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Monday, July 18, 2011
WE DIDN'T MISS THE OX
During the night of April 4, 1969, Penny died. She never did go with me to Taejon.
Some months later, some buddies and I went to Taejon again. South Korea had yet to build a paved highway, and the only vehicles on this pot-holed, dirt road were taxis, buses, and occasional cars driven by people wealthy enough to afford them. We passed a bus that had left the road and lay on its side in a field. Pedestrians everywhere had the right-of-way, and the taxi drivers would constantly honk their horns trying to clear the way.
In the city, after having survived the ride, we walked about, seeing things for sale we had never seen before. There were booths selling dried squid, hanging from racks and bothered by flies. I bought some, and ate it, and liked it. I called it “jerky of the sea.” We bought a ginseng root in a jar, without even knowing what a ginseng root is.
Down a back street (all streets seemed like back streets) we came upon a quilt shop. I stepped in and immediately admired a beautiful, thick, Korean quilt hanging on the wall behind the counter. Before it, stood a short, middle-aged man with a happy and hopeful smile on his face. He greeted us, “Annyong hashmnikka.”
I couldn’t take my eyes off the quilt. It was brighter than anything around--orange, with a mushroom design on it. “How much?” I asked, pointing. He turned and looked, then said with pride the amount, which I forget, but for me it was affordable. “I’ll buy it,” I said.
He looked incredulous, then thrilled, and called employees, or other family members, to help him take it down. They were busy talking in Korean as he wrapped it up for me to carry. Then, to our surprise, he closed up his shop, and with a group of his friends around us, they directed us to climb into an ox cart out front. We did, and since there was no ox, several men pulled the cart a block down the street, beaming and practically cheering with words we couldn’t understand.
Apparently this quilt had been the shop’s pride and joy, the most expensive thing in their stock, and I had popped in and purchased it. It was a cause for celebration!
Sometimes you don’t know when you’re going to make someone’s day, but you know and remember when someone makes yours.
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