Monday, November 26, 2007

Travelogue #14: A Nyum Nyum Thanksgiving

<---Travelogue #13: Eating SpongBob and His SquarePants, Too.
--->Travelogue #15: Hello Korean Women's Tennis League. Can I Play?

It's Thanksgiving weekend in Korea, which means it's an ordinary November weekend in Korea.

Friday night marked my one-month anniversary here, and I celebrated by chomping on nyum nyum chicken. "Nyum nyum" is spicy chunks of bird slathered in a mysterious sticky red sauce. A runny nose is a typical consequence of its flavors. Mike offered to order us the grub and have it delivered to my apartment. Since he was working late, it would be my responsibility to greet the delivery guy.

A half hour later, the guy rang and his image appeared on this panel on my apartment wall.


I opened the door. He smiled, bowed slightly, and handed over the box. "Hot, spicy!" he said.

I nodded and gave him a thumbs-up. "I like spicy!"

It's funny how the rule in Korea is not to tip, while the service via restaurants and delivery has often been warmer and more generous than the service I received back in the states. (This hasn't always been the case, but poor service in Korea so far has been the exception rather than the rule.)

Turning towards the kitchen with the goodies, I heard an "Ah! Ah!" behind me. What was it? I returned to the door and found the delivery man pointing down to where I had dropped my change. Another smile, another slight bow, and goodbye.

All I had to do was wait for Mike's arrival so the two of us could feast. That's when the panel chimed again, this time with a different guy on the video screen. Huh?

Now would be a good time to reveal that I don't really know how this video panel system works. You see, the apartments at the Royal Palace Housevill don't have peepholes; they have video surveillance systems, which would be cool, assuming I knew how to work the thing. I decided it'd be easier to just go to my door and talk to the guy there. One problem: he wasn't at my door.

I returned to the panel and clicked the button to hear the new guy's voice. Apparently the video was beaming from the lobby, where he was waiting to be let in. He then said, "Korean word korean word korean word question mark nyum nyum?"

Nyum Nyum! I understood Nyum Nyum! It was time to pull out some trusty Korean from my satchel. Since this night marked my one-month anniversary, you might imagine that I've absorbed an impressive amount of key words and phrases.

"Ney," I said, the Korean word for yes. "Ney."

He countered with more Korean words and "chicken." What did he want? It didn't look as if he was holding anything in his hands, so I guessed he had come to check if I had indeed received my Nyum Nyum chicken.
"Ney," I said again. "Chicken."
"Chicken!" he replied.
"Chicken," I said. "Ney."
He paused. Then he said more Korean.
"Anio?" I said, which means no. What I was telling this man was a steady, enthusiastic stream of, "yes yes, nyum nyum chicken, yes yes. No?" I also gestured with my hands, which was a little odd considering he couldn't see me.

There's a button on my panel to allow him through the doors into the elevator area, but I didn't know which button to select. If I'd press the wrong button, an alarm would blare. I was stumped.

I opted to do it the old-fashioned way: talk to the guy in person at the lobby door rather than through a multi-buttoned video system.

He had vanished.

Twenty minutes later, Mike arrived from work. I took the Nyum Nyum down to his apartment. "Get ready, man," he said, grinning as he opened the box.

The grin left his face. "This isn't what we ordered," he said.

Uh-oh.

Mike's Korean friend sprang into action; she phoned the restaurant and sorted out the miscommunication. The story was that the second guy had come to correct the first order, but he gave up when my cluelessness prevented him from entering the apartment.

The pieces of the great Nyum Nyum puzzle of Thanksgiving 07' fell into place, and after some verbal jousting, Mike's friend convinced them to send the right chicken, free of charge.

And so the first guy returned, apologetic, bowing, smiling. An hour and a half after the initial delivery, we had the food we ordered.

Though my idealization of the perfection of Korean service ran into a couple real-world problems, I couldn't feel anything but thankful:

Thankful for waking up every morning excited to start the day, for rolling up my blinds to see the big Lotte building and at its feet, a busy sea of pedestrians shuffling to and from bread shops and quick-Korean food joints. Thankful for a job that not only excites me but makes me laugh, a job where I can teach the meaning of various slang words and phrases and hear one of the kids playfully telling another to "hit the road!" and another joking about "B.O," words they hadn't heard much less understood prior to our lesson. Thankful for the smiles I get in the hallway from the Korean secretaries and for the reality-show-esque mix of personalities in my co-workers, which leads to deep conversations I haven't heard since I've been in a dorm room lounge. Thankful for David Ogles sending that random message on Facebook in July inviting me to Sunae-dong, Bundandg-gu, Korea. Thankful for my family and friends back home, and for the webcam/Gmail/AIM we use to stay in touch from opposite ends of the earth.

And I'm thankful for Nyum Nyum chicken, because it was delicious.

My nose didn't even run.

<---Travelogue #13: Eating SpongBob and His SquarePants, Too.
--->Travelogue #15: Hello Korean Women's Tennis League. Can I Play?
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I suppose Nyum Nyum Chicken is as close to turkey as you're going to get in Korea.

I'm thankful you're still writing these cool posts in your blog!

JS

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