Friday, September 4, 2009

ABCD & a great dane whose name was ostensibly Monkey.

A piercingly odd thing happened to me right when I got back from vacation, which in many ways was more odd than everything I experienced in Thailand, which makes it even more strange because Thailand is a place where oddities are fairly commonplace, I thought. Vacation was finally finished and when I finally got on the bus from Seoul that would take me back home to Taebaek it was almost 9 at night. That would put me in Taebaek around midnight, which wasn't exactly ideal, but since I didn't write the bus schedule I didn't have much to say about it except that. From the bus terminal in Taebaek it's a 20 or 30 minute local bus ride out to where I live in the countryside. Unfortunately the last local bus leaves the terminal well before midnight, meaning that I would have to take a taxi, which usually costs anywhere between 9 and 10 thousand won. That's never usually a problem, except that while I was on the bus I realized that I'd forgotten to take out money from the ATM at the bus terminal in Seoul before I'd left and I only had 7 thousand won in my pocket. That's never usually a problem either, since 24 hour ATMs exist here, just like anywhere else in capitalist economies in the developed world. However, ATMs in Taebaek attached to banks in Taebaek have a tendancy to stop dishing out cash at around 11:30 or so. This always struck me as bizarre and unreasonable for three main reasons:

Number one, it seems detrimental, if not contrary to the goals of a capitalist economy, to prevent people from access to their spending money at any time. Under the banner of progress, shouldn't people be encouraged to submit to the spending impulse and make purchases at any hour of the day or night?

Number two, it is MY money afterall, and why should a particular branch of a bank have the authority to dictate when I can withdraw it (furthermore from a 24 hour ATM machine!).

And number three, if they are going to stop dispensing cash at a certain time of night, why then do they leave the lights on and the ATM doors open for 24 hours? Why are the machines still running if they're essentially useless? Just in case I have the sudden paranoid impulse at 3 in the morning that someone has stolen all of my money I can rush out to the ATM and do a balance check to calm myself before going back to sleep? For someone who desparately needs cash at midnight so he can take a taxi home to get some much needed rest, these 24 hour ATMs are like beacons of hope. Of course I'm going to try all 3 machines they have multiple times, and think that the "It does not become the transaction" message it continues to show me is not a bad translation for "You're fucked", but some oversight, some absurd mistake made by the bank staff. I mean, are other Koreans able to take money out after 11:30? Is that why the rooms are open and the machines are running? Is it just a rule for foreigners to make our lives inconvenient? Or worse, is it just a rule for me? Did I accidentally check some box in Korean when signing up for my account that I can make a call right now and take back?

These were just a few of the thoughts that were going through my head while I was pacing back and forth in the ATM room after I couldn't acquire the funds I needed for my taxi. I'd been up for over 24 hours, badly in need of rest and solace after almost a straight month of travelling, so this difinitively false and deceitful 24 hour ATM machine, this failed beacon of hope at midnight, was having the same negative effects on my condition as if I had been stranded in the desert and found a clean and sparkling drinking fountain secured on a concrete platform on the sand, only to find, in horror, that I had arrived past the hours of water distribution services. The bank managers must know they're causing some people this great inconvenience, and they must have good reasons for it, and I hope someday to find out what those reasons are.

In any case, I walked out of the ATM room defeated, but not without hope. I figured I would just take a taxi to my apartment, and then when we arrived I would explain to him in Korean that I had more money upstairs and I would be back in a minute and he could keep the meter running. And then I would just hope that I'd have enough spare change lying around that I could scrounge up to give him. And if I couldn't, he didn't know which apartment I lived in anyways, and I'm sure he wouldn't search all 15 floors just to collect 2 thousand won.

But just as I stepped out of the ATM room I see this giant great dane, without leash or collar, prancing around on the sidewalk in front of me. As Korea is not a place where you see large dogs, this was BY FAR the largest dog I've seen in the country, to date. So that was odd. Not only is it odd to see huge dogs in Korea, but it's even odder to see them prancing around on the sidewalk at midnight in a town as sleepy as Taebaek. It looked really friendly, so I wasn't concerned, plus I must have seen a hundred stray dogs in Thailand (many of which definitely didn't look friendly), so being as tired as I was, the sight didn't even register as truly bizarre until afterwards and until after what happened next happened.

About 50 feet up the street I notice the dog' owner shout "Monkey!" and the dog immediately ran joyously to his side. The owner was a middle aged Korean dude in a light blue T-shirt and dark blue running shorts. He was wearing a pair of common house slippers.

I was watching the scene in a sort of sleep deprived daze, as the man approached me, and after giving a sharp grunt to show surprise at seeing a foreigner in front of him, immediately hurried his step, stopped close to me and asked "How are you?" I said "I am great." And then he walked closer with his arm outstretched awkwardly straight in front of him to shake my hand and said "A-B-C-D!" with some sort of indefinable relish at verifying the fact that I am a native English speaker. I could smell a hint of soju on his breath. I responded to his greeting in Korean fashion saying "Pan-gap-seum-ni-da" (nice to meet you in Korean), bowing slightly, and shaking his one hand with my two hands.

At this point the great dane was prancing around a little more excitedly on the sidewalk. She was jumping up high into the air and coming down on her front legs, which seemed also like part of the way that a horse would behave. Not really knowing what to say at that point, I just pointed to the dog and asked him in Korean if it was his. The man just pointed to the great dane purposefully and said "Monkey!" loudly. Almost immediately the dog squatted down and started peeing all over the sidewalk. It almost seemed like saying the word monkey and pointing was some strange command he had invented to tell the dog where and when to create a small river of urine whenever he wanted one. But, at the time, it definitely seemed more plausible that he was just telling me the name of his dog. Now even more confused about what I should say, I just said "ah-ju-keo-yo" which means "It is quite big." Immediately after I said this he gave another sharp grunt in acknowledgement of something still quite indefinable to me, took out a small roll of 10 thousand won bills and handed me one. Having had placed the exact amount of money I needed for a taxi ride home into my hand for potentially no reason at all had the predictable effect of my mouth dropping open slightly out of surprise and my eyes becoming wider out of confusion. Both of these facial gestures happened out of my control and prevented me of even uttering one word of thanks or more importantly "why?" as I just watched him continue walking around the corner with his great dane, ostensibly named Monkey.

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