Thursday, October 25, 2012

Exercising my rights and my Korean skills

Absentee voting from abroad is not easy.

The general election is on November 6th, and as I am abroad and unable to vote in person, I needed to send an FPCA (Federal Post Card Application) to receive my ballot. I filled out the FPCA two weeks ago and faxed it, but I was never sure if it was received on the other hand. I waited for my absentee ballot to arrive in my inbox, but it never did. So, I called yesterday (hoping that the international call would be short and not keep me counting the seconds on hold for fear of my phone bill) and was notified that my FPCA never even made it to Delaware County.

So, I did it all again today: printed out a new form, scanned it, and sent it by email this time, and then went to the post office to mail the original as well. I should have done this the first time around. But the prospect of having to mail anything from Korea by myself was... not inviting, to be honest.

It's quite frightening for to have to use my limited Korean in "real life" -- which means in public, with Koreans who do not speak English and are not my friends or teachers who understand that I don't really speak Korean very well at all.

As I was walking toward the post office (우체국) this afternoon, a thought suddenly struck me: Andrew, you're about to have to use Korean only to communicate for the next thirty minutes at least. It may be a disaster. Brace yourself, be confident, and keep a smile on.

I entered the post office, took my number after looking confused for a few brief seconds, and sat down to wait. While I waited, I looked up the words for "special", "envelope", and "send" on my phone's dictionary app. I needed a special envelope -- actually, I needed a normal envelope, but on this blank envelope I needed to print the FPCA template for the address that would allow me to send it postage paid.

My original intent was to buy an envelope and then take it back to school to print out the template, only then to return to the post office to actually send it. But I noticed that the post office had printers of its own, so I decided to try to ask if they could print it here for me. I somehow made myself understood and the post office worker took my flash drive to check what was on it. Unfortunately, her supervisor saw what she was doing and was all like, "Nope! Can't do that here. Go to a PC방." Tail between my legs, I scurried away (taking the envelope with me without paying for it).

At the PC방 (a public computer gaming room), I asked the two guys working there if I could print stuff off. I already knew the answer before I asked, though; the PC방 was smoky, noisy, and full of computers for League of Legends and whatnot, without a printer in sight. I was then told that PC방 rarely had printers; they had no other suggestions for me.

Getting a bit desperate, I Kakao-ed a Korean friend and asked for her advice. She told me that unfortunately she wasn't sure where I should go, but perhaps look for a 인쇄소 (print shop). So, I went into the nearest convenience store to ask if there were any in this area. Nope. At this point I had spent close to half an hour trying to communicate with six different Koreans, all without success, just to find a public printer.

Exasperated, I decided to forfeit the postage paid envelope and just write the freaking address on the envelope on my own, and pay for it myself. So back to the post office. And here's the rest of my conversation with the post office worker (PO), translated from Korean.

Me: The PC room couldn't print it, so...
PO: When do you want this to arrive?
Me: Uh...
PO: Normal postage will take 10 days.
Me: Oh, 10 days?
PO: Do you want to expedite it? It'll be expensive.
Me: Oh, how expensive?
PO: [checks figures] ... 17,600 won ($16). Very expensive!
Me: [thinking: holy @*#$!] Oh, yes, that's expensive! Um...
PO: It will arrive next Tuesday if you expedite. But it's very expensive.
Me: Um... normal is okay, then.
PO: Normal?
Me: Yes.
PO: Okay... 610 won ($0.50).
Me: [thinking: and I went to all that trouble to try to print on the envelope...] Okay. Thank you.
PO: Did you just come back from living in America?
Me: What?
PO: Did you just come back from living in America?
Me: [not understanding the question] Uh, yes, I came back from living in America?
By now, everyone in the office is listening, and they laugh when I say this.
Me: What?
PO: Were you born in America?
Me: Oh, yes. In California.
PO: Ah. Are you Korean?
Me: Huh? No.
PO: American?
Me: Yes.
PO: Your face looks Korean!
Me: Oh, no, I'm not. I'm Taiwanese-American.
PO: AH! Taiwanese-American! [to others] He's Taiwanese-American. You look very Korean! We thought you were Korean!
Me: Really? Thanks.
PO: You speak Korean well.
Me: No, not really. Thank you.
PO: Okay, have a nice day!
Me: Goodbye!

Anyway, I'd better get my absentee ballot asap. I'm also going to use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot just in case. This probably means another trip to the post office soon. What fun!