Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fresher than Fresh Air - March 20

It was a productive 'day off' today! (WARNING: 'Fresher than Fresh Air - AKA Bryan and Judy's Day Off' contains blow-by-blow mundane descriptions of travel, administrative details, and taxi air fresheners. Feel free to wait for the next blog entry unless you are desperate to keep up with our saga!)

We got an early start with Katherine safely and cheerfully off to daycare at about 9:05 this morning; once she was on her shuttlebus we kept on walking down the hill to one of the main drags through Yongin, Hwy 42. Many of the inter-town busses run along either 42 or 45 (the other main street), so if you know which number goes where - and where they stop - you can get around quite efficiently. We hopped the 6000 to Suwon and spent the next fifty minutes staring out the windows at the ever-increasing conglomerations of Lego-like apartment high-rises which are cutting into the rice paddies and soft contours of the Korean hills.

At Suwon Station we grabbed a cab and waved our passport receipt under the placid cabbie's nose (as we weren't sure how to say "Suwon Immigration Office" in Korean). He nodded cheerfully and shot out into the six lanes of teeming traffic spinning off the roundabout, wisely demurring right-of-way to a bullying bus but insouciantly cutting off fellow taxis and shouldering past smaller cars, to successfully be ejected into a roadway 270 degrees from his original direction. Bry and I visually confirmed it to be the right road, and settled back into our seats (though one can't exactly say we 'relaxed'). Our cabbie dropped us, flashers blinking as he slid into a stop reserved for the bus barrelling in behind him, directly in front of the Immigration Office. We hastily thrust our fee at him and scrambled out of the taxi as the bus blatted its horn in indignation.

Pickup was a considerably simpler, quieter, and less crowded affair than application had been: three minutes wait while a clerk wandered over to the counter where we were waiting, a wave of our passport receipt, and a trade-in for two passports and two precious Alien Registration Cards - our primary identification documents while residing in Korea! We were able to spend the remainder of the morning (about eighty minutes) browsing through the giant E-Mart just down the street from the Immigration Office before heading back to Suwon Station for the anticipated lunch at the Outback.

(I picked up an adorable fuzzy quilt with little bears on it for Katherine's 'bed', some hooks for the kitchen, a spatula, a nice wooden dishrack for only four thousand won, and a few other basics to make the house more livable....if you really want to know! And we had the chicken fingers and salad with Outback bread and a baked potato on the side. Those baked potatoes are worth fifty minutes on the bus alone: the skin earthy and salty, the flesh soft and slightly flaky, the toppings real butter and real sour cream.... I never leave so much as a flake on my plate!)

Bryan had cracked a molar a few months ago - split it completely in half in his gum - and, horrific as that sounds, had been claiming that it wasn't causing him pain - but last night it decided to call in its debts. On close observation it was clear that one side of his face was noticably swollen, and I insisted that we get back to Yongin in time to see a dentist - preferably our 'old dentist' who might still have our records. So.... across the street (six lanes of traffic) via the pedestrian bridge, find the good old 6000 bus, and another hour back home.

"Our" dentists still had their clinic on Main Street - I mean Hwy 42 - and the bus let us off almost in front of their door. Although it seemed that none of the people we remembered were still there, they did still have Bry's records, and were happy to take him in and start treatment on the spot. I did a bit of browsing at the stationery store while he had his X-rays done, then headed back to the university while they put him in the chair for nerve extraction. Yet another taxi. Here I must digress and explain the title of this entry - the inspiration for sitting down to describe our day in such excruciating detail.

Korean taxi drivers, like public transit specialists everywhere, attempt to personalize their relatively impersonal automotive space in very similar ways. While not a patch on the glamour of taxis in Bangkok or Manila, Korean taxis have their own charm - a sort of homely, plaintive feel. One can always tell when one is being conveyed about by a Catholic 'kisanim' (literally, 'Mr. Driver', or 'Driver-sir') as there is usually a rosary draped artistically over the rearview mirror, a Madonna image embedded in 'crystal', or a devotional card taped up. The Buddhist drivers tend towards plastic lotus flowers on the dashboard or monk bracelets in heavy brown wood beads hanging off the mirror. Of course, there are always the secular tokens: the picture of the kids, the hands-free cellphone accessories, the mini-TV, the mini GPS screen, and the air fresheners.

The air fresheners are more than a token in some taxis, between the aroma of the driver's kimchi lunch, the cigarette he had while waiting in line at the taxi stand, and the lingering scents of the last passenger's hair cream, jasmine soap, or burping child. And they are invariably less than discreet. In fact, most look as though they were designed by Barbie and filled by Dr. Frankenstein: bulbous clear globes with ornately metallic caps shaped like cute animals/ dumplings / apples / crowns / cartoon characters, sloshing with scarlet-red, bile-green, or pinesol-yellow fluids. The aromas are equally unsubtle, ranging from 'Freshly Plasticized Strawberry' through 'Slaughtered Pine Forest' and 'Really Lemony Lemon'. But hey, it beats second-hand kimchi and cigarette smoke any day.

Bryan and I met back up at the office, from which he departed to pick up Katherine and eat supper with four of the other teachers at the Honeybee at Myongji Ipgu (see earlier blognotes) while I stayed at the office computer to get a few things organized and write this blog entry! His face feels a bit better already and we hear from Dev that we actually have a health and dental plan that may cover much of the costs for us!

We also got our bank accounts set up just in time for payday next week, and I found a pediatric clinic that will accept Katherine should she fall ill enough to require it, so it was a pretty good day for getting things accomplished, all the way around.

And now I'm signing off, in hopes you were at least marginally entertained and informed. If not, at least my typing speed is getting back up to spec....

Love you, miss you, and hoping to hear from you / see some comments,

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Anonymous Audrey said...

It's always interesting to hear how you spent your day - keep writing! I hope Bryan feels better (I can sympathize with dental problems!)
There is a 'care package' on the way to you. I don't know how long it will take, but hopefully it gets there before your Cheez Whiz runs out.
Audrey & family

March 20, 2007 at 12:56 p.m.  
Anonymous Thea said...

All things you write are interesting! And you seem to have a very intersting life indeed!:)

March 20, 2007 at 11:51 p.m.  

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