Thursday, 5 November 2009

To be in the know

"It's really starting to get to me," I said, as I stared at my apartment window between sips of hot coffee. "I wish people would just TALK!"

C and I had met up for what had now turned into our weekly coffee/dinner/shopping date. Sometimes we sat around and vented about all the things that had gotten to us during the week, and sometimes we simply allowed ourselves to indulge in classic Korean traditions -- eating, drinking and giggling like teenage girls, while wandering up and down the busy streets.

On this particular evening, we'd ventured to Cafe DaVinci, and found ourselves on the rooftop. The window from my tiny officetel looked out directly onto this rooftop, and it had only taken me two and a half months to get there.

The view from the other side was different.

"They really can see everything from here," I said, with a frown. "I should be more careful the next time I get out of the shower."

C was laughing at this point.

"Or maybe you should put on a show!" she said, laughing even harder now.

I smiled at this. If I really thought of putting on a show from my window, chances are I wouldn't just be entertaining the patrons of Cafe DaVinci... my window also looked out onto two busy billiard halls, soju bars, coffee houses and restaurants, all filled with young university students. They would be guaranteed an eyeful too.

Hmmm... my thoughts drifted off to the window again.

"This city is pretty chaotic sometimes," I said, while studying the glass shutters. Even though it was night time and my lights were turned off, I was trying to see if I could catch a glimpse of the small postcard from Toronto that was pinned to my wall.

"... And the worst part is the communication problem," C said, while looking at the other tables around us. They were filled with students from the nearby university, either taking a much deserved break from the books, or simply catching up with friends.

"It's true. I'm tired of not knowing anything that I'm supposed to know," I said with a sigh. "I mean, it's one thing to not know everything. But I'd like to know how much I'm supposed to pay in bills, before it gets deducted from my paycheck each month."

That had happened with the last paycheck. I was surprised to find a big deduction that I'd later learned made sense... but not knowing about it till after the fact had annoyed me immensely. In the days that followed, I received my hydro bill, taped to my front door, on a small piece of scrap paper. I explained this to C.

"It didn't even look official!" I said. "All I know is I had to pay the amount... which was fine... IF I knew what I was paying for."

Things had not gotten better when I went to school the next day and asked my co-teacher about this. We struggled to communicate during the best of times, and, as you can imagine, this conversation wasn't on our list of "top-five reasons to talk to each other".

Needless to say, I paid the bill. I'd pieced together the fact that it was a bill in addition to my monthly maintenance fee. And that settled that.

"... It's literally one battle at a time," I said, while releasing a breath I didn't know I was holding. "We have such wonderful times and everything is so good... then something like this happens, and it takes everything I have to not just scream."

C just looked at me.

"I know, sweetie," she said. "It's hard because instead of even trying to explain it to us, they'd rather keep quite. But then we find out in such a bad way, and it ends up being worse."

I nodded my head in agreement.

The general consensus was that some people were in situations where they were paying fees for things each month, without any explanation as to what they were for. Mine was one of these cases.

Things generally had a way of sorting themselves out, but not without a dragged out period of confusion and unnecessary stress that could have easily been avoided, had those in power bothered to talk the important talks.

"We should do something stronger than coffee next time," I said.

"Yes, girlfriend!" C said. That was classic C... up for anything through the worst of it.


Disclaimer: This is not a reflection of my overall feelings or emotions during my time here in Seoul. This was an isolated incident that sometimes reoccurs about once a month. In no way am I miserable, here, in the Land of Morning Calm. I just wanted you to know that the communication barrier is wider on some days than on others.
And it is on those days that I truly realize how far away I am from my comfort zone.
And it is on those days that I realize I'm on the adventure of a lifetime.


  1. These days will get fewer and further between! Chin up, my dear!

  2. I think this isolated situation is just getting adjusted to how things are done there. In your eyes these things should be told to you beforehand, but in Korea they tend to be last minute and in someways try to do things for you even if you want to do it yourself.

    I think when situations like this arise you just have to take a deep breath and use it as an opportunity for some mutual cultural education while being open-minded. You could try asking for a list of bills you will have to pay each month and what the cost would be so you don't get surprised.


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