to warn other taxi drivers about unpalatable riders, just as I'm sure there's a function that allows customers to report obnoxious or generally bad drivers. If I get blacklisted because of this, I won't mind: it really was my mistake, and to some degree, I understand the guy's anger (although not his fury). I feel bad about what happened, and the experience helped reinforce the idea that I'd rather just old-school it when it comes to taxis: just wait at the curb and flag a random cab down.

I wonder if Uber drivers get this angry.

—Oh. Yes, they do.


hahnak said...

during my stay i got into the wrong cab too. i used my phone to call for a cab to come. the area where i was devoid of any cabs and i waited 10 minutes with the kids. another person happened to get dropped off at our location (a homeplus) so we took that cab. the one i was supposed to ride called me back during my ride and yelled at me (i was surprised to get yelled at) and i immediately apologized and told him to come to our officetel and that id pay him the 5000 won or so i owed him but then he backed off saying that it seemed like i was a foreigner and that it was okay. i love your relaxed attitude. i feel like a pushover sometimes.

Kevin Kim said...


I think you did the right thing. I should have done something similar, but the guy started off with, "Ssibal i-saekgi...", so I didn't think he'd be in the mood to hear an apology or a justification. When I checked my phone logs later that evening, I saw he had tried to call me back six times before I phone-blocked him. What a nightmare.