One of the coolest things about Korea is delivery food. It’s blazing fast, it’s good quality, and you can get just about anything you can get in a regular Korean restaurant (including dolsot bibimbap and awesome fried chickens). I suspected as much for the first five and a half months I lived here. But being that I don’t speak Korean, calling up a Kimbap place and requesting food was a laughable endeavor. Sometime in February though, out of hungover desperation and vacation ennui, I forced myself to make it work.
A lot of the words are familiar to me: “bibimbap”, “kimbap”, “I want”, I say these things in restaurants. “Delivery please” had to be researched and pronouncing my address had to be practiced (I never say it to cab drivers, I just ask to go to my school which is three minutes away and far easier to explain).
After a little studying and a LOT of practicing, I was just about ready to pick up the phone. I had my script, my address spelled out phonetically, a list of what I wanted to order. The only flaw in my plan would be if the Korean on the other end tried to ask me any questions. I was perfectly capable of reciting my order, but there was no way in hell I was going to be able to converse.
After a solid ten minutes of holding the phone in my hand anxiously, number dialed, waiting to call, I twitched, accidentally pressing ‘Send’ and decided, “Here we go…”
I was off to a good start “Delivery please” and I stated my neighborhood, building number and house number. He wasn’t freaking out or hanging up, so I flew right into my order. At the end, he repeated my address and order, both of which sounded right and then did what I was hoping he wouldn’t and asked me a question.
I laughed nervously and said “Uhhhhhh” and he asked again. I laughed louder and more nervously, mumbled “I don’t knoooow” in Korean and then hung up. If the food came, it came. If not, oh well.
About 20 minutes later my cellphone rang. I sat and stared at it, thinking it was probably the delivery place, but knowing that even if I answered the phone nothing could possibly be accomplished. Any questions they might have would only end in more confusion (and me feeling really stupid and guilty), so I let it ring like the douche that I am.
About five minutes later, I heard someone knocking on my neighbor’s door. I don’t think anyone even lives in that apartment, so I popped out into the hall because I figured it was my food.
The delivery man understood immediately what had happened. He stepped into my house, paused to take a look around and then started unloading my goods onto the floor, Korean style. He showed me his cellphone, telling me that he had tried to call. I acted surprised, like my phone was on silent and, “Oh my gosh! I had no idea! I’m so sorry!” Then I paid him and thanked him and did a little dance of triumph. Delivery: Conquered.
I ordered again that same week and had the same success on the phone and in receiving my food, but it wasn’t until just the other day that I tried again.
For the third time, everything went smoothly and my delicious food arrived in about twenty minutes. I devoured it and retired to my bedcouch to watch a movie. A little while after that, I received this text:
“I am delivery man from Kimbap Nae you ordered. I’d like to tell you your home address is 943 not 934. I hope not to happen a mistake again”
Because I am me, I was instantly mortified. Flushed and my stomach all knotty, I read and reread the message, trying to discern tone and how annoyed this guy actually was about my error. Of course I assumed the worst and prepared myself to never order from there again. I would write a thank you text and depending on what happened after that, I would seek a new Kimbap deliverer.
I looked at my ARC card and compared it to what I’d written on my script, finding that I had, in fact, inverted the numbers 934 and 943. Oops. But the beautiful thing about this situation is that the subtleties of Korean numbers gave me a chance to make it look like my mistake was a result of the language barrier, not of my substance abuse-induced dyslexia. The number 3 is “sam” and the number 4 is “sa”. I wrote the guy back,
“Thank you! I’m so sorry for the mistake! I said ‘sam sa’ instead of ‘sa sam’!”
Fucking up speaking Korean is less embarrassing than not being able to read, I think. I then also realized that this mistake was probably the same reason the original delivery man had called before he magically found me: I’d given him the wrong address.
Happily, this guy wrote back,
“You’re welcome. Thank you for using Kimbap Nae! Have a good time :)”
Awesome Korean delivery was made awesomer by this super friendly delivery kid and the absolute kindness that some people possess. Faith in Korea: renewed.