One weekend, Darby, Kris, and I took the morning bus to Seoul on a cell phone-purchasing mission.
Upon arrival in Seoul, we hopped on one of the busy city buses and headed into the neighborhood of Itaewon. Itaewon is known as the "foreigner district" of Seoul (and possibly all of Korea). It is one of the only places in Seoul where you can see up to 12 westerners on the same street at the same time. This familiarity should be comforting, but for some reason that I can't quite pinpoint, I find the foreign presence a bit eerie and unnerving. Hmmm...maybe it's the huge military complex across the road.
Anyway, we were counting on Darby to guide us to the tiny, back-alley, Nigerian-owned convenience store that has the cheapest cell phone deals in the country. However, considering she'd only been there once, and that the neighborhood is littered with back alleys, it is no surprise that we got a little bit lost trying to find it. We did get to wander around a great little area full of antique shops, so the search was nice even though we never made it to the destination.
We never did find the store that day, but returned the next weekend and found it with the help of a map, hand-drawn by a co-worker who is more familiar with the area. The Nigerian was a nice and attractive man. His store sold a smattering of foreign goods (dried chickpeas, Nutella, Campbell's soup, coconut milk, Guiness...) and an array of recycled cell phones. Appartently, it's quite easy and standard practice in Asia to recycle a cell phone by simply switching the SIM card hidden behind battery in the back of the phone. What a revelation! The SIM cards access different satellite signals and come with a generous first helping of minutes. I bought a Barbie-pink phone (the cheapest he had that day) with about 100 minutes for $25. If I'd been there a day or two earlier, during his special cell SALE, I could have got the whole sha-bang for $10. If I'd had a compatible phone, I could have just switched the SIM card for about $5.
The moral of the story is: When in Asia, skip the house phone, and just buy a new SIM card for your existing phone.