Saturday, August 12, 2006

Ex-pat stories

One of the most convenient aspects of life in Seoul is its delivery system. Almost everything can be delivered, and delivered quickly. I go to buy groceries at the grocery store a few minutes’ walk from our apartment, but rather than hauling the heavy purchases back, I have them delivered to my apartment. I order everything from books to cosmetics on the internet and usually these are delivered, free of charge, within one or two days. If you really want something quickly, you can order “quick” delivery, and your things will arrive an hour or two. KC does this when he orders computers, so he can enjoy the ecstasy of instant gratification. When I needed to pick up an album from the photographer and was too tired to trek across town to get it, I asked him to send it to me that way. It only cost a few dollars and arrived in an hour. When I arrived at the Immigration Office (90 min journey from my apartment) to renew my visa missing one of the documents, the officer said, no problem. I left my passport and foreigner’s card there, faxed the missing document, and she sent my passport and foreigner’s card through a delivery service. Even the American Embassy sent Max’s new passport that way, saving us a painful trip to the Embassy.

And, of course, there’s the food. OH, the food. Chinese food is the fastest, arriving sometimes only 5 minutes after I ordered it, leading me to wonder how they cook it so fast. Pizza takes a little longer, maybe a half an hour. You can order beer and friend chicken, or kimpap and soup. For many months after Max’s birth, I had soup delivered daily to the apartment at 6am so I wouldn’t have to cook breakfast. All these services are either free or dirt cheap. Although food is expensive here, labor is cheap, and service important. With so many people and so many stores, competition is fierce, and consumers like me take advantage.

But, alas, if you don’t speak Korean it is hard to enjoy this aspect of Seoul life. Some, like my Chinese friend Helen, memorize one key sentence of Korean: “This is apartment 1407. Please send me one large pepperoni pizza.” She calls the number, says her one sentence, and hangs up, because after all, she can’t understand anything the other person says.

Helen’s friend, let’s call her Mary, does the same thing. Every week, when she needs her cheese fix (funny, those cravings for cheese), she calls the number, says her one sentence, hangs up, and a little while later the pizza arrives. One day Mary’s Korean friend comes to visit and Mary says, “Oh good! YOU can order the pizza this time.” So Mary’s friend calls the number, and the person on the phone says, “FIANLLY, someone who can speak Korean! Will you tell that American that this is NOT a pizza place?!?!” Turns out that all this time, Mary had been calling someone’s house, and that person had ordered the pizza for her...


g^2 said...

OMG! That is so totally hilarious! I don't think anyone here in the US would even think to order the pizza for someone in that situ.

Just came across your blog. Very interesting read so far. I have two boys myself, one in K and the other in prek (hopefully soon). Your blog title had me in stitches, btw. :-)

Jon Allen said...

That is a very good post, had me laughing out loud.
Can someone teach me the korean for "bring a pizza to Apt 1101" :)

Jennifer Lee said...

You can try:
"a pa te [apartment] chun paek il ho [number 1101] eun dae yo [this is], pi ja [pizza] hana [one] kata joo say yo [please bring me]"

With idiosyncratic romanization.

Pizza hut has online ordering, but it might be in Korean.

It really is hard to live here without that one sentence! Can't tell you how much I need my cheese fix every week...