Found the alley of restaurants again. It took forever, as the market is huge and this is really just an alley. We kept passing larger restaurants that were in the arcade, but they lacked the coziness and cultural interest of the alley. We even passed a couple of restaurants specializing in dog. I was asked if I wanted to try it, and I declined. My exchange partner told me that you sometimes it can give you bad indigestion. Which is interesting, because Mi-Young said it was very healthy, and books have indicated that Koreans feel it adds to male virility.
We also passed a lot of seafood restaurants, and I should have stopped there. Remember those tube things I filmed? And then there were those short white lumpy tube things with an orafice on each end. I asked what they were, and he looked them up and we determined they were sea cucumbers – oh – wait – no – those are the bumpy ones. “But what are THOSE?” I asked, pointing to the smooth white ones. He laughed and said, “naked sea cucumbers. They’re very good! Do you want to try some?” I declined. Maybe when my kids come visit, Sara’s adventurous spirit will sweep me along and we’ll eat our way across Korea. But for now, I think I am happy to be grossed out and avoid some things…
Anyway, back to the restaurant alley. These are the tiniest little restaurants, each one about 8 ft. wide and 10 ft. tall – only they have lofts which are at about the 6 ft. mark, so the seating can be maxed out.
I asked my language exchange partner to pick the best one of the restaurants, and he asked me if I liked beef insides and I told him no. So he kind of laughed, because THE ENTIRE ALLEY of restaurants all only served intestines. Desperately hungry by now, I told him okay, okay, I’ll try it. At least the wok full of vegetables to be stir-fried with the intestines looked yummy.
It came. The Sundae was cut up in rounds, and I ate only a couple, because they are so rich tasting. And then I tried a piece of NaeJang, and the exchange guy asked me what I thought (he’d already told me he doesn’t like it) and I told him it was like chewing on rubber shoes…
But the rest of the dish was very yummy, so we both ate picking out the NaeJang.
A wallet dropped out of the sky, and I pointed it out to the exchange guy, who had to yell, “Yo gi oh” to the people above us. Then an arm shot down and he put the wallet in the girl’s hands. Smoke drifted past us occasionally as well.
The exchange guy tells me the people above are swearing very loudly. And that it is very unusual because children don’t often smoke in front of their parents, or swear in front of them either. The parents must be those people eating next to us.
So it seems that the market has become the center of coarse, low-class people. Even though the majority here are adjumma and adjoshi, these are the working class poor. And so it makes sense that most of the dishes we encounter are made of by-products. As is the case everywhere in the world, like Peruvian beef hearts, etc., etc. The rich can feast on imported fruits, eat sashimi and dress in the finest western goods; but the poor must live as they always have. What will they do when this is gone?
We also passed another congested area of small shops where adjummas were seated playing cards. “Gambling,” my exchange partner told me. He told me the adjummas play for very little money but play all day, because they have nothing to do. He said this area was very safe by day, but not to be trusted at night. We also passed many tiny shops with adjumma seamstresses. “Very rare,” he said. These little shops no longer exist anywhere, and the only places you can get basic service done to your clothing is at the cleaners.
Over and over again, my exchange partner would laugh and comment how he hadn’t seen any of this stuff since he was a kid. He also said that he knew what much of it was, but didn’t expect me to ask so many detailed questions, and that he was unable to explain in English what most of the things were.
He had a much better attitude than the last exchange partner about meeting at the market, but I think that he, too, could not really recognize or appreciate that this was the repository of living Korean culture. Nor was he sad that it would soon be gone. Neither did he just OFFER any information, and I had to pull it out of him with a million questions.
One time I asked him about the rubber shoes, and if I could get some. He told me those were everywhere in the 60’s and 70’s. And afterward, he would point to some shop and tell me – you should go there since you like stuff from the 70’s…
Damn it all to hell. I had some rubber shoes when I was a child. What happened to them? I am going to look them up so you can see what they look like.