If you are living in a foreign country and lose something while using public transportation, not only do you face basic language barriers but you also must deal with societal differences. In the end, there are doubtlessly many foreigners who come to Korea either to live or for travel, lose their belongs and, out of sheer confusion or frustration, simply decide that trying to track them down is just too difficult. Here is some information to help in the event that this should happen to you.
There are three basic forms of public transportation: subway, bus and taxi. By far, the subway is the form of public transportation most used by visitors to the city, thus lost and found information is widely available. As such, the system for tracking down lost items is quite extensive compared to other forms of public transportation.
In order to speed up the process of finding your belongings, if you realize that you have left something on the subway relatively soon after you have gotten off, note the time you got off, the direction of the train and the car number of the train in which you were (the car/door number can be found at the foot of each entrance to the train, where the arrows are marked on the floor). Take this information to the nearest station attendant and there should be a higher chance that you will recover your belongings. If you only realize that you have left something on the subway well after leaving, you will have to contact a lost and found center.
As there are currently eight subway lines spanning hundreds of stations, finding items lost on the subway varies according to what line one was traveling on. This is because lines 1-4 of the subway system are run by Seoul Metro, whereas lines 5-8 are run by the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation. Also, given the sheer immensity of the Seoul subway system, each corporation has multiple lost and found centers. For example, as lines 1 and 2 are extremely high-traffic lines, and City Hall Station is one station where these two lines meet, the lost and found center located there is one of the main centers. One point of possible confusion to note, however, is that the lost and found center for lines 5 and 8, for example, is located at Wangsimni Station, which lies on line 5 but not 8.
Information for each of the lost and found centers is as follows: for lines 1 and 2, City Hall Station (02-6110-1122); for lines 3 and 4 Chungmuro Station (02-6110-3344); for lines 5 and 8 Wangsimni Station (02-6311-6765/6768); for lines 6 and 7 Taeneung Station (02-6311-6766/7). Hours of operation for centers run by Seoul Metro (lines 1-4) are 7:00 am to 10:00 pm. Hours for those run by SMRT are 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. For lost & found issues on holidays, weekends and outside of these hours, one should contact a subway station worker. As the Seoul Metro and SMRT both run their own websites, noting this information could be very useful if you lose your belongings in the future. The addresses are http://www.seoulmetro.co.kr and http://www.smrt.co.kr/, respectively. At these sites, available in English, you can access all the information about the systems, lost and found facilities and events that happen through these systems.
Next is the bus system. Both the Seoul City and Gyeongi Province bus systems offer sites with information on lost & found centers, however these sites are not available in English. By calling either the Seoul Global Center (1688-0120, available Monday-Friday, 9-6 p.m.) or the Korea Tourist Information Center (1330, available 24 hours), you can receive information and interpretation services in the event that you have left something on a bus. If you speak Korean or have someone to help, the Seoul City bus system can be reached at 02) 415-4101 and the Gyeongi bus system at 031) 246-4210. When reporting a lost item directly or through an interpreter from one of the hotlines mentioned above, remember to note the following information: the line number of the bus, the direction in which it was traveling, and the locations and times where you got on and off the bus.
Finally, there are taxis. Although taxis in Seoul are divided into public and independent taxis, even independent taxis are registered through organizations, making searching for lost items simpler. (Note: With the phasing in of the Haechi Taxi through 2014, this will change over the next few years.) If you happened to have called a taxi, this would be the simplest way to try to retrieve something you have left behind. If not, then the first thing to do is figure out whether you have taken an independent taxi or public taxi. The way to tell the difference is through the writing on the outside of the cab and through the color: Seoul and Gyeongi public taxis are accented with blue; Seoul independent taxis with white; Gyeongi independent taxis with green.
Even if you did not happen to catch the color of the cab, there is still hope for finding your belongings, as the taxi system itself has a site for lost items. You can find information by going to http://www.spta.or.kr/ or calling 02) 415-9521 for independent taxis or http://hdtaxi.com.ne.kr/ for independent and public taxis. At these sites you can register lost items or search through registered found items. Unfortunately, as with the bus service, the site is not available in English, so if you do not speak Korean, you will need help. Of course, the best way to prevent permanent loss of your belongings when traveling by taxi is to always ask for a receipt, which contains the taxi number and a phone number to contact.
Although it cannot be said how many people leave belongings behind when taking public transportation, approximately 74 found items are reported at subway lost and found centers daily. Of these, approximately 70 percent are returned to their owners and, according to a 2008 report, this rate is increasing. Knowing how to search for items lost in either the subway, bus or in a taxi can save a lot of stress.
Of course, in the event that you lose something on a mode of public transportation you may not remember all of this information off-hand. For a refresher, or for any other information, call the SGC for help at 1688-0120.
By Yoo Jeong-jin