Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another Reason to Love Korea

As you might imagine, getting out to run errands can be somewhat of a challenge since the BOGOs made their appearance a couple of months ago. Not having a car adds to this difficulty because, as it turns out, car seats aren’t actually that useful without a vehicle. Not only that but I’ve found that my purse and pockets don’t quite cut the mustard when it comes to the trunk space I often require. Last week, a friend of mine asked if I would like to go grocery shopping with her. There are three challenges posed by this task. The first two are named Lily and Lucy. The third is the fact that whatever I purchase must be carried from the grocery store back to my apartment without the aid of a trunk. When my friend offered to strap one of the babies on so that we could walk to the store, we solved our first two obstacles leaving us only with the third. Enter Korean brilliance.

In a city as big as Seoul, many people rely on public transportation and scooters to get around. This leaves many a poor soul without trunk space with which to transport goods from the store back home. To solve this problem, many vendors have made the move to offer a delivery service. “So what?” you may say. “Plenty of people around here deliver.” Here’s the thing. Since delivery service is so commonplace, this amenity is offered free of charge. But wait, there’s more! Not only is bringing your purchase to your door free, the delivery guy doesn’t stand in your doorway with his palm out waiting to receive a tip. No delivery fee, no tipping the deliverer, just items showing up at your doorstep. It is magical.

So, the grocery store that my friend and I visited was one of the many locations offering this delightful service. Sometimes, however, there is one speed bump in this perfect process. As foreigners, we often have difficulty communicating exactly where our newly purchased items are to be taken. The vendor often has an equally difficult time communicating exactly when we are to be home to receive our goods. Enter brilliance of this particular grocery store. Upon arrival, we went directly over to the customer service desk, handed them my ID card, and waited a couple of minutes. They filled out the necessary paperwork for me and handed me a card that the checkout person would scan when I purchased my food. This card evidently contains all of my information thereby circumventing any miscommunication about where my groceries are to be taken. Once purchased, the grocery store has a policy that the food will be delivered in the next 60 minutes thus allowing ample time to walk back home and have a nice stop off at a café on the way.

So my friend and I shopped to our heart’s content without a single thought about how much each item might weigh or how awkward it might be to carry. We went to the checkout, scanned our cards, walked home via an iced caramel macchiato and arrived at our apartments just in time to receive our goods. Magical. My only concern at this point is if they ask to put the information from my card on my wrist or forehead… meh, I guess I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A New Friend

I am quite ashamed to say that my skills in the Korean language are bad, and by bad I mean non-existent. In Taiwan, Chris and I picked up some survival Chinese and were able to get around at a functional level. However, here in Seoul we live on campus surrounded by other English speakers and we have not been forced to learn any of the local language. Despite promises made to myself to develop in this area of weakness, I have made no progress over the last year.

Nothing highlights this ineptitude more than when I hop into a taxi to venture out into the city. It is not usually because I don’t know how to say where I want to go, however. I have learned the names of certain areas and can pronounce them with at least some degree of accuracy. Instead, I am reminded of my language deficit when the taxi driver desires to converse with the crazy foreigners and their tiny foreign devil babies. Such a circumstance came about the other day when Chris, Chris’ mom and I set out on an errand that required a 20 minute taxi ride.

As we situated ourselves in the cab, we went through the usual charade session to indicate that we had twin girls who are two months old. This is often where conversations stop and I expected this one to end here as well. But, this particular cabbie was quite chatty. He proceeded to spout off in Korean a number of very important and interesting points about twins, Korea, and life in general… at least that is what I imagine that he was saying. After the first few minutes of chatting, we all attempted to give him a blank smile that usually communicates, “Hello, good sir, I am sure that you have valid points to make but unfortunately I cannot understand any of them as I am an ignorant foreigner who has not taken the pains to learn your language.” This blank stare did not deter our new friend, however. Through hand signals, very interesting sound effects, Korean, and a smattering of English, he proceeded to explain to us the ways of the world. Meanwhile, the three of us made it a sort of game to decipher what it was he was so intent on explaining to us.

“Japan blah blah blah *explosion sound followed by large hand gesture*! Blah blah blah Korea *high-pitched noise followed by hand gesture signifying something small*.” We nod slowly and take a few stabs at what he is explaining. Is he still talking about the twins or have we moved on to a new topic? He continues, “Blah blah America *small explosion sound and medium hand gesture*. China! Ha, China blah blah. *Laser sound and arrow hand motion*. Korea, Korea *small hand gesture again*. Japan *explosion sound and large hand gesture*.” We huddle together and discuss what he might be talking about. Was he explaining foreign relations? Was he talking about child-rearing traditions and when children are typically brought out in public? He continued on with increasingly animated sound effects and gestures.

Finally, Chris thought he had decrypted the message. “Tsunami?” he ventured. “Of course tsunami,” his tone responded as he continued to communicate through pointing and grunting. Our new friend resumed his game of charades with sound effects seemingly unfazed. We, however, held a mini-celebration at Chris’ incredible victory in comprehension. When we finally reached our destination, we were all glowing with satisfaction: our driver because he had informed the ignorant foreigners about important information regarding the tsunami; us because we had actually succeeded in comprehending one word of a twenty minute conversation. We have got to learn Korean.