Saturday, February 13, 2010

Internet Shopping

For the first eight months of our lives in Korea, our shopping world was exceptionally limited. We would go out, together or individually, with a back pack and a bag, walk to the supermarket or a take a bus to a larger store, and stock up on things that didn't poke our spines too badly.

And we still do, for most things. But for specialty, oversized, formerly unfindable items, we have discovered internet shopping. G-market has an English page, and has recently removed the systemic prejudice of not accepting the numeric pattern of alien registration numbers in order to purchase from the site.

We cleverly manipulated English name brands into their Hangulized equivalent, and found real laundry detergent (I maintain that the Korean brands are mostly sand and pink shards of sparkly glass) and whole wheat flour, and rye flour, and water in mass quantities so we don't have to lug it home everyday, and I think we could also start our own dentist clinic, or even a full surgery hospital with the selection and precision of medical supplies available in the 'first aid' section...

So, we thought, this is perfect. And Thaddeus still thinks it's perfect; the country of Korea is geographically tiny, so when we order something, it arrives the same or the next day. He comes home from school to find a shiny new clothes rack with crisp, clean, non-parchment type clothing and forty-eight bottles of water, so of course it's perfect.

But - an interesting tradition also surrounds the delivery of the products we order. Each product, no matter how small, is delivered separately (because they're from different vendors; G-market is just a storefront) and each deliveryman must call prior to delivery, in order to verify the address, make sure the person is home, and perhaps also chat about the local ginseng crop. I don't really know the meat of our conversations, but I do know that I dread Delivery Days. It means I will be on the phone, between four and fifteen separate times with deliverymen who possess varying levels of anger management and English skills.

Each time the phone rings, I feel that perhaps I should say "yeboseyo?" because - well, propriety or something - I know I'm in Korea, I know this is the way Koreans begin phone conversations, and some part of me feels like it's the proper thing to do. But a stronger, more practical part of me knows that this will elicit a conviction in the person on the other side of the line that I speak Korean - no matter how many times I clearly state that I do not, and that I cannot understand them - so perhaps it's just mean and pointless to say "yeboseyo"... This is the running commentary in my mind as I answer the phone, every time, and every time I say, hesitantly, "Uh-hello?" And a hurried, male voice responds "YEBOSEYO? YEBOSEYO? YEBOSEYO?" and I let there be a slight pause, to ensure that the yeboseyos are done and then I say "Um - I'm sorry - hello?" And then they begin telling me something - animatedly, sometimes upset, and I respond in Korean "I don't understand. I don't speak Korean."And they say "Ohhhhh, uh..." merely a half-second of troubleshooting results in another long tirade, in Korean. I wait for it to finish, and then say "Um, I don't speak Korean." And they say "You don't speak Korean?" And I say "Yes, yes, I don't speak Korean." And they say "Korean...." and then lots of other things I don't understand. Sometimes, the person will then say "Uh, Englisheee?" And I say, "yes, yes, I do speak English." "Me NOOOOO speakee Englisheee" And I give them the integrity of their statement, though, I must admit, I kind of resent that they never give me the truth of mine. I will sometimes try to apologetically empathize by sharing again that "I don't speak Korean" but usually there's just a long awkward pause in which I wonder how I can express to them that I know it's Delivery Day, and that they just want to make sure I'm me and that I'm home.

Some people, I am able to understand, want my address, but others are deeply distressed when I offer to give it to them, and seem to want some other number - once resulting in me communicating that I would be home at "13" (1pm) when really I was just repeating the first two numbers of our address. When the man wisely responded "In due due time..." and hung up, I was left wondering why the address had been cut off, and why he made the cryptic prediction, until I finally unraveled that he meant he would be there "on time" and that my numbers had communicated time rather than location...

Malachi's attitude about the experience is more enlightened than my own self-absorbed embarrassment. He loves delivery days – being visited by so many different people who say interesting sounding things to him and leave him boxes and bottles to play with. Sixty-four bottles this time. And that’s the note to end on, after all.