A dance across time and space between the ancient and the modern in bustling South Korea ... the wandering erratic footsteps of social and cultural explorations ... a never ending journey of living in the present, becoming more and more aware of cultural thoughts shaping that present, and trying to reconstruct a quickly vanishing cultural past out of that present.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Chestnut and Popped Grain Sellers
An elderly couple sells chestnuts and popped grains every Friday near my former apartment. At first I didn't buy from them that much but because they were so friendly I would frequently make a point of buying a 근-measurement of skinned chestnuts for adding to my steamed rice. Oh yum! Not only were the chestnuts cheaper by buying them on the street, but they were always freshly skinned in the old-fashioned machine right there in front of me. Another major reason to buy from them is I am supporting the local economy and people who make their job in service positions, in my opinion, a value group of people who serve the community but who are often mistakenly overlooked in it because of their occupation, often a result of inadequate educational opportunities. I really like supporting small business owners, especially mom and pop restaurant owners that operaed in hole-in-the-wall restaurants or these kind of vegetable stall sellers.
Of course while waiting for the few minutes for the chestnuts to be skinned in the machine and then touched up a bit by the wife, taking samples of puffed wheat rounds that they are likewise selling is perfectly acceptable. In fact, many passing people reach in the basket of freshly puffed wheat rounds as they're walking along on their way to or from home via the back entrance of the apartment complex. They dip their hand in and take a round and keep going, many without even acknowledging the sellers. It's not considered rude, but of course not everyone does it or the sellers wouldn't make a profit. No one takes advantage of the system ... courtesy offered, courtesy returned ... frequently that retuned courtesy is by making purchases at a later date. There is no score keeping.
The couple and I chatter a bit about everything - the weather, the US, food prices, maybe some hot issues in the news, whatever - and they are delighted that I speak some Korean. And because I'm kind of a regular, regular customers get "service" or a little extra bonus. The first couple of times the ajussi used to offer me a few hot wheat rounds while I was waiting, but I declined and explained that I have a wheat allergy. He quickly retracted the rounds and said that that was awful. This reaction has surprised me in the last couple of years. Back in the early 1990s when I first came to Korea, no one had allergies, and restaurant owners didn't make foods with or without special ingredients. In restaurants at that time, if you didn't like their ingredients, fine, no one was forcing you to eat and the attitude was very surly and condemning for wanting to be different than others. Now, suddenly many Koreans have allergies; allergies are talked about a lot, and so now people are understanding of this kind of health problem. And this ajussi was no exception. He commiserated with me, and then ordered his wife to give me a few more chestnuts. And now, my "service" for being a regular customer is an extra handful of chestnuts, and always a happy greeting!