3.1 Spring 2021

May 31, No Pressure

On Sunday after class I went shopping for big people work clothes and ended up with only crop tops so mission fail.

As I checked out at H&M, the young but extremely tall college boy asked in excellent (and unexpected) English if I needed a bag. I was so taken aback that I immediately said no though I should have taken one to prevent my new purchase from getting crumpled and dirtied at the bottom of my backpack.

He was handing me the receipt when I realized I should just tell him.

“Your English is really good, by the way.” I like complimenting strangers and it’s really the only acceptable compliment here. Plus, I suspect Koreans really need to hear this genuinely, and more often.

His entire polite-but-disinterested vibe transformed and cracked open into a sweetly embarrassed guy who suddenly lost all his English skills. “Ah.. no… just… little”.

Sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to break you! At least I know it’s not a compliment he hears often!

On Monday, I had a fairly boring day followed by a very exciting evening. My car tires have looked low since the day I bought them and even though I asked the seller to check, two customers came in right after me and I don’t think he did. I’m no car rookie, though, so I finally bought a digital pressure gauge off Coupang and used the scientific method myself. Mostly to prove I was right.

My car tires are supposed to be filled to 32 psi.

Each tire was 26 psi.

I’m lucky I haven’t blown my wheels to rubber shreds in the last month!

I asked Jack what the procedure was for filling tires and he said, “Call your insurance company and they will come to you to fill up the tires.”

I looked at him skeptically. My insurance would pay for someone to come to me? That sounds needlessly complicated. I decided to try anyway only to find out my insurance company customer center closes at six and the other number in my packet (which is all Korean) routed me to a woman who paused for a solid minute when I asked, “Is there an English line?”

I heard typing but no response so I asked again. She finally said in a heavy Korean accent, “NO.” I hung up and messaged the car seller for the supposed emergency English line which was nowhere in my booklet.

After confirming I hadn’t gotten into an accident, he suggested I try a local repair shop. I would have asked further but he wanted to know my insta handle and I thought it was best to figure this out without his continued help.

I turned to another friend who said most gas stations have an air pump. Great! I also needed to fill my tank so what a sweet two for one. I hopped in my low-lying car and drove very carefully, now that I knew how precarious the tire situation was, to the closest gas station.

I parked and wandered around until the manager, I assume because he was wearing a tie and directing people with a baton as gas stations here are a whole event, helpfully told me there was no air pump but the tire shop down the road would fill up my tires. I had looked up the words for “fill tire” but in the end forgot my dictionary search and basically communicated that my tires lacked air. It got the message across and the manager also told me the word for “pressure test”. Double learning dose!

“And when does the tire shop close?” I asked.

“At 7.” He replied. Okay, no problem, fifteen minutes to beat evening traffic. My dad didn’t call me Mario Andretti in my permit years for nothing!

I bid the manager and an older man who had popped up adieu and drove to the other side of town (seven minutes away, the city is not large) and pulled into the tire shop which was next to a drive-in McDonald’s and Starbucks. Consequently, I also learned that there is a drive-in McDonald’s and Starbucks. File that away for later!

One young man with a perm jogged out to me, still in my workout clothes, to ask about my car. I explained the situation and he drove my car into the garage and jacked it up. He and his buddy dusted off all my tires, filled them all up, and drove the car back to me.

“It’s free?” I asked, even though I knew I shouldn’t be charged.

“Yes, complimentary.” He said, while his buddy looked back and forth between us in shock that this random white woman at a tire shop in a small town far from Seoul was here speaking in Korean about car problems. I am an enigma!

The two bowed at 90 degrees as I drove off, company policy I’m sure, and I had a moment to pretend I was some pompous billionaire. I could hear the buddy exclaiming to my helper: I’m one hundred percent sure it was about this turn of Korean-ability events. But neither one of them acted surprised to my face, and neither did the gas station manager, so I’m always grateful to the Southern folks for treating me like a person and not an anomaly!

But hey, look at me go, learning car words in Korean and negotiating my way towards road safety all on my own. I’m proud of myself!

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