Saturday, July 14, 2018

I hope this is money well spent

Today, I was on a mission. I went to several of my old haunts in the Chungmuro/Jongno area, looking for a particular type of heavy-duty plastic flatware. First, I went to Jungbu Market, one street over from the yeogwan in which I lived during my first semester as a professor at Dongguk University. I had in mind a particular store, at Jungbu, that used to sell plates, bowls, and utensils of all types. It was a sort of kitchen-supply store, and as I recall, it had everything. So today, when I lumbered into the market, I was surprised to see that the entire store had been ripped out of the ground: it was now walled off, and when I peeked between the cracks of the metal paneling surrounding the area, I saw that the former store was now nothing but a construction site, waiting to become something else.

This was further evidence of a general feeling I've had for years, to wit, that the universe is doing its utmost to thwart me, no matter what it is I want to do. If I want to turn a corner, someone else going in the opposite direction will turn the same corner and crash into me or force me to yield (this is Korea, so I'm always the one yielding because people are assholes). If it's after midnight, and I want to cross an otherwise-empty street, a car will suddenly appear and force me to pause before crossing. If I want to buy Bundaberg ginger beer from the local grocer, the grocer will stop stocking it (there are about ten products for which this is true).

Anyway, it figured that the store was now gone. So I trudged a few blocks over to Gwangjang Market, where I knew there was a similar store. I had gone there months earlier to buy a mortar and pestle, and I knew that this store had piles and piles of flatware of all sorts. (Trivia: "flatware" can refer both to utensils and to plates; bowls and jugs, etc., are normally called "hollowware," but I'm sloppily including bowls under "flatware" here because these are somewhat flat-bottomed bowls with high sides.)

I found the store, and a friendly shopkeeper there helped walk me through some of the products on display. It didn't take long to find exactly what I'd been looking for: heavy-duty plastic plates and bowls such as are used by numerous Korean-style Chinese restaurants and regular old Korean restaurants. The guy even used inches as a unit of measurement to describe the width of the plates he had. Unfortunately, because I needed to buy twenty-five plates and twenty-five bowls, the guy wasn't able to hand them over: he didn't have that much flatware in stock. He did, however, have more in storage elsewhere, so I asked him whether I could order the plates and bowls and pick them up later. He said that would be fine, and that he could have everything by Monday afternoon/evening. I told him I worked late, so he suggested that I pick the items up on Tuesday morning. We settled on 10:30 a.m. as the pickup time. I asked him whether I could pay by card; he looked sheepish and said he preferred cash. The total damage was W150,000 (W3,000 per single item, 25 each of plates and bowls); I had W100,000 in cash on me, so I handed that over and promised the rest on Tuesday. He gave me a receipt with a handwritten record of our transaction; I scribbled my name and phone number for him on another sheet of paper, and that was that.

I walked over to Insa-dong, bought some cute trinkets (more on the reason for this later, maybe), then grabbed a cab home. It was a nasty, sweaty day of walking, and I'm about to go out and walk a few more thousand steps before calling it a day. I'm glad to have found that shop, though; it was a life-saver. On Tuesday morning, I'll trundle out to Gwangjang Market again with my huge Costco bag and the final W50,000 that I owe the shopkeeper, then I'll grab the flatware and cab back to the office, my mission of upgrading all the elements of my in-office meal prep now complete. I'm slowly turning into a catering service.

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