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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

One last stroll through Suyu



Tomorrow is my last day before leaving the apartment EARLY (5:30 am) Thursday to head to the airport. That's earlier than I need to leave but figuring in traffic, delays, weather... just the unknown.

Tomorrow is also my last day of work. 3 cooking classes + one graduation = the end of Erin's teaching career. Wow. Nothing like rushing things together at the end. Graduation is a good note to go out on, though. The day will be filled by last-minute packing and cleaning, dinner with friends for a final bibimbap, and generally trying to be organized so things go smoothly Thursday.

It's getting dark earlier here, making it truly feel like autumn despite still-hot temperatures during the day. By 7, almost all traces of light have disappeared from the sky. After one last massive plate of chamchi deopbap, I took a long walk around the neighborhood. It's strange how you suddenly see familiar surroundings with fresh eyes when you know it's the last time you'll experience them.

Chamchi deopbap: tuna mixed with kimchi, served over steamed rice and topped by an egg. Total cost: 4,000 won.

One of my favorite neighborhood haunts is the bustling market. A flashback to what Seoul must have looked like a decade or two ago, the road was just paved this month in one alley; the other has a mix of gravel and broken-up concrete. Besides the huge number of fruits and vegetable available -- every vendor sells the exact same variety so it's amazing they all stay in business -- you can buy clothes, shoes, meat, fish (live eels, squid and crabs), ddeok (rice cakes)...

You name it, you can buy it. There are several junk shops, for lack of a better name, that sell everything under the sun. Think of it as a dollar store where you can negotiate.

As a regular visitor -- I buy produce at least 3 times a week -- I've grown loyal to certain vendors. My tomato man parks his truck on the corner next to the post office and remembers me when I come by for my weekly basket of tomatoes. He always makes jokes in Korean and laughs at himself.

Apples come from an ajumma who usually throws one extra in "service" and then thanks me in English.

And there's one stall I walk by almost daily as I go to-and-from "downtown" Suyu -- where the subway station is -- and my apartment. The prices are higher and produce looks less fresh than other stalls so I rarely buy anything but the owner recognizes me every day and we always exchange a smile and "annyeong haseyo."

It's this congenial atmosphere that I'll miss going back to shopping at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. What they have in variety and options can't replace this basic human interaction.