A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The adventures of Sam-Sam & Shin

So this marks my first entry (in Korea) posted from my laptop.

After a week of blank stares, heavy sighs, and misleading IP addresses, my connection problem was solved with a simple (eventually) phone call made by a helpful, if sometimes baffled cable repairman named Shin.

The story goes like this:

Shin came by my apartment last week and attempted to solve the riddle of why my laptop wasn't recognizing the ethernet connection running into it. I tried to explain to him what I thought the problem was, but since he spoke only a few words of English, we were only able to communicate simple issues like 'IP address,' 'router number' etc. Koreans are experts at emotive sighs: "Oh-shehhh!" being a common one. Shin gave a couple good: "Oh... Macintosh-uru..." and then left defeated. I figured he wasn't coming back.

Today I was enjoying a nice sleep-in when I hear a knock on my door at 11:30. I figured it was my boss, so I rushed to put on pants and answer. At the door was Shin, apparently back with new vigor to fix my internet. He made a few more phone calls and sighed a few more sighs. By now it was noon, and he asked me a question in Korean. I told him I didn't understand, and he pointed to his watch and managed: "Lunch-u," pointed to the door and then said "one."

"Oh," I thought "he wants to take a lunch-break." So I nodded and said, "come back at one?"

He returned my nod and walked towards the door, turned back, saw me still sitting on the edge of my bed, and then pointed to my shoes.

"Oh," I thought "is the repairman asking me out for lunch?"

He was indeed. So I gathered my wallet, phone, keys, and walked out with Shin to look for a place to eat.

A brief paranoid thought flashed through my head that maybe this was part of some cable repair-front scam where I'm lured out of my apartment, and his accomplice in the van outside breaks into the place and grabs the enfuriating but expensive "Macintoshuru." I realized this was a foolish and mistrusting thought, and we kept walking down the streets of Hajangdong.

Shin pointed to a restaurant with a happy cartoon squid on the front. I shook my head, not being a fan of chewy creatures of the sea. Instead we found a small place a few streets away and both ordered bibimbap, which is a spicy bowl of rice mixed with bean sprouts, various greens and veg, shredded seaweed, and chili paste served with a fried egg on top. While we waited for our food, we manged to exchange a few details about ourselves. I explained I was from Canada, and I was here teaching. He took out a piece of paper and wrote 1978 on it and pointed to himself. I was surprised he was that much older than me— height and age still throw me off here. I wrote 1983 under his.

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!" he proclaimed.

In Korea they add a year to your age while you're in the womb. So when you're born, you start at one. I said to Shin: "In Canada— 23, in Korea— 24!"

He found this much funnier than he probably should have, but by that time our food had arrived. Shin tucked into his and had emptied his bowl before I was even a quarter of the way through mine. I always try extremely hard to eat all food put in front of me at a restaurant, since it wasn't long ago that there were lots of hungry people in this country. It's hard when every meal is big in itself, but also comes with soup and usually two types of kimchi, as well as pickled radish.

I think Shin could tell, and put his hand over his mouth, urging me to stop eating if I was full. I nodded my head and shoveled in a few more bites. While I was shoveling, Shin got up and paid what I assumed was his portion of the bill. As I stood up to do the same, he was already at the door waving me to follow.

"Oh," I thought "did my cable repairman just buy me lunch?"

He had indeed. I took out my wallet and asked if I could give him any money (both meals cost only 6000 won, roughly $6) but he protested with a great shaking of the head.

I figured the least I could do is offer him some coffee when we got back to the apartment, even if it was only instant.

We arrived back and Shin got his repair belt and gear out of the van. Apparently he was going to fix my cable TV too, which I had no idea is was malfunctioning, but after he cut and re-fitted the cable with a new plug, I had better reception and about a dozen more channels.

Shin set back to work on the connection, and called what presumably was a Mac specialist. I made some of the dreaded tube-packed Maxism mocha gold coffee for the two of us. I offered him a cup and he drank from it eagerly.

"Ahhh!" he said "very goooood coffee!"

"Oh," I thought, "really? It comes from a pixie-stick."

Then came the moment of truth. Shin jigged around in the network system preferences and gave a confident "Aha!" When he next opened up the Firefox browser and the default Google page loaded up without a hitch, we both shouted "YES!" in unison.

Firmly and with both of mine, I shook the hand of the cable repairman who had both got me online and bought me lunch. We said goodbye, and I sat down to bask in the glory of connectivity.

So, in honour of Shin's determination, here's a photo I took of Korea's national flower, while walking up a mountain path with Martin and his son on my second day here:



The Mugunghwa, or "Rose of Sharon" (Would a rose by any other given name, smell as specific?)

With up to 3000 blooms on a single plant, it can be transplanted easily, and has extraordinary fortitude, so the Koreans passionately observe it as a symbol of their national character of prosperity through hardship.

No slouch in upholding that character, is the nicest cable repairman I ever met.

Oh-shehhhh... it's good to have you back, Macintoshuru.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

You will be hard pressed to amuse me greater with a Korean anecdote, friend. And I Mactinoshuru will, have I any say in it, be making its way around campus hence forth.