Friday, December 22, 2006

can you have fun in a bank?

I met three of my students today over at my Smoo office; two arrived on time and one was late, so we chatted for a bit while waiting for the third student. I offered around my bottle of Kirkland (i.e., Costco) "Chocolates of the World," one of the items from my folks's care package. I also shared a large tin of peanut brittle, which was quite delicious.*

The last student arrived, we talked a bit more, and then we all headed toward the main gate (Smoo is strange in that it actually has two main gates facing each other across one street). One of our students sadly parted ways with us; she said she had to keep studying for a battery of civil service exams that take place over the course of a year. Down to just three people again-- me and two students-- we strolled over to Da Woo 2, the downstairs wing of one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants. Da Woo (something like "sundry friends," if translated from the Chinese), known in English as the California Roll House, has done quite well for itself despite its tucked-away location. They serve their food quickly, the menu offers a decent range of items popular with Smoo girls, and the quality is usually good. Expansion was inevitable.

Mealtime talk ranged all over; at the end of our feast, I bought several bottles of apple juice for the girls, and we headed over to the Shinhan bank across the street to take care of various issues. In my case, I needed to get a new bankbook in order to check whether I had been paid for the MATE test rating I had done in late November. The MATE office is usually pretty good about paying punctually-- they synchronize their payment with my salary's pay day-- but for some reason they've been lax this month, being two weeks late. I had been told last week that pay would arrive this week; I wanted to update my bank book at the ATM to see whether the pay had arrived.

I went to an ATM before meeting my students and hit the t'ongjang jeongni (essentially, "update bankbook") command, only to have the printing stop because my bankbook had run out of pages. That's what necessitated my trip to the bank: the acquisition of a new bankbook so I could complete the update and see whether the pay had arrived.

The bank is divided into two main areas; the front area, where most people take a number and wait, usually moves at a glacial pace. Because I usually visit the bank to do overseas wire transfers from Shinhan to my US bank account, I normally go straight to the smaller, quieter, and faster back room. Customers have to take a number there, too, but service generally moves along at a healthy clip. The Shinhan Bank staff, who have now totally replaced the old Choheung Bank staff, are fairly crisp and efficient, but here as elsewhere, it's good to be able to speak some Korean.

And that's what led to today's amusement as a string of coincidences unfolded. One of my colleagues from across campus showed up to pay some bills; I ended up serving as his interpreter, which I think made that process go a lot more smoothly than it might have, despite the fact that the female staffer across the desk from him spoke some English.

While I was waiting for my two students to get their affairs straightened out, one of my Japanese students, Ayumi, suddenly showed up with a gaggle of her classmates from their Korean language course. A couple of the students were apparently having some sort of account-related trouble, but as they all spoke Korean pretty well, there seemed little point in my trying to help them out. They had taken numbers and were waiting their turn; I chatted with my student and one of her friends, a skinny dude who looked to be half-and-half like yours truly; he's been VJing in the Hongdae area and is currently jockeying for a Fulbright scholarship.

One of the girls in my group could speak Japanese, so she and Ayumi struck up a funny conversation in which the Korean girl, Seungmin, spoke Japanese while Ayumi responded in Korean. My eyes ping-ponged back and forth as I watched and listened, delighted at what this simple waiting area had become.

You have no idea how much I love a polyglot atmosphere, even when I can't understand most of what I'm hearing. The prime cinematic example of this is, of course, the cantina scene from "Star Wars," a scene that thrilled me even as a kid. Han Solo's banter with Chewbacca-- all without subtitles and with the understanding that these two knew each other's languages perfectly-- was inspirational to me as a kid.

It's one of my dearest wishes to bring together people I know from different corners of the world and just... let them mingle. Part of the fun would be stepping in to interpret where I could, but part of the fun would also be just listening as these folks found ways to interact with each other. I suppose that dream won't happen until I find the right woman and get hitched: at that point, I'll be able to send invitations all over the world.

So the high point of my day was sitting on a bench in Shinhan Bank, acting as a low-rent interpreter for a colleague, and listening with delight to animated conversation in Japorean (Koranese?).

The sad epilogue to this story is that I discovered I hadn't been paid. I marched over to the MATE office and asked the staff what was up. They claimed they had filed paperwork for my payment with the Finance Office in the Administration Building across campus; I asked which office I had to go to, then lumbered across the street and spoke with a lady who, right as I appeared, said that the MATE office had called over to say that they would arrange pay for next week.


I took this to mean that the MATE office had not, in fact, done jack shit about my pay, so it was with grim satisfaction that I left the Finance Office and went home. Sometimes you have triple-check these things. While I'm normally a fairly passive individual, even I get antsy when the pay is two weeks late.

When I was in the MATE office earlier, something else happened: two new male staffers were there being trained; I had arrived with tangerines to distribute as a gift to the ladies I knew, but shifted quickly and laid fruit out for everyone present. As I began doling the tangerines out, I joked in English that I was like Santa Claus.

"He looks like him," joked one of the new male staffers in Korean, at which point I said in Korean, "If you're planning to talk about me in Korean, be careful." I stuck a huge, shit-eating grin on my face as I said this, but that fucker's been put on notice and I doubt he'll be an idiot a second time. Funny thing is-- he's a lardass, too.

I was feeling too good after my lunch and bank visit to let this bother me too much, so I note the above with some amusement. I'm glad that staffer's just been hired: he now knows he started off on the wrong foot with a coworker who plans to be here a long, long time.**

*I'm damn stingy with my Lindt truffles, but I'll share the Kirkland candies. I somewhat regret sharing the peanut brittle, though; it was most bodacious.

**In our department, foreign teachers seem to last on average about two years before they bugger out.


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