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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Malaysia 3: Laughing with the Fishes (plus diving/snorkeling tips)

Split view of ocean (photo from
When once I gazed upon a lake or ocean, I simply admired the rhythmic waves and dazzling sun glinting off the inscrutable surface; what might be below that thin shiny film was alien, not compatible with human flourishing.  Dipping ones eyes below was accompanied with fear akin to near-miss experiences with death. Now, however, I know better. Now I long to slip through that transparent skin between worlds, to snorkel among the strange creatures in their universe.  And now I regularly dream of flying underwater, wondering at this other half of creation.  

Which sounds all wonderful, but here is the thing.  Snorkeling means you're within an arm's reach of air, of that joyous invisible lifesource.  

However, from the nanosecond we booked our flights to Malaysia (see our other adventures here and here), Nick beseeched us to pretty please try scuba diving again. (Backstory: Our family did a Discover Scuba class in the Philippines last year. I strongly failed to appreciate unlearning things like Up = Air = Life. Beloved Husband and oldest son, however, were ecstatic. The other two kids were, well, whatever.  You know.)  Back to beseeching: We the family gathered a formidable array of counter-arguments: David’s ear hurts terribly more than 2 meters underwater (he was later banned from diving by a Malaysian ENT doc/diver), so the pressure was off him (ha! A diving joke!). For her part, Elisabeth was concerned about torture by things who bite/sting/rip or generally look weird; I, on the other hand, prophesied death by frenzied drowning. We fought with vigor, but in the end Mr. Cajoling Puppy Eyes wore down the resistance from our Death Panic Eyes.  *Sigh.*   

So, we found a (truly wonderful) dive shop owner who booked a Discover class for us two days hence. Summary (and spoiler alert):  We had a fantastic time.  Nick, overjoyed at his victory, slavered all over the dive shop (and then on the boat ride to the islands, and then even more while diving like a manic eel, which got him into a wee spot of oxygen-less troubles later, but even THAT didn’t diminish his wiggly joy).  David snorkeled (jealously) above us; Sunny took excellent care of my irrational self; and Elisabeth was quite distracted from her fears by the personal attentions of a rather attractive young dive instructor.  

From left: me (failing to non-verbally cover regretful panic), joyous Nick, distractingly attractive dive instructor Nathan, suddenly-shy Elisabeth, David the causal, and Sunny (owner of Sunny Reef Divers, Kota Kinabalu and photo credit guy). 

For those of you who have not yet experienced the joy of this “lazy man’s sport” (quote from Sunny), I shall now offer some tips. Because I have 3 whole dives under my weight belt (ha! another diving joke!).  So I'm an expert beginner.  Fear me.

(Tip 1) Get a dive instructor who talks incessantly about safety.  Seriously.  While fitting us for equipment, Sunny shared stories about stupid divers, and his responses were reassuring (e.g., a guy who lied about his experience and couldn't do the basic skills wanted Sunny to certify him anyway.  Nope.).  When we got on the boat, the first things he (Sunny, not the lying diver) pointed out were the fire extinguisher and the first aid kit.  Thus, many of my fears about potential problems (like, say, leg cramps or giant jellyfish or a certain husband swimming himself out of oxygen) were considerably eased.  I did ask Sunny why in the WORLD he had a giant knife strapped to his leg, fearing the worst (large populations of underwater person-eating monsters).  Nope: he carries it to slash open illegal fishing nets and thus release the captured creatures.  Sunny gained so many points.

(Tip 2) Actually getting oneself into the water from the boat is the very scariest part.  That backwards rolling “SPLOOSH!” into death-infested waters with 60+ pounds of gear is nearly as scary as walking down the wedding aisle.  Or birthing babies, or going to dinner parties, or whatever terrifying stuff you’ve lived through.  The terror only lasts a few disconcerting seconds before your buoyancy vest pops you to the surface again and you laugh with joy that you're not dead.

(Tip 3) Once you’re in the water, you only have 1 job!  JUST ONE!  Forget all those gadgets and gauges and gear and just do your one job: breathe.  Iiiiinnnnnn….. ooouuuttttt….. iiiiinnnnn…… ooouuutttt….  Listen to those soothing bubbles.  You don’t even have to keep your eyes open. When you’re ready to open your eyes AND keep breathing, dive guy will steer you around and point out all the pretty fishes and hopefully check your gauges and stuff.

(Tip 4) This one is true for both snorkeling and diving: Try not to laugh while under water.  Doing so rapidly fills your mask with water and then you can’t see the pretty fishes even with your eyes open because you’re freaking out a tiny bit distracted by all the water now sloshing inside your nose holes.  To be sure, fish are surely funny and wonderful, and I am a big laugher on land, but refrain from such underwater behavior until you are skilled at mask-clearing.  I, after several laugh-related near-drownings, am now a mask-clearing expert, which allows me to chortle rather often.  This initially startled Sunny, but then he got over my switch from Panic Eyes to Joyous Bubble Face and let me do more of my own steering.  Once he had me reach out toward a mid-sized clownfish (think Nemo), which happily approached and bit my finger. And I laughed and laughed and blew the water out of my mask, ready to breathe again and see what else I could see under the watery ceiling.

So. Elisabeth and I are willing to do more scuba diving, but please don’t tell Nick, because you KNOW he’ll next beg us to dive in caves and at night and with electric eels and who knows what else. 

Elisabeth & me.  Photo by Nick.

Kota Kinabalu at the bottom of map;
Jesselton Pier to the right of the labeled Resort.
We went to all but Sulug Island.
P.S.  Wondering what we saw and where we went? We snorkeled and/or dived off four of the five TARP marine park islands (20 minutes off the coast of Kota Kinabalu).  We saw so many, many, many kinds of fish and corals plus some medium-sized sting-rays, giant urchins, starfish and even a big cuttlefish (oh, be still my heart!!)!  Here are a few of our pictures plus a list of the fish that Google and I could identify - perhaps only 1/3rd of the species.  :)

Parrotfish (common and Bleeker’s; Scaridae)
Lined surgeonfish (Acanthurus lineatus)
Sergeant major (Abudefduf saxatilis)
Pufferfish & boxfish
Several species of clownfish (saddleback, false, etc.)
Wrasse (bluestreak cleaner; red breasted)
Yellowback fusilier
Beaked butterflyfish
Harlequin sweetlips
Anna’s magnificent slug
Blue Sea Star & burgundy sea star
Giant clam
Black long spine urchin (Diadema setosum)
Pharaoh cuttlefish

Cornetfish (or, flutemouth; Fistularia petimba)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Malaysia 2: Of Cross-Cultural Panic and Shofars

Dear readers: Thank you for your concern about our well-being amid the monkeys, fishes, and snakes in our last post (see here if you missed it:  I here present a very different sort of human interest story, wherein my beloved husband dragged us to a Malaysian church (he is a good man, just misguided as to family vacation expectations).

I wish to clarify at the outset for any lawyers or anthropologists out there that I suspect this particular church does NOT represent the mood/practices of regional churches as a whole.  That said, this little 2.5 hour adventure was FAR more nerve-wracking than toothy monkeys and 2-meter swimming snakes. 

A Canadian friend knew a guy in Kota Kinabalu (KK) who was happy to take us to his church.  We shall call this man Peter.  Peter was well-educated, very kind, and made excellent conversation as he pointed out KK landmarks during the 20-minute drive.  I had warm fuzzy feelings about this man and our Canadian friend’s judgment.  As we arrived at the church, Peter did caution us that this church was a little unusual.  “It’s a rather, um, … vibrant church,” he said.  Hmm.  I wondered briefly about his verbal pause and the implied italics.  We climbed the narrow, creaking stairs next to a coffee shop to get to this second-floor church and opened the wooden door.  It immediately struck me that we were (a) the only white people, (b) the biggest people there by numerous inches and pounds (sorry: centimeters and kilograms), and (c) the only ones beginning a panic attack.  Oh, wait, that was just me.   Ok, so, we were greeted by many of the 15 or so people already there.  Then a teeny tiny woman with a personality like, well, a cross between my mother-in-law (that’s a good thing) and a chipmunk (not so good), warmly greeted us and introduced herself as the pastor (we shall call her Samuela).  She lightly noted that this church was a little different: “We’re a rather, um, … vibrant church.”  Hmm. Panic meter increased a notch.

As we crept toward some empty seats, we noted the room’s atypical set-up: folding chairs lined three sides, a praise team stood at the fourth, and a huge central space was left open.  I pondered this.  Maybe Samuela was an active preacher?  Maybe there would be a children’s program?  Curiosity helped calm me.  A tiny bit.

The service began with impassioned singing (with powerpoint slides in English and Chinese).  People were not shy about singing out or accompanying themselves with energetic motions.  And by “motions,” I do not refer to young children synchronously waving their hands in well-learned patterns from the privacy of a pew.  No, that is not what happened here.  Nope. For the song “Deep Cries Out,“ most adults were moved by Samuela’s loud encouragement to “Be free!”  And they scampered to that central space, exuberantly moving to “jump jump jump in the river” and “dance dance in the river” and “shout shout shout in the river.” The river was created by draping long strips of blue satin cloth on the floor, taken from a mystery box in the back.  Amid her “Be free!” admonishments, Samuela requested shoe removal to reduce blue cloth laundering needs (are bare feet cleaner than sandals?).  This song repeated many many many times.  Which allowed time for creative embellishments.  Some found large flags (thank you, mystery box) printed with “Yahweh” or “Jesus” (one was the flag of Israel superimposed with Aslan the Lion’s head shot) and they commenced to vigorous waving while dancing/jumping/shouting.  

But that’s not all. Nope – we haven’t reached the full meaning of “vibrant” yet. This little church blows shofars.  Wait, what?  Um, yes.  They have apparently been persuaded by the Old Testament to worship God by blowing horns taken from the heads of kosher rams and antelopes.  The sound that emerges from this instrument is indescribable, though I kept picturing a water buffalo during a difficult labor while a crocodile gnawed her face.  Now put 40 people AND THEIR 20 RANDOMLY GROANING SHOFARS atop a backdrop of drums, keyboards, and singing plus all the river dancing/jumping/shouting and flag-waving.  For a half hour or so. 

I stole this picture from the web just to help you imagine the scene.

We shall pause here for you to regain your composure.

You may wonder how our family responded.  Ahem.  We are a white, middle-class, mid-western American family descended from Dutch, Germans, and Brits.  We do not dance in church.  Or wave flags, or jump barefooted in fabric rivers, or blow dead ungulates’ head ornaments.  Wanting to be polite yet not abandon our own heritage, we joined in by swaying a little to the beat. 

Once the singing/dancing/chaos was finally over, the river was put away, chairs were lined up in the central space, and Samuela gave a sermon about trees.  Then we heard a testimony (“just 5 minutes, please,” asked Samuela) which wandered for 25 minutes through a confusing array of topics with people hopping up to repeat or challenge details.  Yup. Ok, it was finally time for prayer, which often is a wonderful time to rest my spirit, but I could not help but be distracted by the lengthy prayer for…elephants.  And President Trump.   Ok, no rest to be found just yet.  Next came “organized” shofar-blowing: the lead guy (“He of The Biggest Horn”) gave 7 “shevarees” (sets of 3 short blats) and then he and the second-longest-horn alternated giving 7 “shahrooahs” (sets of 1 long and 8 short blasts).  Then 15+ other people just joined in with random blasts until the orgy of sound grew to a fevered pitch.  And I don’t remember anything else because my soul had retreated away, longing for the peace of rude monkeys and colorfish fish.

P.S. That Canadian "friend" I mentioned?  When we got home, he came over, wanting to chat about our trip.  And he brought into our house...his very own shofar.  Which he blew often.  

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Malaysia 1: The Wisdom of Primates

Ready to begin Malaysian Snorkeling Adventure (Gaya Island, KK)
We went to Malaysia sort of accidentally last week.  We were going to do an amazing winter vacation (the past two Januarys we’ve visited Taiwan and the Philippines), but then our oldest kid informed us of his US wedding celebration this summer, which means we needed to save money to fly home.  So, like responsible adults, we sadly decided to do a “stay-cation” and check out more of Korea.  But…. Korea is the size of Iowa, so trying to “see more” than what we’ve already seen these last 3.5 years doesn’t exactly ring the bells of family excitement.  And it's winter and cold and grey.

So, like irresponsible adults, we re-decided: savings be damned!  We google-searched for “southeast asia cheap tickets” and found a great deal to warm/tropical Cambodia -- hooray!  But in the infuriating amount of time it took for the airline to decide we were neither drug smugglers nor NSA spies, the ticket prices expired. Grrr. But then Malaysia went on sale -- hooray!  (Before that moment, I could not have (a) found this country on a map or (b) correctly spelled this country’s name.  Whenever people mention Malaysia, I always envision “Mal-Asia,” which I translate as "the rough side of the Orient.”)

Anyway, Nick quickly snapped up cheap tickets, I booked a very cheap hostel room for the week, and off we went a few days later.  (Seriously.  We really don’t plan our vacations until we get there.  Because we’re irresponsible adults.  Who happen to have excellent contacts named Google and Trip Advisor.)

Education Note: The country of Malaysia now includes a peninsula and a historically oft-traded island that is now shared by 3 countries. Kota Kinabalu (KK), where we flew in, is the capital of the Malaysian part of Borneo Island and roughly means “city of fire” or “fort of the dusty ancestors,” depending on who you ask.

Now, this post shall not be a dull vacation slide show. (Dear younger readers: “dull” and “vacation slide show” are synonyms which here refer to torturous hours in a dark, mildewed living room squinting at other people’s enlarged blurry pictures of places in which you have no interest.  Similar to history class, perhaps.)  Instead, I shall here highlight some animal encounters and downplay gorging of pizza and KFC and excessive selfies by certain persons.

Outstanding marine park off the coast of KK.
Nick is a friendly giant.
Our first afternoon, we went to Jesselton Point/Pier and booked a speedboat taxi/ferry to Gaya Island, the largest island in the TARP marine park off the coast of KK.  On our walk to the old bomb shelter changing rooms between the strip of beach and Serious Jungle Territory, we spied a troupe of adorable macaque monkeys, romping through a fiddler fig tree of nightmare proportions (imagine a houseplant the size of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man).  Under the tree of unusual size was a family of hairy wild pigs, rooting around in the sandy soil, as pigs do.  We were quite pleased to see this un-announced petting zoo (which, of course, it wasn’t), and looked forward to some post-snorkeling wildlife interactions (which, unfortunately, we had).

Into the water we all went, ditching our bags on the tiny, empty beach near the two trustworthy-looking sunbathers. Exploring the shallow waters under the long pier, we were thrilled to find many colorful, small fishes that didn't mind us. The white, sandy bottom (ancient coral dust) and the clear water gave us a perfect way to re-introduce the kids to snorkeling and erase fears of sharks and other aquatic bite-y things.
David enters the South China Sea.

Elisabeth makes peace with snorkeling (and seaweed)

A 10" moon wrasse (Thalassoma lunare) - isn't it lovely?

A 12" tall batfish (platax teira) -- isn't it weird?
All too soon, the island closed to the public at 5pm (something our boat guy didn’t happen to mention when we arranged a 5:30 pick-up time). As the sunbathers and park ranger went to board their boat-taxi, they shouted at us from the pier; rising reluctantly from my beloved sea-heaven, I saw them gesturing wildly back to the beach. Oh dear.  The wildlife was apparently not as tame or trustworthy as the humans.  The troupe of monkeys had made short work of our stupidity: they happily and energetically divested our bags of wallets, toilet paper, undies, and snacks. We swam back to chase the monkeys away and reviewed the damage.  Arg.  

The kids decided to guard our belongings while Nick and I swam out to the not-exactly-allowed-but-no-one's-here-to-kick-us-out area to find even more fishes in the deeper reef (OH!  Parrotfish, sergeant majors, clownfish, etc.).  Soon, we heard some odd noises and, again rising from our sea-heaven, saw that we had company on the pier.  Not human, though: the monkeys had decided to open up the proverbial snack shop (trash can).  They smugly sat atop the railings, flinging bottles and bags and cans into the sea around us.

Long-tailed macaque monkey.
Stupid primate.
At this point, for some reason, the monkeys still seemed nice and cute, even if not environmentally sensitive or respectful of private property.  We returned to snorkeling, swimming slowly toward the beach. As we finally stood in the shallows to remove our gear, Nick was confronted with a dozen growling monkeys, approaching in a semi-circle of orange pointy teeth and clear expressions of malice aforethought.  I (being me), backed away fearfully into the water; Nick (being him) dashed forward and threw some rocks, which resulted in a temporary truce and access to the beach.

While waiting for our boat, Elisabeth and I took a short stroll and were quickly surrounded by the rude monkey monsters (WHY didn't I see this coming?).  I should have been the tough protective parent, but no. Elisabeth brilliantly discovered that a metal grass rake, pushed ahead of us on the cement, transformed into a screeching, screamy, dancing spider that provoked a hasty retreat by the pugnacious primates.  Maybe they had gotten our snacks and caused us some fright, but we won in the end!  HA!

Time to go.  “Oh, and mama?" Elisabeth asked casually as we walked down the pier.  Yes?  "I like snorkeling, but I don't want to go here again."  Ok, why? because of the monkeys?  “No," she continued in her off-hand voice.  "Because while you and Papa were out swimming, a 2-meter python swam past David and I at the beach. We got it on video.”

Oh dear.  We kind of lost the responsible adult award today....

Our post-Gaya-Island taxi awaits.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Crash Course: Korean Skin Care

Seriously.  This was 1980.
When I was a young lady approaching the pivotal pubertal rites of Shaving, Deodorant, and Make-Up, CNN was just being born (shush, you young ones). When my friend’s big sister got on the bus the first day of 8th grade, my mental make-up map was complete: the sophisticated mid-Michigan
14-year-old should wear heavy foundation, a coat of glittering blue shadow, clumpy mascara, and clown-circle blusher.

(Yeah.  I’m also cringing now.)

As an impressionable girl, I embraced her example and commenced to slathering my own face in color and clumps.  Until college, that is, when my beloved Dutch roommate liberated me from the patriarchal American tyranny of oppressive cosmetic consumption.  Thus, as the years have passed, I rarely used make-up and ignored facial fashion follies.  Now, however, 30-some years later, I have two significant challenges to my intentional ignorance: (a) my daughter has reached the triple pubertal gates and (b) we live in the Skin Technology Capital of the Universe.  South Korea is supposedly 10 years ahead of the US in skin care science, and now that my face is getting, um, more experienced, the time had come to introduce my face to facial experts.

RuDa, just sitting in a coffee shop.
Enter my gorgeous TA, RuDa, who agreed to facilitate the introductions.  RuDa recommended going to a Real Make-Up Store rather than dashing into a local convenience store. I reluctantly agreed, assuming we’d just get some basic information. She had other ideas, however.

Lotte Department Store is the home of high-end make-up and clothing in our city.  The white-gloved parking attendants carefully direct customer cars through the garage and manage not to sneer at our sad old van among the common luxury cars.  

To say that Lotte is a department store is a bit misleading for my North American readers.  It's more like a very high-end street market, crowded with stalls and goods, only this is shiny and stately.  And, frankly, rather o.v.e.r.w.h.e.l.m.i.n.g. Here I present my Lessons Learned.

Image result for lotte department store parking attendant
It wasn't this crowded the day we went to Lotte.  But it FELT this crowded.

(1)   The women who work in these shops show no discomfort with personal space invasion.  I, on the other hand, should have perhaps investigated the wine department prior to entering skin land.

2) Scientifically testing the sensitivity and pH of one’s skin (among other things) are apparently basic pre-requisites to proper product selection.  And, of course, there are apps for those tests: one holds very still while a saleswoman rests her phone on one’s face.  Then one gets to see a very close-up photo of one’s skin, or perhaps it is the back end of a baboon, and we all pretend not to be horrified.

(3)   Having strangers expertly apply products to one’s face while one is very nervous can make for much cringing. For example, a lady used a tiny little brush to apply lipstick; it tickled SO MUCH that I could not repress small snorting noises.  Another lady applied "cushion foundation,” which is a Korean technological wonder of a liquid foundation delivered with a compact powder puff thing.  Except … it felt like she was slapping me with a baby crib mattress, and once that image came to mind, I couldn't stop giggling.  Poor RuDa.

A Hera saleslady pats my face to death.
(4)   The sales women were quite kind to my baggy sun-damaged, middle-aged skin, at least to my face (let's just say that RuDa didn't translate everything).  They were also fairly patient with my utter ignorance of their products, how to apply them, and the proper "detached" face expected during a makeover.  

5)   Here's one I sure didn't see coming: Under no circumstances should soap be applied to one's face.  EVER.  There are products for cleaning one’s facial skin--and soap is NOT among them. You'd think I had been bathing bunnies in bleach. I shall repent of this skin sin.

6)   One could literally spend all of one’s income on skin care and make-up. Then again, the major ingredients include things like snake venom, placenta, plankton, and gold dust; as one store's slogan had it, "ingredients extracted from nature and enigmatic state" (true THAT). Happily, RuDa knew that the same products we were testing were sold by discount shops on another floor.  I decided I can live without a flashy brand names on my snail goo cleansing foam.

7)   Make-up shopping requires significant training.  I had imagined we'd have light-hearted breezy conversations like “oh, here’s a rack of 5 shades of lipstick – what’s the right color for me?” Ah, no. Store after store had HUNDREDs of shades of lip tint, lip stain, lipstick, lip liner, and who knows what else.  We used testers all over our hands to compare colors and textures.  Then RuDa suggested I select more of a “fall” color rather than something with "too much summer” and I nearly lost my ignorant mind.  I was the dumbest kid in class. 

8)   Having good skin is a LOT of work.  Here’s the rough order in which stuff apparently goes onto the Korean adult face (male and female) at least once EVERY SINGLE DAY:
(a)    Make-up remover (as needed)
(b)   Cleanser
(c)    Toner (or, at the very least, another round of cleanser)
(d)   Essence (skin repair stuff)
(e)    Acne lotion (as needed)
(f)     Moisturizer (softens skin and prevents future damage; the fashionable stuff includes bleaching/whitening agents)
(g)    Eye cream (RuDa is ashamed that she hasn’t started using this yet)
(h)   Sunscreen (at least 50 SPF; preferably with more whitening agents)

(9)   Now that the skin is ready, it’s FINALLY time for the make-up – and there is so much used to achieve the popular Korean "naturally dewy" look that I’m sure I’ll never master it:
(i)     Primer (bright purple or green to even skin tones and reduce redness)
(j)     Cushion foundation (slightly lighter than natural skin color)
(k)    Powder 
(l)     Blusher 
(m)  Eyebrows: powder or pencil plus trimmers, combs, and gel
(n)   Eyes: liner plus 2-3 shades of shadow plus 1-3 layers of mascara
(o)   Lips: primer plus stain/stick/gloss/pencil
(p)   Setting spray (like hairspray for the face)

Well, it's no wonder that my students hate 8:30am classes – they have to get up at 6:30am just to make their faces presentable.  Maybe I'll call up my Dutch friend again for a refresher about the tyranny of cosmetics.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Running Errands: Adorable, Awesome, and Awkward

We had 4 errands to run in town this morning.  Easy peasy, right?  But there are always surprises, which makes errands = adventure (or exhaustion, but it's better to stay positive).

To whit: David, Elisabeth and I (they’re only 3 weeks into their 10-week winter break) planned to do 4 errands:

1) Meet an ex-pat to pass along spices from a leaving-Korea ex-pat
2) Get 2 pictures printed.
3) Buy a headset for Nick.
4) Get the van’s broken taillight fixed.

Here is how things actually went:
(1) Spice recipient Kate sort of forgot our meet-up plan so I texted her from our designated meeting spot outside the Fuji film/photo shop.  Moments later, she ran down the street in pink leopard fleece pajamas and plastic shower shoes. Passersby = shocked, but I'd color that adorable.

(2) As the Fuji film/photo studio guy turned on his computer and printer (this is an inexplicable process no matter what time of day I show up), David and I browsed the various displays with some amusement (see photo).  As we did so, a middle-aged man came in, walked directly to the back mirror while chattering aloud to our film guy, and vigorously plucked hairs from around his ears. Eww. Not adorable.

This photo was prominently displayed at the Fuji shop.

And displaying it in multiple sizes allowed the customer
to choose which size he/she wanted to have.
Photo size, that is.

(3) Then to Hi-Mart, our local electronics store.  It appeared open, but as I touched the non-responsive door-opener button, Elisabeth noticed that the employees were having a meeting.  Ok, no big deal, so we headed back to the van.  A be-suited salesman rushed out, however, and invited us inside the store. Upon entering we noted that his eight be-suited coworkers and their boss man abruptly paused their meeting, sitting silently now in the middle of the store, just waiting.  They did not stare at us (that would be rude), but we detected giggling at our poor salesguy’s attempts at English as we browsed the headsets, trailed him past the centrally-seated group to the cash register, and then trailed back again as he escorted us to the door.   Painfully awkward -- for all 13 of us.  I wonder if they laughed as hard as we did.

(4) Finally, to “our” mechanic shop.  When Spiffy Car Guy came out, I pointed to our van’s smashed taillight (the driver at fault for backing into a cement wall? he shall remain nameless).  Car Guy began a speedy Korean monologue, eschewing non-verbal niceties like eye contact to see if we understood anything. FinallyThus, resorting to higher-than-average levels of gesturing and Korean questions (thank you, Elisabeth), we indicated that we’d walk to a nearby coffee shop and he could text me when he was done (no appointment needed!).

Spiffy Speedmate Car Guy
ordering our new tail-light.
About 30 minutes later, Car Guy suddenly appeared at our cafĂ© table. Oh, um, ok. He monologued for about 2 weeks, and as he windily continued I just got up to ask the coffee shop woman (who had tried out her English when we ordered) if she would please translate for me.  She gamely agreed and we returned to the still-talking Car Guy (sorry kids).  That conversation went something like this:

He: "blah blah blah."

She (to me): “Um, car part?  Um…new? Awb-saw-yo?” and she crossed her wrists in front of her face.

Me: “Oh...ok. Lamp? He doesn't have new one?” And I crossed my forearms, repeating "awb-saw-yo."

She (relieved): “Yes!”

He: “blah blah blah.” Note that he didn't stop talking during the translation - he just kept right on going.

She (after I gestured for a mid-stream report): “Um, his car? Same part? One part more today afternoon.  Another part Friday.”

Me: “Ok.... So... he can fix our car this afternoon?  And another part comes on Friday?”

She: “Yes!"

He: “Blah blah blah.”

She: “You car can drive? Come today afternoon?

Me: “Oh! We can drive our van now?”  She nodded then ran away to hide behind the counter, a mixture of terror and relief and pride on her face. After telling Car Guy we'd be along shortly (thank you, David), he exited Cafe Ancy (yeah, we don't understand the English name either).

We finished our yummy non-coffee drinks and returned to the SpeedMate car shop (no clue about that name, either).  Car Guy had apparently done an eye transplant (not literally - that's gross): he replaced our shattered taillight with one from his own van so we could drive home and come back later once the new taillight came in.  Wow – that is the most awesome and yet rudely awkward customer service I’ve ever had.
Eye transplant from his van to ours.

This week maybe we'll go really big and try to get our laptops or bikes fixed and maybe even my wedding ring resized.  Then again, maybe I'll stay home and store up more energy before setting out onto the high seas of errand adventures.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Tap, tap, tap: Me vs. the Camera Weasel

Pohang City has only one Canon camera dealer, and when my camera is sick, to him I must go.  I do not like my camera man.  His middle-aged, slicked-back, jet-black died hair reflects his weasel-y soul far more accurately than his smiley little face.  But, alas, my camera died last week and even Google could not educate me enough to repair the SD card reader. So, with dread, I went to see the Canon camera guy.

When I went to his shop 2 years ago (see gory details here) with my first beloved TA, I was still a cowering American, not yet owning the full Authority of my Professorship and trying overly hard not to offend the natives.  This time, however, armed with my current beloved TA, a just-completed make-over at a pricey department store (blog to follow), a fancy English/Korean business card, and a far more hostile confident attitude, things were going to go differently. And they did.  Sort of.

Visit 1: Camera Drop Off
We walked into the little shop and I explained the SD card reader problem with my camera, speaking directly to Camera Man’s face (he’s older than me, so this was a bit rude), waiting for my TA to translate.  He looked at my camera and made some notes in a ratty spiral-bound notebook on the counter.  Figuring he'd need my name and phone number, I slapped down my business card, Korean side up. The word “kyo-soo-neem,” written right under my name, means something like Fear Me for My Professorship Trumps Whatever Puny Job You Have. Camera man offered eyebrow flashes at this. I felt I had scored a teeny tiny hit.  Then, seeing that I teach psychology, he quickly countered with a request to analyze him (ooh - good play, camera man).  I, not in the mood to explain the difference between the psychological domains of therapy (not me) and teaching/research (me), just stuck with something safe: You are a happy man.  More! he wanted.  No, I said (saying “no” in Korea, especially to someone older, is pretty rude.  But probably not as rude as what I really wanted to say.). Then he, in a crafty move, wanted to analyze me. And he did: Very beautiful! he said.  Ha, I thought to myself.  Last time I was here you told my TA that I was fat.  In my mental scorebook, we were tied at this point.

He fussed with my camera, writing more cryptic notes.  After an elaborate show of looking all over the camera, shaking his head and making little grunty noises (he’s not your more subtle actor), he confided in my TA that I had worn off the camera’s serial number; indeed, a more responsible camera owner would have protected this vital information with scotch tape (which, in Korean, sounds like suh-kawch-uh tay-puh).  Not a bit deterred by his shaming attempts, I offered to text him the serial number once I got home.  No, no, he replied.  Ha, ha -- I don’t really need it.  Harrumph.  He then fussed about the purple scarf I use instead of the uncomfortable and ugly advertisement strap that the manufacturer provides.   I refused to buy a new strap from him.  I remained perfectly calm; the score was even-steven.

It was his move.  He solidly tap tap tapped on my lens filter, eyebrows raised. Plastic! he chortled disparagingly, taking my filter off and flipping a brand new glass filter next to it onto the counter. I stared into his tiny eyes, my face a mask of deadly self-control. You, I said slowly, sold me that plastic filter two years ago.  Oh! he responded. Ha ha--glass filter is much better!  And he placed my plastic and his glass filter on some newspaper as if that would prove some superior quality. Ah, I said, pretending to consider this option.  I looked at him.  Is it free?  Oh!  No, no!  Ha ha, he said, it’s 30,000 (roughly $25).  Ah.  Not free? Then no. Plastic is fine, I said.  I might have gained some ground here, as he silently cleaned my filter and replaced it on the lens.  

So after this 20-some minutes of fussing and banter, he finally said he’d send the camera out for a repair estimate and would text my TA in 3-4 days.  Fine.  Today, I did not lose.  I stood up to Camera Man.

Intermission: The Negotiation
My TA heard nothing for 6 days, then she learned that the camera was repaired (!) and ready for pickup.  Those unauthorized repairs would cost 150,000won (about $128).  Tap tap tap, I thought. How to counter this move? Google showed I could get this same repair for $85 in the US, so I instructed my TA to negotiate: because he had not been authorized to go ahead with the repair, I would not pay more than 120,000 won (about $100).  To my surprise, he agreed.  This was unsettling.

Visit 2: Camera Pick-up
I returned to the shop without my TA, feeling confident that I could manage the exchange of repaired camera for payment.  He remembered me, got my lens-less camera out of a ziplock bag, and began playing with its buttons.  After several minutes of his fiddling silence and consultation with a computer, I realized he was setting the date on the camera.  Surely that could have been done earlier? That done, he grabbed a lens from his stock, clicked it into place, and took a couple of test pictures.  (Surely this could also have been done earlier, right?)   Apparently satisfied, he removed his lens and handed the camera over to me. Where is my lens? I asked.  You have? he asked, pointing at me with raised eyebrows.  No. I do not. You have it, I said, pointing at him (a little rudely).  Oh, he said.  Ha ha. He rummaged extravagantly about and found my lens, clicking it into place.  I did some test shots of my own to confirm that the camera worked and it was time to finish this distasteful business.

I pushed my Korean bank card across the counter to him.  No, no, he said. Korean money! I slowly stretched my hand over that thick glass counter: Tap Tap Tap!  This is HanaBank – Korean!  Oh! Ha ha, he said.  He rang up the sale: 132,000 won.  No, I said.  120,000 won.  Oh! he exclaimed. It's 120,000 won for repair plus 12,000 for…something. I could not understand him; I could not understand the tiny Korean print on the receipt.  I was trapped. Frustrated. Outplayed.  AGAIN.  By the camera weasel.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Too Much Probing

I read a daily English-language Korean newspaper -- the old-fashioned kind, made of paper.  It is delivered to our building lobby by an alien for all I know - in 3 years I have not once spotted the responsible person/truck/spaceship.  Most mornings my paper is then tossed into the elevator by a lovely Alabama couple who enjoys walking together in the hours before make-up and business suits are required.  Some time later the paper is then tossed/kicked out of the elevator onto our 5th floor, from whence my earliest-rising husband or children hurl/kick it down the hallway toward our apartment.

I love this social network that gets my folded paper and its trusty yellow rubber band across the country to my doorstep. Some mornings, though, the headlines are in rather poor taste.  For example, today's headline shouted that "{President} Park will cooperate with criminal probe." That particular word choice seems to be a favorite lately.  A few months ago, the day's top headline read, "Lotte's {CEO} Shin flies home to face a widening probe;" the poor man vowed to sincerely cooperate with this distasteful procedure. And on that same front page, another article about captured spies stated that "The two suspects are now in custody and being probed."  And on page 2 that day, this puzzling headline, "Vietnamese suspects tried to incite broader mutiny probe."

Now, this is a reputable paper.  But somehow it has escaped these fine folks that legal investigations might be better called, oh, say, "investigations" or "inquiries."  At least in America, their particular word choice recalls lurid stories of aliens abducting humans and (inexplicably) proceeding with...probing.  Sometimes English just doesn't work across cultures.  Ah, Korea.  :)