Saturday, January 21, 2006
Once a day, sometimes more often, we enter the familiar aisles of the Lotte Mart grocery/department store across the street. Our faces, I feel, have become customary fixures of the place, although we still have no idea how to ask where the garbage bags are. I customarily spend a few minutes each trip browsing the crowded aisles of the supermarket in search of the elusive bags, knowing all the while it was a futile endeavor to begin with. The garbage bags here are neatly divided according to what city you live in. If you are a resident of Anyang, you are required to place your refuse in the bags with the Anyang City symbol. We live in Uiwang, and I have yet to discover the location of the garbage bags for my particular district (Ah, well - early in the mornings, I surreptitiously deposit our garbage in the large pile across from our apartment building in -gasp - ordinary plastic bags from Lotte Mart!).
Lotte Mart is an adventure. Some evenings and weekends, the place is so full, it is absolutely useless to even attempt pushing a shopping cart through the aisles. And the shoppers are ruthless when it comes to getting where they want to go - they push through you as if you were invisible, often even pushing the cart along sideways in order to maximize their space (quite an experience for a citizen of a country who is accustomed to apologizing when someone steps on their toes). I've noticed that the steering of the shopping carts in some ways resembles their road rules (more on that in an upcoming entry).
The free samples are one of the best parts of the adventure. Dozens upon dozens of makeshift tables offer samples of everything from fresh-pressed tofu to instant coffee, from marinated beef to seaweed laver, fried spam, kimchi, Korean mushroom pancakes, and a table that I've learned to avoid - the one that houses the unidentifiable bowls of suspicious, slippery, spicy-looking substances which I discovered (one day when I was feeling particularly adventurous) contain types of raw sea urchins and raw shellfish - my stomach has yet to build up a tolerance to this food, and I don't think it's ever likely to happen. As you pass by the tables in the back, the men holler at you, hawking their wares. My favorite is the fish man, who sounds like a Korean version of Tom Waits. Lotte Mart is a very modern supermarket, but it's really neat to see how these remnants of a traditional market are still very much alive and strong.
Joe loves the Lotte Mart, and asks to go there every day ("Mah-ta, please" - "mah-ta" is the Korean pronunciation for "mart"). There is a kids' playroom where we take him a few times a week to play with other kids. Although they usually seem frightened of the foreign baby, he still manages to make a few friends each visit.