Rainy Day Blues

Well, sunny California has turned into a rain drenched San Francisco morning commute. I went to bed about 01:45 and I happened to notice as I looked for the stars, wondering if the same constellations were shining down on my far flung loved ones, I realized that there weren't any stars. I do enjoy the rain. It is another manifestation of the Lord's power over us lowly humans.

It engenders a certain sense of melancholy that is somewhat comforting in a strange sort of way. Whenever it rains I think of the monsoon season in Korea. I could walk the streets and alleys, the hood of my anorak covering my head and providing me with a measure of anonymity. My stature being the only thing giving me away as a foreigner. How I love being in that place.


I might find a suitable establishment in an alley a few blocks from the fish market in downtown Inchon. Stepping from the street through a bead hung threshold into the comfort of a tea or mokoli house. The humidity is still palpable, but at least I am out of the rain. "Anyung haseyo" I bow to the proprietor. Hello. "Neh" comes the nodding welcome as she rises from her private corner of the homey establishment and offers me a seat.

The round, tin table reminds me of a cable spool placed on end. At the center is a propane burner covered by an inverted wok like bowl. It will be used when customers request meals. They can eat their stews of vegetables and meat or fish while it simmers at the table.

I draw back a chair as I drop my satchel to the concrete floor near my table. "You like something?" she asks through the fingers of her right hand as she swallows the last of the tangerine she was eating.

I order a beer "OB mek-ju, hanna ju sayo." as I'm pulling my anorak over my head. Her reply of "neh" assures me that it is on the way. When she goes behind the counter I reach through the beads and shake the rain from my gortex raincoat and return to my seat at the table. I rummage through my carry-all and find the novel that I started reading on the plane.

She returns with my OB (Oriental Breweries, a Korean lager) on a tray with a bowl of freshly shelled peanuts and a small plastic plate of dried fish. She places them on the table along with a short glass sporting the Crown mek-ju (beer) logo. She takes the bottle of beer in her right hand and pours the amber liquid in to the glass while drawing back a nonexistent right blouse sleeve with the fingers of her left hand.

I thank her by saying "Gom sa habnida, adjuma." "Al-myo?" how much I ask. She says "One tousan won, ju sayo, Ajoushi" with those motherly, smiling eyes. 1000 won, if you please, sir. I give her a pink, blue and green 1000 won note depicting the man who established Korea's numerical system some 2000 years ago. She accepts it in the same polite way as she had poured the beer.

As I begin to read my novel, munching on the snacks and enjoying my beer, I am distracted by the sound coming from a small black and white TV set in an alcove near Adjuma's nest. The latest installment in a Korean daytime drama is being performed by the players whose acting skill is about on par with those in the soaps back in the States. They are speaking too fast for me to understand all that they are saying but with the few words I can pick up and a reading of their gestures I have an idea of the story they are telling.

The beautiful daughter of the chief of surgery at a metropolitan hospital (sound familiar) is telling her father that she is in love with a dashing, aspiring race car driver, or dashing window washer, I'm not sure which. The father has other ideas in terms of a mate for his daughter. He has made a preliminary agreement with the father of a promising young podiatrist for his daughter's hand.

She pleads with him to join her in the 21st century and consider her happiness in this decision. He has made up his mind and his word is law. The girl runs from his office clutching her chest, sobbing uncontrollably.

Cut to commercial. It is an advertisement for a melon flavored soft drink. The music and dialogue have that tinny, shouting, reverb generated echo heard in ads through out eastern Asia. The young male pop star and Korea's answer to Britany Spears smile into the camera, cheek to cheek, then hoist a can of the stuff and yell "Enjoy!"

I finish my beer and I order another. I look around the room. The white stucco walls are decorated with posters of Cheju Island, Korean Airlines and a faded one that shows a pretty Korean girl, holding a Budweiser, welcoming visitors to the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. There is a calendar near the cash register, courtesy of a neighborhood beauty salon and a brightly colored ceramic and woven silk wall hanging in the shape of a bulging purse.

Also, there is a traditional picture of a newly wed couple. It shows a girl who is taller than the boy. In ancient times a male was first married to an older woman, so that she could care for him, and he would take a younger second wife when he had matured.

The phone rings and Adjuma answers "Yobo-seyo". She responds to questions several times with "neh". "Gom sahab nida", the call is ended and the orange receiver is replaced in the telephone's cradle. She goes into the kitchen in the back.

I replace the marker in my book and lay it on the table. The rain outside has begun to weaken. The small street, I can see through the door, comes alive with people taking advantage of the respite. A cart is pushed from an alley by a friend of Adjuma's. Soon she is selling boiled squid tentacles and pot sticker-like Yaki-mando.

A few moments later a young lady enters from the street, lowering the newspaper she had been using as an umbrella. She is nicely dressed in a yellow blouse, a decorated light green sweater draped around her shoulders and a navy blue knee length skirt, but the slip-on rubber sandals seem out of place. She has just stepped into them for her dash to Adjuma's place from her husband's tailor shop a few doors up the street. My guess is that she had been the person who had called when the phone rang, ordering the lunch that she was here to pick up.

The young lady seems to be surprised that Adjuma has a "mee-gook" (American) customer. She nods a greeting in my direction which I return. She blushes with embarrassment when our eyes meet and she quickly engages Adjuma in conversation.

Clutching the handle of the gold colored, aluminum cooking pot in which Adjuma had prepared their meal of "tan-jung chi-gay", a spicy cabbage, bean curd and fish soup, the customer rushes out the door and back up the street, holding her newspaper umbrella aloft.

Moments later there is a concussion of thunder and the monsoon is once again lashing the pavement in the little street. I guess I'll be spending the afternoon reading my novel, or not, making a contribution to the success of Oriental Breweries and thinking how lucky I am to be in this charming place, the land of the morning calm.

Copyright 1997 Robert E. Weimer

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