Monday, July 4, 2011

On Any Given Day

You wake up because two walls of your bedroom are floor to ceiling windows. Though there are drapes covering them, they don't block out all the light. So 5:00 am, hello. The bed has no box springs; the mattress is mattress and box spring all rolled up in one. The bed is only covered with a duvet-on-comforter. No sheet, no light blanket, just a big honking comforter. The air conditioning unit is above your head and blows cold air down on you, off and on through the wee hours. Too cold without the comforter, too hot with it.

You get up for some quiet time sans children, and eat breakfast in the little kitchen. You've purchased five separate boxes of cold cereal in the hopes of finding something without sugar. No luck. Even the Special K seems sugar-coated. There is muesli, but at about $9 a bag, you'll make do with the sugary stuff. At least for now. There are several different colors of milk cartons at the grocery store; you've yet to figure out which one is skim. The last time you got pink, and just now, you realize you might have purchased strawberry-flavored milk. Hm. Maybe you'll have bread for breakfast today.

The bread you can buy is mostly either artisanal-type bread for about $4 for a very small loaf, or a spongy white bread. You rejoiced the day you found a wheat-ish type sandwich bread with sunflower seeds in it. There's no toaster in your kitchen, not even an oven, so you eat the bread untoasted, with either strawberry jam or European butter.

Time to shower. The shower is not really separated from the the rest of the bathroom. There's a shower curtain that doesn't reach the floor, but keeps much of the water contained. Koreans simply have a pair of rubber sandals they keep at the entrance to the bathroom for people to wear as they walk in to keep their feet from getting wet.

The shower is lovely, though it's tight quarters in there. You dry yourself off with the serviceable towels. Not much more can be said of them. Since the floor is all wet, you sneak into the closet next door to get dressed. The closet has a big mirror, a light, two bars for hanging clothes, two drawers, and two shelves. But only three hangers.

The gingerbread boys are up now and playing. It's time to get them moving. You pack up a snack: two containers of something crunchy and a few water bottles, the subway map, and bag of stuff: camera, Korean book, tissues, mints. You make sure you have the room key and the transit cards. One of them runs ahead to push the elevator button. There are two elevators, and a person could grow old waiting for one of them to come--or else melt, since the hallway is not air-conditioned. You ride downstairs in a packed elevator car, full of Korean women with blue-polished toenails peeking out of gladiator sandals, and Korean men checking their hair in the mirror.

Downstairs, you walk past the guard desk, and out the door. The gingerbread boys opt to go through the rotating door. To the right of the hotel is the Lotteria, Korea's answer to fast food. A speaker sits above the door and blares pop music. A bus stop is in front of you, and people wait as bus after bus arrives and then departs in a cloud of exhaust.  Next to that is a fruit vendor, with neat pyramids of round plums and tomatoes. Bananas sit at the edge, striped, next to the small yellow melons.

You cross a street, and enter into the zone of street vendors. To the right is someone selling socks--piles upon piles of socks. To the left are racks of men's shirts and pants. Beyond that underwear--mens and then ladies--then tables and round racks of women's clothing, and racks of shoes. It's like K-Mart on the street, but with salespeople hawking their wares with microphone and speaker. No blue-light specials here.

Across from the clothing vendors are the food vendors, with trays of California rolls, and plates of batter-fried octopus, shrimp, sweet potato, crab, and hard-boiled eggs. Some sell boiled corn on the cob. Down the street is the roasted chestnut guy.


Finally, you reach the corner, and with that the subway station: the entrance to a sort of underground purgatory with crowds of people and heat and noise, and the beginning of an adventure.

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