Sunday, January 07, 2007

A different way of doing things

Today I went food shopping. First I went to the natural foods store we frequent to buy rice, greens, and Mandarin oranges. Then I went to the market to have rice ground to make ddok, and to buy a few other things. While I was waiting for my rice to be ground, the lady I usually buy fruit from wandered out and observed the box of oranges on the back of my bike. She is one a few people who has from the beginning insisted on talking to me as if I understood everything, which used to intimidate me a bit, but now I understand enough of it that it's enjoyable. Our ensuing conversation went something like this (and I'm filling in quite a few blanks in my real conprehension here!):

Fruit seller: Where did you buy those oranges? Why didn't you buy them here?
Me: They're organic oranges. They're very good.
Fruit seller: You bought them at the natural foods store over there, didn't you?
Me: Yes. They're very delicious.
Fruit seller: Oh yeah? Let's see! (Removes box from bicycle and inspects the contents.) They're pretty ugly if you ask me. You know, I can sell you organic oranges too! So how much did you pay for them?
Me: 13,000 won.
Fruit seller: You paid 13,000 won for that box? That's really expensive. That's too expensive. Why on earth did you pay 13,000 won for a five kilo box of oranges? And ugly ones at that. I can sell you a ten kilo box for 15,000. Organic.
Me: Well, these are very delicious.... they're the most delicious oranges I've ever tasted.
Fruit seller: Are they now! Let's have a comparison. Come with me. (Takes me into her stall and selects an orange.) Now, this is an attractive organic orange. See how nice it looks? And I bet it's just as delicious as yours. Here, taste. (She splits the orange in half and gives half to me, and half to the woman attending to my rice next door.) It's just as good, isn't it?
Me: It is delicious. Quite delicious.
Fruit seller: So you're going to buy them from me next time? Remember, ten kilos for 15,000 won!
Me: Thank you... I'll remember that.
Fruit seller: It's just as delicious as yours, isn't it?
Me: Yes, I suppose it is.
Fruit seller: Aren't you cold?
Me: No.
Fruit seller: You're not cold? It was snowing this morning! Look at me, I'm wearing a hat and three sweaters and a coat, and you... you're hardly wearing anything!
Me: Well, I'm not cold. (I point at the bicycle and try to convey that, lugging five kilos each of rice and oranges up and down the hills of Yeosu keeps me pretty warm.)

My rice was finished so we ended here. Will I buy the oranges from her next time? Maybe. I'm not sure it was *quite* as delicious as the ones I had already bought, but then, it was almost half the price. I do truly appreciate her taking the effort and sample to try to convince me, as well as recognize that her income is a lot more precarious than that of the natural foods store owners. I love the market. These days most Koreans prefer to shop at huge, Western, Walmart-style stores where they can drive up and buy everything in one place. I wouldn't want to see the markets disappear, but they are... I can't do much and we're leaving soon, but still I am conscious of the effect our choices have. We want to choose organic for the sake of our bodies and the earth, but we also want to support small businesses that are on the brink of extinction - if we can do both, I think we should.

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