Monday, June 26, 2017

Dongdaemun is a popular night market here in Seoul. I checked it out a few days ago with some friends who were visiting from New York.

We got to the market past midnight on a weekday, so it was pretty late and not that busy. One of my friends wanted to buy a whole bunch of socks, and we stopped at this vendor who had set up an outdoor shop at a main intersection. Since I was not interested in perusing their massive sock collection, I hovered around the other types of souvenirs and products that were on display near the area where customers pay. I immediately noticed the two women working the stand. They had to be in their 50's, and there was a heaviness to their demeanor. I couldn't tell if it was from them feeling exhausted after a long day of work, or perhaps from other stresses that were troubling them. But there was something about them that I couldn't help but curiously observe. One women was larger with short hair and round wire-framed glasses, we'll call her Lady 1. And the other was slightly more petite with wavy shoulder length hair, we'll call her Lady 2. I stood there practically right in front of them with only some products separating us, but they seemed preoccupied about something serious. And as I was pretending to look at the keychains and other knickknacks before me, Lady 2's cell phone rang. She turned around to face the large makeshift display made of metal-wire that was bountiful with inexpensive socks, and picked up the phone with her back to everyone else. When the phone rang, Lady 1's eyes widened. Lady 2 put the phone to her left ear facing slightly outward so Lady 1 could also listen in on the conversation. Lady 1 in turn put her arms around the shoulders of Lady 2 to get closer to the speaker, with the left side of her head resting on Lady 2's. They both stood there, practically hugging each other for comfort as the phone call started. 

Lady 2 did all the talking. Her voice remained strong as she spoke with pride and a bit of defiance. I have no idea what the person on the other end of the phone was saying. But Lady 2's responses were as followed. "I told you I would get the money, I just need more time." "Don't you think I would have paid you back if I had it?!" "I told you I'm working on it." "I don't have it right now. What else do you want me to say?" The conversation went on and on like this. As Lady 1 listened in, she signaled to Lady 2 that she had said more than enough. She tried providing moral support as Lady 2 continued to explain the same thing over and over to the caller. And repeatedly, Lady 1 motioned to end the call, suggesting there was nothing else left to say.

When Lady 2 finally did hang up, the both of them just stood there... embracing one another. They seemed emotionally drained as they consoled each other. But in that moment, I felt their strength. And it said so much about who they are. 

This is also when my friend was ready to pay, and she approached them with her multiple bundles of socks to tally up the final cost. That's when Lady 2 turned around to face us and help my friend, and I saw tears streaming down her face. But even as the tears continued to come down, she helped my friend with a wide smile and happy demeanor. And it made it all the more such a moving moment.

After my friend paid, we thanked the women and they courteously said goodbye and wished us well. These two women have been in my thoughts since this night, and I can't seem to shake off this feeling of wondering how they are. When my friends went back to Dongdaemun and to the same area of the vendor a few nights later to buy more socks, they said the women were not there...  wherever they are right now, I wish nothing but the best for them.

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