After a frustrating week of being stood up by my landlord, I returned to the hardware store. I needed a wrench. I was going to fix my toilet if it killed me (or you know…flooded my whole apartment).
I bowed and gave a now well-rehearsed Korean hello. The male shopkeeper (Man) immediately smiled as I browsed his selection of wrenches. The prices produced a sweat puddle in my wallet pocket. I grabbed the thriftiest wrench I could find when the female shopkeeper (Woman) greeted me too. She immediately knew what I wanted the wrench for, pointing to my building across the street. I nodded, unsure of what was happening.
Man and Woman spoke in Korean briefly. Suddenly, Man grabbed his toolbox. They gestured me back into the street.
My brain was like, “What? This can’t be real. Is he really going to fix my toilet for me?”
It turns out, the answer was yes. After 45 minutes of assembling, disassembling, and reassembling the contraption that Woman invented one week ago, Man said something to me in Korean and then ran back to his store. He left his tools. This endless mindfuckery continued to melt my brain. I was very grateful and even more confused.
When he returned, another man followed him. “Oh shit,” I thought. “It’s the landlord. He’s gonna be pissed.” It wasn’t. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Man pointed to him and said, “Engineer.” Damn. He called in an expert to help little ole foreign me who just wanted water in his toilet tank. I wanted to cry but decided not to. Men were working.
However, in the back of my mind, my native upbringing triggered a wave of anxiety. In the States, it is not uncommon for servicemen to help individuals without a price quote and follow up with exorbitant labor charges. Anxiety-brain seized the opportunity.
“Dude, he’s gonna charge out out the ass for this shit.” Anxiety-brain felt quite crass on this particular day.
“Fuck it,” I thought. At least my toilet will work.
Man and Engineer needed to shut off my water. We searched the apartment for a water main valve without success. I thought this was the end. All of our efforts stop here because we cannot turn off the water main. Man disappeared downstairs for two minutes. Suddenly, like a poorly-written overly-convenient plot twist, my water didn’t work. He found it.
“Damn, he’s good,” I thought.
Engineer proceeded to install Woman’s improvised turbo toilet tank valve next to one of the sink’s water mains. He turned it on. Water gushed freely, filling the tank in around ten seconds. I’m not sure what they told me after that. I think I had to tell the landlord to fix the actual toilet tank. I wasn’t sure. I have developed a reflex of just smiling and nodding to whatever I hear. I was also engaged in a mental fiesta as I celebrated the ease of my future bathroom trips. However, Anxiety-brain loves to spoil my fun.
“Here it comes. The bill. Brace yourself.”
Before I could respond to this party pooper, Man and Engineer grabbed their tools, said goodbye, and were gone. They left nothing but tape rolls and flakes of caked dirt in their wake.
Later that day, I brought Man and Woman a small bowl of cookies and chocolates in gratitude. They accepted them and handed me apples in return. I still cannot completely explain the dedication they showed me. It is moments like this that makes Korean culture shock unbelievably bearable.
Two weeks later, the landlord came in and fixed the actual tank. I still use the turbo valve for cleaning purposes. It helps me hit those hard-to-reach corners of my bathroom. It also means my bathroom is large enough to require a hose for proper cleaning. I’m spoiled.
Imja Island doesn’t have much in terms of urbanity, but it more than makes up for it in picturesque pastoral pleasure.
Urban Dictionary Entry:
TT: A crying emoticon. The tops of the Ts are the eyes, and the stems are the tears streaming down the emoticon’s face.
I watched an ajumma strike a similar pose so I decided to do the same. I just want to blend in.
I spent a night in Busan recently and saw Haeundae Beach. It’s beautiful in November when there are fewer tourists obstructing the views of the sand.
These wood-mounted flags are mounted in every classroom. Like in America, no classroom is without this reminder of nationality.