Anyone planning to buy a second hand car in South Korea,
or even to export one, should look at this site to get a price range :
A car is not just a noun. A car is definitely a family member, so meet Ticolette. Our acquaintance has been brief, and I hope it doesn't end in tragedy. So far we're mostly getting along fine, with a few passing little tiffs, and she did lose her radio voice half an hour out of the car sales yard, but every lady has the odd strange habit.
Ticolette is a whole lot smoother and fancier than Bikolette, whom I mounted bravely for 120km a week, summer scorch to finger-freezing winter, for a year. Bikolette is not quite retired since she keeps me from becoming entirely decrepit. But we're having a trial separation. The Grand Vizor of Employment's Evil Empire gave me a scary schedule for witching hours : a 10pm finish three nights a week, and 11pm for two other nights. My thighs quivered, my toes turned blue in anticipation, and my inner voice of creature comforts rebelled. There had to be a cosier partner than Bikolette for such bleak times.
Truth to tell, Ticolette comes from a poor family, and is reaching the limits of marriageable age. The alpha males wouldn't give her a stray glance. Sheik auto femmes sniff disdainfully, and burn her off at the lights. Well, Ticolette may be cheap, but she is honest. Heck, an old hack teacher can't be choosy anyway. He's lucky to get the edge on a cute little set of wheels over fifty years his junior. She comes in virgin white with modest grey trim, and at the speeds an ageing Romeo can handle, she does just fine.
The search for an ideal partner was not encouraging. On the ragged outer edge of our Korean metropolis we found a couple of large parking lots, hemmed by chain wire fencing, with rows of spurned autos simmering on the summer asphalt. I would have passed them by, but my Korean friend said this was the place to be. I thought back to the gaudy banners along Paramatta Road in Sydney town, the rainbow coloured posters in car windows that screamed and whistled their super-sexy, bargain basement offers of an ideal dream, or at least the promise of a good time. Fast talking gents in sharp suits would whip up a bonnet or inveigle you behind the wheel of any tizzy tin can on wheels you gave half a glance to. Their weekly bonuses depended upon your moment of weakness, so they left little to chance. The goods were steam cleaned, painted, tweaked and tarted, even if it took a bunch of bananas to shut the whine down in a differential.
A sallow chap with crooked teeth slanted up to us as we made obvious moves in the vicinity of several Ticos. Clearly we weren't the last of the big spenders. We got a hood up, and after some delay the sallow chap's sidekick fronted with a portable battery jump starter. Something turned over and began to grind away with a distinctly agricultural clatter. This wasn't promising. The other babes on the catwalk showed signs of being unloved too. A couple were prematurely balding, one had her engine coated in a dubious mixture of oil and thick mud, while another anaemic waif had been starved of all essential ingredients - there wasn't a skerrick of oil or water in her intimate places. The handler read our dubious glances and collapsed into body language which said "well, rack off then.." . We did.
The last yard on the drag strip had its collection of Ticos too. One minced prettily on the driveway, gleaming with a new white paint job, slightly exotic with her tinted windows. Her hood was warm from recent exertion, and the plumpish young salesman who came to hawk her beauty said she was his very own. We made a ritual circuit of the other sad tarts with their worn rubber boots and flat batteries before deciding that for the going money, our new friend's Tico was probably as good as any hanging in this town. He knocked 100,00 won off the price to snip at indecision, and we addressed the Byzantine question of how to make a foreigner the legal owner of a Korean auto. My good driving record since 1965 would count for nothing here, and basic insurance topped out at half the cost of Ticolette herself.
Our first falling out came early the next morning. Ticolette resolutely refused to wake up. Her automatic choke had acted a little strangely a couple of times on our first outing, but this time there wasn't even a cough. The little battery quickly wound down to a click, so there was no choice but to put it under one arm and go mechanic hunting on shanks pony. Mechanics are a species with whom I've had a long and dubious association. It comes early to an impoverished Aussie kid nursing his first clapped out rust bucket that your average corner mechanic is an overpriced no-hoper getting an education at your expense; (the kid will later learn that your average doctor, lawyer and X-brand consultant are close cousins of the mechanic). This leads to a rapid trial-and-error acquisition of do-it-yourself skills, well catered for by a swarm of parts shops and wrecking yards. Exiled to a minor Korean city without a swear word to curse with, your now aged Aussie kid is cast back into the clutches of the nearest small time mechanic.
He was a stocky fellow with a boyish grin, his underpopulated workshop open to the elements, but he was close by at the back of the apartment block. We may have lacked a common language, but a dead battery is a dead battery. He made a lunge at his small collection of new batteries, and I made violent negative signs. A battery charger ? Total incomprehension. I physically searched the premises, pushing aside cartons, poking at anything with a meter on its face. Not a sign of the needed device. What kind of workshop was this? No matter, we piled into to his old Kia Pride workhorse and roared around to block to forsaken Ticolette. A jumper lead of borrowed electrons surged into Ticolette's heart, but still there wasn't so much as a splutter.
My suspicions centered on the dicky automatic choke, but that wasn't even in any known bilingual dictionary. Mechanic Kim made a straight grab for the fuel pump, ripped it out and after a wiggling the diaphragm a couple of times knowingly declared it defunct. It looked fine to me, but he was already on the handyphone ordering a replacement. Then back in his breezy workshop without another customer in sight we settled down to a waiting game for the magic parts delivery. The supplier was ten minutes away, but you have to do things properly. When the drop off came an hour later, and we gave Ticolette her shiny new pump she showed no more interest than before in coming to life. Gloomily I left her at the mercy of Mechanic Kim, hooked Bikolette out of the bike shed, and cycled off to the halls of learning.
Actually it was all too simple. Embarrassing really. Poor Ticolette had been utterly, absolutely out of petroleum, but hadn't said so. Her fuel meter, it seemed, like her radio, worked on entirely erratic principles, with the habit of showing half full when there wasn't a drop in the tank. Mechanic Kim at least, was very happy. Foolishly I let him add an oil change to the bill, and toting up on his fingers I got to understand that the sting was 100,000 won - precisely the car salesman's discount on Ticolette's first bride price.
A few days later it became necessary to visit a neighbouring city, and make another ritual sacrifice to the tribe of immigration department nabobs. Immigration department nabobs are an international brotherhood, disguised by the hazy cloak of nationality and language, but in every corner of the universe dedicated to the kind of obstruction that only Vogons can do with more misanthropy. After duly being given the wrong visa, then leaving my passport in a shopping locker by mistake, together with becoming lost twice in a thicket of look-alike streets, Ticolette and I made our neighbouring city trip twice in the same day. It took a good nine hours, and must at least have charged what was left of Ticolette's battery.
Home at last with a sigh, I paused to listen for a moment before bringing the little car to a final rest. Oh dear, she didn't sound happy at all : that distinctly abrasive grinding of teeth which hints at trouble to come. Seized with a suspicion, I looked below her midriff, and found a large pool of oil. It must have been the last evidence of Mechanic Kim's oil change because there wasn't a scintilla left in the sump. Could it just be that Mechanic Kim had over-filled the engine and transmission oil, forcing Ticolette to blow some oil seals? Aaagh!
The car had indeed blown an oil gasket, and apparently the seals on a CV joint too, which had to be replaced. My wily Korean friend said "go back to the seller." That sounded like a forlorn tactic, but there was nothing to lose. I returned to the car sales yard, bearing a token gallon can of engine oil to make the point. They have no legal obligations like they do in Australia nowadays. On the other hand, this was Korea where face is everything. I was known as a professor at the local university, and they spoke no English. I left Ticolette there for a day. Apparently the prospective embarrassment was too great. When I returned she seemed to be fixed, and nobody mentioned a bill. Thank you car people for a happy saeng-il. Yes it was my birthday.
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