3.3 Fall 2021

October 18, Emissions Check

I made my way across town for the mandatory annual emissions check. I idled nervously in the third line at the car center, unsure of what exactly was expected of me and what results would be returned.

A younger man asked for my registration in Korean and then gestured for me to leave the car running and wait in the makeshift office in the giant warehouse.

It took about five minutes of me fiddling with the chair and glancing at the TV with updates on everyone’s cars, the place was busy for 5PM on a Monday, before an older mechanic called me over.

“Do you speak Korean?” He asked.

“No,” I said.

He continued on in Korean, and I felt comfortable in this role-play that I have acted many times before. It took a few minutes before I realized he was actually speaking more simply; his tone was neither offensively slow nor condescendingly elementary so I didn’t catch on to his consideration at first.

We managed to work out this: the back lights needed to be swapped for bulbs in place of the transformer looking plugs, and a pipe from the motor to the exhaust was leaking from a hole.

“You heard the loud sound while driving, didn’t you? From the hole?”

“Yes,” I lied.

Sir, my car is a subcompact that is ten years old. If it’s not making some sort of sound, that means it’s off.

“Can you tell me how much it will cost?” I asked instead.

“Over there you can change the lights for 5,000 won,” he said, pointing to a shed in the parking lot. “And this other one? Well, you’ll need to go to a shop. It’s probably 100,000 won.”

Ah, cars are like kids. So many unexpected expenses. All of the repairs must be made before December and I have to return to the center to confirm that I complied. But 50,000 won for a required checkup that ensures I’m safe isn’t too bad… considering I’m too car shy to even attempt navigating an auto shop here unless absolutely required.

I thanked him profusely and pulled up next to the shed where a tall man in all black was piling chains menacingly.

“Uh…. excuse me,” I managed, after sitting in my car for several minutes trying to understand if this was at all right.

“I have to change my lights?” I said, but in much worse and more garbled Korean.

This man towered over me, and if it weren’t for his black latex gloves I might have asked him for a hug just to feel what it’s like. But his bondage outfit vibes, and the giant tool belt on his hip, dissuaded me from anything truly insane.

He calmly explained, with the local accent, that it would cost 4,000 won (sweet, a discount!) and he quickly unscrewed my back lights while I sat like a noodle hanging out of the open driver’s side and contemplated how I had managed to make it through an entire car appointment with some semblance of understanding.

Might as well press my luck, I thought.

“And the bossman over there told me I have to get this pipe fixed?” I asked, pointing at the handwritten note of the man from earlier.

Mr. Black Leather started to explain.

“I’m sorry, I don’t really know car words,” I said, bouncing on the balls of my feet and feeling like a kid in my Hermione-inspired fall outfit and his overpowering shadow.

He told me to wait and he returned with his phone, Naver dictionary in hand. He gestured at the entry for “recycled” with a black gloved finger.

“The pipe there has a hole from corrosion. If you go to a shop, ask them for a recycled part instead of a new one. It will be cheaper for you but still acceptable quality for your car,” is what I guessed he said. My Korean is 50% understanding, and 50% context clues.

I bowed and thanked him profusely, and managed not to ask him about his outfit choice.

In one small 30 minute window, I wrestled with communication and came out on top, although not without sweating bullets. That’s one more niche experience to add to this Korean life.

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