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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

That's My Girl

Maxine has been attending Small World, a volunteer daycare for about a week. Today was her third time, and Horyon was very proud when she got home. She told me, "Maxine made another girl cry today!"

I did one of those cartoonish double-takes, as making other kids cry is not usually considered a good thing. But in this case, the care-givers all agreed that Maxine was in the right.

First a little background: Small World is an organization sponsored by one of the Presbyterian churches here in town. The workers are mostly women, and many of the children have one or both parents from a foreign country. One of their goals is to give low-cost language and cultural training to women who don't speak English very well. They have classes and child care on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and today was the third day for Horyon and Maxine. Men are not allowed in the classrooms, as many of the women involved are Muslims. I visited last week and was gently, but sternly informed of this.

There is another little girl named Lason at Small World. She is around three years old, has dark skin, and is very big for her age. Everyone says she looks like a boxer, and she has a tendency to bully other children a bit. Today Lason's mother brought in her car seat and left it in the classroom. Maxine and Lason were playing, with Maxine sitting in the car seat. When Maxine tried to stand up, Lason pushed her back down. Maxine got that focused, slightly red look that shows that her pressure cooker is on, but she didn't cry, or scream, or anything else to show that she was upset.

But when Lason wanted Maxine to get out of the seat, Maxine refused. Lason pulled on her arm, her clothes, even her head, but Maxine just went all Rosa Parks on her, sitting and refusing to move. Until Lason cried. The other caregivers said that in her two years at Small World, Lason had never cried: this was a first.

In closing, we have a camera now. Two, actually. Horyon's parents gave us a new one, and the old one was repaired for about $50. Here are a couple of recent pics:

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Customer Interactions

I am new to retail sales. I've never done anything quite like this before, and I'm kind of enjoying it. Especially dealing with the customers. I'm not sure whether I've just had good luck, or whether I have a soporific quality about me, but I haven't really had to deal with any customers that I would call "belligerent" or "trouble-makers". Even when I've been stuck at the register, unable to get it to do what I need it to do, they have been patient with me. I'm still working on balancing priorities, but the pace has mostly been reasonable.

Mostly. Two days ago my coworker Julianna went on her lunch break around 5:00. (They call it lunch no matter what time you take it. One more bit of Wal-Mart culture that I will probably never understand.) For the first 30 minutes, I walked around straightening items on the shelves, picking up the random bits of jetsam that Wal-Mart shoppers tend to leave willy-nilly as they wander through the store. Then a customer came. And another. And another. At one point I was helping one while three others were waiting. Fortunately none of them asked me to do things that I don't know how to do, like putting something on layaway or doing a back-flip, but they kept me hopping. Of course Julianna came back from her break as I was finishing up with the last customer.

They were all very nice about waiting to be helped. One of them even told me to go take care of another customer while I was in the middle of helping her.

This lady was something else. I had seen her earlier in the store, riding one of the little vehicles Wal-Mart has for customers who have trouble getting around. She had a tattoo that I found to be almost offensive. It made a political statement that I disagreed with, and I found myself thinking that she was probably a very simple person, and that maybe I was lucky I didn't have to deal with her.

Still, I don't let that kind of thought affect how I deal with people, so I offered to help her just like any other customer. She wanted to return a watch that she didn't like (though she used more colorful than that to say so) and get a new band for her old watch, which her husband had given to her before he died, and which she knew how to operate. She spoke in an accent that I couldn't quite place, Eastern European somewhere. It reminded me of our church friend who immigrated from Poland. And she talked a lot.

She was quite patient with me, and let me help stop to help other customers. And those customers were also patient as I dealt with this woman. I understand that as we approach Christmas the level of politeness drops considerably, but so far I can't complain.

(Speaking of holidays, we've already got our Halloween stuff out. Can you believe it?)

In the course of getting a watch band that she was happy with, I learned that she had married a G.I. to come to America. I asked if this was the same husband who had died a year ago, and she told me this:

"No. The G.I. was a mistake. He was my ticket out of Russia, but it was a mistake to marry him. My husband who died last year was my true love. My destiny. And I didn't think I could go on without him, but here I am."

I'm trying to fit a pin for a watch band, and I feel like I should be having a beer with this woman. I felt bad for judging her based on her tattoo, and was genuinely happy that she had come to the jewelry section while I was on duty.

By this point, Julianna had returned, and all of the other customers had been dealt with one way or another (none of them lethally). When I wrapped up my sale with the Russian woman, she shook my hand and thanked me. I sincerely told her that I hoped to see her again, and she promised to say hi if she did. And so I was once again reminded that people with whom I disagree are still very much people, and that I should not judge a book by its cover.

I think the best thing about this job is that every day it gives me many opportunities to practice loving my neighbors. In some ways they are ideal opportunities, because they don't last long. I get a fresh start with each new customer.

On a slightly different note, Wal-Mart encourages us to interact in a friendly manner with customers, and if there is only one customer, there's no reason not to have an extended conversation. However, problems arise when one customer is ignored over another. People have actually been fired over this. It puts me in the uncomfortable position of telling someone, "I'm sorry, but I need to help another customer." I hate having to do that.

In closing, I'm learning my way around the cash register. The problems of three days ago are history, and I have only my future problems to deal with. Yesterday I was on my own from 6 p.m. until closing at 10 p.m. No problems. I am supposed to take a 15 minute break sometime in the evening, so I called in a manager to take care of jewelry stuff while I was gone. Things were slow until then, and when I got back she was helping someone, a customer was waiting, and one more customer came before she left. I also had a small register problem, which she quickly resolved.

I swear, once I figure out everything on the register, I will have achieved some sort of god-like status, and I will be ready to take over the universe.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Advantage of having Two Drivers

First of all, this isn't a golf post. It's a follow-up to my latest post about Horyon getting her driver's license (congratulations again, honey!).

Thursday I rode my bike downtown to get my free 30-day tune-up. It's been a good deal longer than 30 days since I bought the bike, and something like 600 miles of riding, but they don't mind. Good guys over there at Sunflower.

When I brought it in, they said it would be finished by the next morning. I wasn't sure how to get home without the bike I rode in on, until I remembered:

My wife is awesome

because she has a driver's license and wants to get as much practice as she can. I wanted to give as much time for Maxine to continue her nap as possible, so I called home around four o'clock, and Horyon agreed to meet me at South Park.

(Lawrence geography note: just South of downtown Lawrence there is a park called South Park. It has been there and had that name since long before the t.v. program called "South Park" or the network on which it is aired existed. Still, it makes me hum the theme song from "South Park" and giggle a bit every time I go near it.)

She came and got me, and we had planned to eat at the Korean restaurant downtown. Unfortunately, when I got there I found that all the signs were gone, and inside the fixtures were being torn out. No more Korean restaurant in Lawrence.

So we went to dinner at Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse. Big pile of meat with curly fries piled on top of that, pickles, a fritter, and sides of baked beans and cottage cheese. I'm not sure why I like the cottage cheese as a side. It seems kind of wimpy next to the other food on the plate. On the other hand, it's kind of a good palate cleanser.

When we got home there was a message from Sunflower telling me that my bike was finished. I should have gone back to check after dinner. Or I could have given them my cell phone number. Or they could have told me it would only be a couple of hours. Oh well. Horyon dropped me off the next day and I rode home in time to go to work.

In other news, Horyon's parents arrive at KCI Sunday afternoon. Tomorrow. They will stay with us for a month. Maxine will have a great time, I'm sure. The rest of us may feel a little crowded. However, it will be good for us to be together as a family. I just wish we had a slightly bigger house to be together in.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A Few Changes

Here's the short version:

I got a job and Horyon got her KS driver's license.

Getting the D.L. was a long process, involving driving back and forth to the D.M.V. many times. The first time, they told Horyon they needed her passport, for whatever reason. This was a bit of a surprise, as Horyon has an immigrant I.D. card that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie, with a little holographic picture of her head and a shiny strip on the back that probably has some encoding of her DNA to verify who she is. But we figured, hey, these guys call the shots, so we loaded back into the car and drove home to get her passport.

When we got back, there was still no line, as it was only 8:30 a.m. Yeah, we hustled ourselves out of bed bright and early, originally got there at 7:45. Thought we were cool. How little we knew.

So as Horyon is giving her info to the person behind the desk, she is asked for her Social Security Number. She has one, but not memorized. I knew that if I could access my email I would be able to find it, but we couldn't. Not there. So I packed up Maxine and left the cell phone with Horyon. Maxine and I went home, with her crying most of the way about how much it sucks to drive back and forth to the DMV so early in the morning (hoo-ray and up she rises!), and I spent most of the time trying to reassure her that it didn't really suck that much. Good chance to listen to some tunes on the car CD player, really.

So we got home and called Horyon to tell her that next time she should memorize her SSN, and to remind her of what it was. She told me that she would call back when she needed the car (for her driving test).

Less than 15 minutes later, I got the call. I piled Maxine in the car again (only calming her by promising that we were going to see Mommy), and we drove for the last 15 minutes stretch. When we got there, Horyon got into our car, and the driving test guy checked to make sure all of her signals were working. He then got in the passenger seat, and Maxine started to go nuts again. I calmed her down, and Horyon drove around for 15 minutes.

When she came back, they took her photo and gave her a piece of paper that functions as her license until the real one arrives in the mail. They don't give them to you at the DMV anymore, as the new ones are all Homeland Securitied Up, to keep terrorists from driving.

Horyon then drove us as a family to IHOP. Yes, that's right. The International House Of Pancakes. We had a lovely breakfast, and Maxine just put it away. I love a good American breakfast, especially when I don't have to cook it or clean up. The only thing that would make it better was if I didn't have to pay for it.

Mmmmmm... pancakes, biscuits and gravy, sausage, fried eggs (sunny-side-up, thank you) and hash browns. All for a very reasonable price. Good stuff.

And so now Horyon can drive around by herself. I think she'll drive us to church tomorrow.

For me, today marks the end of my first week working at Wal-Mart.

I have to admit, it feels a bit like I've gone back to a Hogwan job. My Korean references have not proven to be helpful in getting a job here. Fortunately, Wal-Mart was more trusting in my resume. I am working in the jewelry department, selling items of gold and silver, as well as the occasional diamond.

And I get to pierce ears. Two days ago I did my Computer Based Learning (CBL) unit on ear piercing, and passed with flying colors. So when a lady showed up with her four-year-old daughter and asked me if it hurt to get one's ears pierced, I answered, in my most confident voice, "We poke a hole in your head. Yes, it hurts. But it's a relatively unimportant part of your head with very few nerves, so it doesn't hurt much or for long."

OK, those weren't my exact words. My exact words were much more customer-friendly.

So one of my coworkers did the right ear, and I did the left. The mother held on to her little girl, the one voice of reassurance in this confusing situation that would soon end in pain. And let me tell you, as a fan of irony, I kind of enjoyed that aspect of it.

But actually poking a hole in a little girl's ear was not enjoyable. I did it, and I could do it again, but it wasn't much fun. Oh well, as my Dad always says, "If it was fun, they wouldn't call it work."

Fortunately, that kind of thing doesn't come up much. Mostly I change watch batteries and take links out of watch bands. I've only been doing it for a few days, but I'm getting to be pretty good at it. I'm already working on the flexible bands that most of my coworkers won't touch.

Another facet of my jewelry position (sorry, couldn't resist) is stocking shelves and making sure that everything is in its place (what they call 'zoning'). Zoning isn't too bad on most items, but comparing the UPC numbers is a bit tiring on the eyes.

I'm working 4 days a week at Wal-Mart. Enough to bring in some money to buy stuff. I picked up my first paycheck today. It was for one nine-hour day. After taxes, it came up to $52. My usual days are going to be 6.5 hours.

Last news: Horyon's parents are in America, even as I write this. Well, they may be in Canada. They're taking a tour through New York and Niagara Falls, then visiting Chaeryon for a few days. Then they're coming to stay with us. For a month. I am sure that they are looking forward to seeing Maxine in person. They've been chatting via internet videophone, but it's just not the same.

While they are here we will have the ultimate in child-care for Maxine. I think the hardest part will be when they leave. Impossible to explain to her.

My class is going well, I suppose. First test is in a couple of weeks, so I suppose I will know better after that. The material for Math 290 is just easier than that of 526, the class I took this summer. This class is all about Matricies. Undoubtedly you have already thought of some clever Matrix-the-movie one liner to insert here, so I will not do so myself, but rather allow you to chuckle quietly to yourself over your own clever witticism. Well done.

That's it for now. Sorry again about the infrequent updates. Once we get settled into this new job and class, I'm sure I'll do better.



A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.