Monday, February 03, 2020

old and infirm

I've had my cell phone, a Samsung Galaxy S4, since 2013, when I bought it at a brightly lit store in the tiny town of Hayang-eup, right next to Daegu. Hayang is where I was living at the time, seeing as I was working at Daegu Catholic University. I recall some of the store staffers being pretty obnoxious: one dude in particular kept staring at me and snickering uncontrollably, which made me wish for a medieval mace with which to stove in his stupid fucking skull. Anyway, that asshole notwithstanding, my phone has proved to be pretty tough and reliable over the years: it survived my 2017 Seoul-Busan walk with a cracked screen (which got replaced for a pretty penny), and it only recently survived a second and longer walk—this time from Incheon to Busan—that happened only a few months ago.

My phone is nearly seven years old, now, and it's finally showing its age. You know how, for a lot of oldsters, the hearing is one of the first things to go? Well, starting sometime in November, my phone hasn't been transmitting my voice very well whenever someone calls me: it's not "hearing" me when I talk. As a result, I get a lot of "I can't hear you, Kevin!"s from the person on the other end of the line. My ex-boss (and soon-to-be actual boss again) crabbily suggested that I whack the phone on something. The percussive maintenance helped only to a certain extent, and then over the past couple of weeks, things kept getting worse. Now, when people call me, they can't hear me at all. It's very frustrating.

So today, I took my phone in to the Samsung service center up the street. The staffer assigned to my problem was very friendly, complimenting my Korean and clearly explaining what he thought the problem might be. On that first visit today, he said that he suspected the phone needed a new part related to its microphone, but given the phone's age, he'd have to order the part, which wouldn't arrive until 5:30 p.m. the same day. So he closed my phone up and charged me nothing, and he told me to come back around 5:30 p.m. to see about getting the phone repaired with the ordered part.

I worked at the office a few hours (announcing to my coworkers that I'd be leaving them for good this coming Wednesday—my transfer has been finalized), then went back to the Samsung center. The guy tried replacing the relevant part and testing the phone, but no dice: as the staffer tested the various circuit pathways, it became clear to him that the damage was much deeper, in the phone's "main board" (I don't know phone-part terminology, but the staffer used the English term "main board" to describe the problem's location). So according to him, I had a choice: I could get the main board replaced for around W150,000, or I could buy a new phone. He personally leaned toward the latter: repairing my phone would only become more difficult over time, given its age and the unavailability of parts. In the meantime, he said, I could try circumventing the microphone problem by either using the phone's speakerphone function or buying an "ear kit," i.e., one of those earbud-microphone combos. I didn't understand why either solution might work (doesn't my voice travel the same pathway no matter what?), but I trusted the staffer enough to take his advice.

After thanking the staffer for his hard work (once again, no charge), I walked over to a local SK Telecom branch and asked about ear kits. Those staffers pointed me to the local HiMart, an electronics store about a block away. I went there, asked an attendant about the ear kit, and ended up buying one for about $15, US. I then texted my once-and-future boss and asked him whether it'd be okay for me to test out the ear kit. He said that'd be fine, so I called, we talked, and... success.

As people and things become older and more infirm, they start to require certain aids to keep functioning properly. For people, that might mean a cane, then a walker, then a regular wheelchair, then an electric wheelchair. For my phone—and for the moment—that means an ear kit. This is the new normal, then: I have to use peripherals to be able to talk on my phone. It's only for a few months, of course: once I've paid down my scholastic debt, one of the first things I plan to do is buy a spanking-new cell phone as well as a nice pair of glasses that I can wear when I'm not wearing my usual contacts. But the glasses are another story.


Charles said...

"Mainboard" is a proper English term, although I'm more used to calling it a "motherboard." It is a bit confusing that an ear kit would work if the problem is in the motherboard, but maybe different circuits are involved?

Kevin Kim said...


I found the ear-kit solution strange, too, but I don't know how cell phones work. (Also, I still haven't tested the speakerphone option that the staffer had suggested.)