Sunday, November 2, 2008

I'll never go into a traditional market again

In planning for Wednesday morning's election returns get-together at my apartment, I went looking for mugs and glasses. (I have two of each, and I expect a half-dozen guests.)

I ended up 'way on the other side of downtown, at Seomun Market, the biggest traditional Korean market between Seoul and Busan. I was leery of going anywhere near a market after seeing the dog carcass at one of them, but I know that you can find nearly anything there, for much cheaper than in department stores, and I planned to steer clear of any dead animal stalls, which are always grouped together.

The market is amazing, a giant labyrinth of dark, tiny little shops with four- or five-foot aisles between them, with many thousands of people trying to elbow through each other, sometimes motor scooters plowing through the crowds, and literally millions of items for sale. The photo above is of the widest, brightest, least crowded area there, and at that I waited for a dozen people to pass me before I took the picture.

I had just entered an area with a lot of dead fish and decided to turn around when up ahead I saw a gorgeous little fluffy white dog the size of a purse, in a cage barely bigger than he was. He was panting happily and wagging at everyone who walked by. He was so cute and happy that he should have been in a Mighty Dog commercial.

He was food.

No doubt they'd sell him as a pet if you wanted, but he was there next to a lot of little cages, each with a half-dozen chickens jammed into them. (If I had seen them earlier, I would have turned around then.) He was food.

I just do not understand how you could kill and eat something that's wagging its tail and smiling at you.

For a moment I thought wildly about buying him. But I can't have a dog where I am. It ran through my mind to buy him and just let him go on the street to take his chances. But I've seen half-starving cats on the streets, and I haven't seen any hint of an animal shelter in the city. It seemed even crueler to turn him loose to suffer, and all that would happen then is that they'd bring in another dog tomorrow to take his place on Death Row.

It hurt badly, but I turned around and walked away as fast as I could. Did I do the right thing?

Tanks of fish and octopi and squid are in the windows, or on the sidewalks out front, of restaurants everywhere here, and I always feel terrible thinking about their waiting all unknowing to be grabbed and killed at any time. I know that animal cruelty is just more open here than in the U.S., and I know that ignoring the situation doesn't make it go away. But focusing on it doesn't make it go away either.

Did I do the right thing? I don't think I'll ever know.

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