I was walking home from a quick walk around the huge Cheongyangni market in my neighborhood when the skies turned gloomy. It looked it was about to drizzle.
On Sunday mornings, the neighborhood is usually quiet with most of the shops closed, and the customers scarce. A few pedestrians were walking through the sidewalks while a few blue buses were still trying to pick up passengers at the bus stop nearby.
But upon turning to cross a small alley, I was surprised to see a Korean lady of grandma-age sitting on her wide yellow blanket and laying out ladies' handkerchieves to sell. The sight of a singular vendor brave enough to defy the weather and the scarcity of prospective customers surprised me. What an optimistic attitude! I thought.
And as I was walking right next to her display, the red hankies with their flowery designs caught my eye. My mom would love this!
I immediately greeted her and asked how much were her flimsy articles of attractive merchandise. She mentioned an amount and I immediately picked one, then another, and then another.
Although my proficiency of the Korean language is probably the poorest in the whole neighborhood, I understood that, for KRW10,000, she'd surrender to me five of her merchandise.
If you are a tourist traveling around Seoul, you'd probably see a lot of old Korean women working, cooking or selling delicacies and everything else from morning until late evening.
I always thought that, at their age, they should be now enjoying life, instead of still working to make a living.
So, the moment I realized what the scene before me was all about, the thought of buying ladies' handkerchieves from her immediately came to mind.
Here she was, sitting on the cold pavement under gloomy skies, laying out the hankies one by one, presenting them to passers-by that were few and far between, and hoping to get lucky on this day when most people stay home to rest.
For a few weeks since I settled in, I already walked around my new Dongdaemun neighborhood to get to know it well. This lady, trying to make a living on a Sunday morning, was also a neighbor. And buying a few hankies from her would make it worth her while.
Before we parted, she kept on talking in Korean and I was able to catch a few words and something about 'a man'. I thought she said that she was surprised that her early customer was 'a man', someone she probably never expected.
Well, she didn't know I wasn't just a random pedestrian passing by; 'the man' was a neighbor.
(The Korean lady preparing to pack the red hankies I selected for my mom)