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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Simple Living


“This month Georgia Power is too much!” Baw Baw says showing me the paper statement that just came in the mail. I look at the bill and am surprised to see double what they usually pay for one month. “Weh… too much!” I agree, “We did not turn on the heat or air.” There appears to be a remaining balance from the previous month.
“Did you pay last month?”
“Yes!”
“It says you didn’t pay last month.”
Baw Baw rummages through the file box I gave her and produces a money order receipt for the exact amount. I brace myself for another phone adventure of talking to robots, holding to fuzzy elevator music, and arguing with inept employees.

“Press two for billing…bawp…Press 1 for your current account balance, Press 2 to make a payment…Press 9 to speak with a representative…bawp. Doo boo dee bop shoo boo doo dee bop bop. Dee doo wop shop mop wee woo wop…”
“Hello, can I have your name please?”
“Yes, Zachary Cooke, but I am calling on behalf of your customer Hei Nay Htoo.”
“Can I speak with him?”
“He is not here, but his wife, Baw Baw, is here. She cannot speak very much English though.”
“I am sorry, but her name and your name are not on the account so I cannot discuss anything with you. You will have to call back later when he is available.”
“Really, his wife can’t speak with you?”
“No, he is the only name on the account.”
“He can’t speak English. Do you use language line?”
“Yes.”
“Ok. Thank you.” Click.

“GRAAAAAH! They can only talk with Wonderful Pa.”
Mayahh?—Really?”

(Two days later)

“Press two for billing…bawp…Press 1 for your current account balance, Press 2 to make a payment…Press 9 to speak with a representative…bawp. Doo boo dee bop shoo boo doo dee bop bop. Dee doo wop shop mop wee woo wop…”
“Hello, how can I help you?”
“I am calling regarding my friend Hei Nay Htoo’s account, but I believe you have his name as HEL Nay Htoo.”
“Is he present, sir?”
“Yes, but he does not speak much English.”
“Ok. What language does he speak?”
“Karen. K-A-R-E-N. Not Korean.”
“Hold on just a minute while I get an interpreter on the line. Doo boo dee bop shoo boo doo dee bop bop. Dee doo wop shop mop wee woo wop… Ok, sir. I have the translator.”
I pass the phone to Hei Nay Htoo and he says hello. The faint murmur of the interpreter’s voice travels across the room. A perplexed look slowly encroaches upon Hei Nay Htoo’s face. The wrinkles intensify across his forehead as he shakes his head and passes me the phone.
Na may pwa ga nyawahh—Are you Karen?”
“Sorry sir, this is Korean,” the woman’s voice says, “I’ll get a Karen interpreter on the line. Please hold.”
The interpreter evidently encountered this situation often enough that she could understand this Karen phrase. A Karen interpreter finally gets on the line and the Georgia Power agent confirms Hei Nay Htoo’s identity and gets permission for me to speak regarding the account. I explain that they paid last month, but were charged again this month.
“The payment was never received. It must have been lost in the mail. They have to send their payment before November 17th or their power will be cut off.”

I turn to Hei Nay Htoo and Baw Baw who are looking at me intently.
“They never got it,” I say sullenly, “The mail man must have lost it. You have to pay again before November 17, or no more electricity.”
Mayahh—really?” they say in unison. They discuss this in Karen for a while before Baw Baw to ask, “In Comer the same Georgia Power as here?”
“Yes. I think it is the same.” They discuss again.
Hei Nay Htoo slows his speech to ask, “Du pa leh luh Comer, pa duh a thaw a meh oo ta oh bah thayahh—When we go to Comer, can we not have electricity in our new house?”
A smile creeps across my face as I imagine them living in a carpeted and enclosed Western home as though it were a bamboo hut—the primitive occupation of our overly complicated society, an integral demonstration of simple living, Occupy Wall Street as second nature. Baw Baw says she can cook over a fire outside; they did like that in Thailand “No problem. We don’t need,” she says, looking somewhat defeated.
“I guess you could not have power out there. You really don’t want electricity anymore? Na meh oo may ta oh bah na tha ku nay meh oo ohahh—Are you happier without electricity than with it?”
They seem perplexed by this question, which was perhaps expressed with strange syntax. Hei Nay Htoo is looking very serious and says, “I don’t know.”
“Do you still want a car?”
Ya da tha law gah luh bah. Ya ga pghay ga boh yoo—I don’t want a car anymore, I will buy a plane!”
Na ga leh peh leh—Where will you go?”
Ya ga gay luh ya gaw—I will go back to my country.”
Ya gay tha goh na thayahh—Can I go with you?”
Uhh. Na ga noh gab oh yoo—Yes, you will drive the plane!”
Pa ga thee—We will die!”

A couple days later I see Pa Saw Paw, a good friend of myself and Hei Nay Htoo and Baw Baw.

“Wonderful Pa told me he hasn’t slept in two days because you told him they can’t have electricity anymore after November 17th.”
I break into laughter, unable to believe what I am hearing.
“I told them if they don’t pay the bill again before then, it will be cut off. I thought they didn’t want electricity in Comer?!”
“Haha. I told them that it is no problem; they can still have power. But Wonderful Pa was very worried.”

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