The Case of the Exploding Door Knob

When you move to a new country there's a lot of things you expect to not expect. You no longer expect people to understand you. You no longer expect to be able to buy the same things at the grocery store. You don't expect to know your way around. If it's somewhere like Korea, you might not even expect to be able to read street signs or menus. Gradually those things just become part of life and things to which you've adjusted. You speak Konglish and use a lot hand gestures. You incorporate a lot of mushrooms into your diet and occasionally splurge on a $5.00 head of broccoli. You learn where the bus and subway routes go and how to switch between multiple apps for ideal trip planning. You learn a new alphabet and compulsively read everything but still sometimes just point to something on the menu and say "Han Kai Chusaiyo" (one, please) when you're tired.

But then there are things that you don't expect to expect or not expect. Things you don't think about at all. Like exploding door knobs.

This is the story of how I became terrified I'm going to be trapped in our bathroom with the dog standing on the other side whining for eight hours.

"Did you lock the bedroom door?"

"What? No. Why would I do that?"

" I unno, it won't open though."

We were having a dinner party but it was well past dinner time. Some guests were helping clean while others rolled around on the floor with the dog. Let's just say at this point if we lived somewhere where people drove home, everyone would be sleeping over.

I try to jiggle the door handle. It doesn't even move.

"Huh. That's weird. I guess I'll go outside and try to climb in?"

Our bedroom windows lock automatically when they close but luckily this evening it was open. Our screen slides on a track, so all in all it was pretty easy, clambering from our deck through the window.

"Ummmm. It's not locked but it won't open."

Nobody can hear me. I climb back out and go into the living room.

"It's not locked but it won't open. Give me a credit card? Maybe I can McGuyver it open"

I go back through armed with a credit card and a bobbi pin. No luck. Probably because this is the wrong side of the knob to be using the credit card method. I climb back over again to try from the other side.

"Oh shit is the door locked?! Want me to climb through the window? I'm really good at climbing through windows"

"No, it's not locked I just climbed through the window. I don't know what's going one"

"But I'm like really good at climbing through windows. Should I climb through the window?"

"I don't really know what you can do but sure, climb through the window"

At this point everyone at the party has noticed that I'm messing with the door.

"It's not locked but it won't open"

Everyone needs to see for themselves and a parade of drunk people climb in and out our bedroom window.

"What if we just take the knob off?"


We get out screwdrivers and some people climb back through the window and some stay in the living room. My husband begins taking off the handle on the living room side. Pieces start to fall out.

"Weird, this piece is completely shattered"

More pieces fall out. And more. It looks like the entire inner mechanisms of our door knob exploded. It all comes out and everyone marvels at how bizarre it is and then goes back to the party.

A few days later we call our super explaining that our bedroom door knob was broken. We're still used to the New York version of supers so we were shocked when he said he'd be right over. We showed him the pieces of the exploded door knob expecting him to ask if we had been slamming the door or find out what we could've possibly done to break the door knob. In New York it seems like building managers get a perverse enjoyment from convincing tenants that something is all their fault and will not be paid for by the landlord.

"Ah. Yes, that door knob was very old"

Now, I can't say for sure, but I would guess our building was built in the 90s. So maybe that knob was twenty years old, which I guess could be considered old for a door knob, except I've definitely known door knobs older than that and none of them have spontaneously combusted.

Dan and I shrug at each other and the handyman replaces the door knob. They leave.

"So, in Korea door knobs can just explode?"

"I guess so?"

Our building super shows absolutely no reaction when we tell him something isn't working. Sometimes he sighs heavily and I'll hear him call something "cheap" in Korean when speaking to the repairman but to us he is completely impartial. So I honestly have no idea if old door knobs regularly explode in Korea or if our super is just so good at being a super he refuses to acknowledge passing any judgement on whether things breaking is our fault or the fault of cheap materials.

For the next month, every time I went into the bathroom when Dan wasn't home, I brought my cell phone because at any given time I could end up trapped in a room due the explosive nature of Korea's older door knobs. I've stopped now but am I really safe? I don't know. I just don't know.