Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mr. Fix-it

The light bulb in my hub dynamo lighting system on my Bromptom finally burned-out. I had been doing a fair amount of night riding - not this year, but last, and it was time.

What's frustrating is that my bike shop doesn't actually stock or order replacement bulbs - they only sell entire replacement lighting systems for around 45,000 won. My regular bike shop guys told me though that I could find replacements online for about 300 won per piece. That's about 30 cents. Good.

But I hate ordering stuff online, and I have been relying on the rabbit a lot lately for online ordering and organizing stuff (especially for our upcoming trip), so I wanted to solve this problem on my own. Surely, the Youngsan Electronics Market could help me out. It is after all the biggest electronics market the world has likely ever known.

But no - no such luck. The lighting area folk from the Electronics towers near the I'Park Mall guided me to the old market across the tracks. Now, if ever there were a real world example of the phrase "coming from the wrong side of the tracks", it exists in Youngsan. The old market is a dark, dingy, and thoroughly nasty place - full of shops that sure deal "stuff" on the side, and grim-looking thuggish characters driving slowly through parking lots in shiny black cars. I got in an out as fast as I could, as the people there too told me that I couldn't find such a bulb anywhere but in Jongno 3-ga. It was way too late for that.

So, a few days later, during the beginning of what would end up being Seoul's worst rain flooding in the last century, I made my way rather blindly through the Jongno-3-ga electronics market. I kind of appreciate how Seoul is divided into specific areas for your specific household needs. There is no Home Depot here, from what I can see - but should you every find yourself in need of a 6-volt halogen bulb with a 1 cm base, there is an entire 5 x 5 block network of narrow alleyways to get lost in that is specifically dedicated to one trade. If you want plumbing supplies - got to Jongno 5-ga, mechanics supplies - go to Yeongdeung-po, light bulbs - go to Jongno 3-ga, video game systems - cross the tracks into dark old Youngsan market territory, and for everything else, try your luck at Dongdaemun and you just might be surprised.

Anyway, walk out of Jongno 3-ga and turn right into any number of narrow alleyways toward the Cheonggycheon (downtown stream) and you'll soon find yourself in a different world. It begins as what looks to be a market for Science teachers (flasks and microscopes and the like) and then soon melds into streets with shops specializing in circuit boards, and then finally into rows of shops that deal in store-front and home/apartment lighting. I couldn't possibly give an accurate count of the number of lighting shops in this area - they all looked exactly the same to me, but each shop keeper I encountered kept pointing me further and further toward the Cheonggyecheon, where I finally ended-up at a tiny shop (maybe 3 x 6 meters) that was filled to over-flowing with flashing LED, strobe, and tracking lights and one shop-keeper who clearly had no history of epilepsy in his family.

He was eager to please, and looked at my burnt-out bulb to get an idea of what he was looking for - he found it in a 5.95 volt look-alike (with a slightly bigger glass dome) that he assured me would be just fine. I bought 3 bulbs from the guy, called it a day, and went home to discover that the bulb's dome was in fact too large to fit into my light casing.

Back the next day, this time with light casing in hand, to show the man that it wasn't happening. Both of us slogging through inch-deep water in sandals in his electronics-filled shop of flashy stuff. This is what he did:

1) Took the bulb he had given me from out my hand.
2) Dug around in a series of drawers to find a 5.95 volt cap-less bulb dome.
3) Held my purchased bulb with one hand (roughly over where our feet were).
4) Smashed the bulb with a pair of pliers sending tiny glass shards to the watery floor and over our feet.
5) Using a rusty pair of needle-nosed pliers, pried the bits of remaining glass from the cap like he was giving the world's clumsiest root-canal.
6) Took out a can of soldering glue that was full of shards and remnants of repair jobs past and looked like a can of boogers from a particularly disgusting episode of Ren and Stimpy.
7) Grabbed an already-smoking soldering gun that was adding to the area of a sizable burn mark on his desk and proceeded to clip, strip, burn, and solder-together a brand new light bulb for yours truly.

He tested the bulb on a generator, handed it to me, and declared "Korea, number one!" before charging me 6,000 won for his labour.

How could I not be impressed. It fit, it worked, and it was hard to not be wowed by the man's ability to whip-together a new light bulb with a complete disregard for potential embedded glass shards or the threat of sputtering, sparkling, LED-lit electrocution for us both.

I went home, re-attached the light casing to my bike, and spun the tire to make sure it worked. It did.

I didn't get a chance to take my bike for a night ride for a few days, and when I finally did, I was surprised to see that there was indeed no light coming from my front lamp. I pulled over, and found the result.

Anyway... Korea, number one!

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