Every day, I walk past a little shop which seems to be less concerned with selling things than it is with providing shelter for a group of elderly people who sit around all day ganching. [EDIT: I have been told off for using Northern Irish slang again without translating for my readers. It means gabbing. :)] [ADDITIONAL EDIT: OK, fine. It means talking nonsense, or maybe talking a lot about nothing in particular.]
The sign outside says 슈퍼 (syupaw), which is probably short for supermarket but generally seems to mean something more like a small convenience store. However, the items on the few shelves in this particular store are honestly very nearly outnumbered by the people sitting around on broken patio furniture in it at any given time. I have never once seen a customer go in. In fact, the door is usually blocked by at least one ajoshi (the name for an older man, like ajumma for women) having a cigarette .
It’s quite the neighbourhood hotspot. Sometimes they’re drinking tea and coffee, sometimes they’re drinking beer and soju. Sometimes they’re talking and playing cards, sometimes they’re quietly watching the world go by. I’ve always been curious about them, and yet their little meeting place has always been too intimidating for me to attempt to look inside… until yesterday.
I was walking home from work as usual, baking (that’s baking, not basking) in the sunshine, when, approaching the 슈퍼, I heard the sound of singing. It was the kind of singing that your granny might do – you know, high pitched, warbly, quavering. Except that it was in Korean, obviously, so to my ear it sounded a bit like the incomprehensible wailing people do at religious shrines and temples, the kind that’s usually accompanied by some sort of screechy pipe music and bells.
By the time I reached the door, a couple of other voices had joined in, and I glanced through the doorway as discreetly as I could. I was rewarded by the sight of half a dozen cronies around a card table, playing go-stop (a traditional Korean card game) and singing merrily as they drank soju. I smiled to myself. It was a delighted smile – the sort of smile you smile when you witness one of life’s unique and special little moments that make you appreciate where you are and how lucky you are to be there.
Apparently, though, my glance and smile were not discreet enough. They spotted me, and called me over. (“Waygook! (Foreigner!) Come in!”) I shook my head nervously, and continued to walk, but they were having none of it. One of the men hobbled out with his walking stick and gestured at me with the sort of expression that Must Be Obeyed, so I did as I was told. Once inside, I was met with a torrent of questions (of which I understood about 5%), as a stool was pulled up for me and a shot glass was placed in my hand. Two of the women were still singing, oblivious to the newcomer. I was trying to answer questions about myself in my pathetic Korean. Someone poured me some soju, and there was a very solemn toast and drink. The soju glasses were promptly refilled. Repeat times about 10.
I was somehow dragged into the game of go-stop, made to sing (solo, and to much laughter) the chorus of a traditional song one of the old ladies insisted on teaching me, and listen to lengthy stories of which I could understand not one word. It was great.
An hour and a half later, I stumbled out of the “shop”, clutching a gift of my own personal set of go-stop cards and a scrap of paper bearing the address of one of the old ladies, who wanted me to write to her. I don’t think she understood that I lived 2 minutes down the street.
And that’s the story of how I got home from work yesterday.
Damn, I love this country. :)