Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A(ir) Holes

This one time... at E-Mart... I saw a woman stick her little foofoo dog in a small locker out in front of the store. E-Mart has little lockers in which to store your stuff before you go in; you put in 100 Won (7.5 cents) and get it back when you reopen the locker. (Incidentally, a shopping cart also costs 7.5 cents, but you don’t get the money back, and a plastic shopping bag will cost you 3.75 cents. But all that has nothing to do with my point, so I won’t mention it.)

Anyway, I thought the woman was some kind of sadist to stick her dog in there, but another time I happened to look closer at that particular bank of lockers… they have air holes in the plastic windows; they’re dog lockers! Well, possibly infant lockers, too.

Koreans’ relationship with dogs is weird and sometimes awful. Little teeny tiny pop-‘em-in-your-purse pups are wildly popular; I hate walking past the grungy little pet shops near the big Banwoldang intersection; they always have puppies the size of my fist, alone or in pairs, in little plastic cubicles in the shop windows. I’m pretty sure (no kidding) I saw a couple of pups once that didn’t even have their eyes open yet. One of my friends told me he went to a restaurant here in Daegu that has dog on the menu; it’s technically illegal but apparently completely winked at. I’ve already written about how dogs are killed for food; I need to stop now.

Cats are, as I’ve written, generally despised. Stores that carry any cat supplies or food have five or ten percent as much of that as they do dog stuff, and it’s all wildly overpriced. I’ve found that human-grade mackerel costs about sixty percent less than canned cat food. And every couple of weeks I take the 40-minute roundtrip bus ride to Costco for a 30-pound jug of cat litter; otherwise, I’d go broke buying it. It’s not easy having two cats here, but it’s not easy being a vegetarian either, or being an Anglophone, or being green. Ask Kermit.


이-마트 (E-Mart)’s big competitor is 홈 플러스 (Home Plus), which is co-owned by Samsung and Britain’s Tesco supermarket chain. Just as at E-Mart, every time you walk in the door, an attendant bows from the waist and rattles off ten seconds of welcome; what a great job, doing that all day. Also just as at E-Mart, there is a huge number of attendants waiting to pounce on you and “help” you if you hesitate a moment to look at something, and the grocery floor is generally a cacophony as salespeople shout endless come-ons to buy their… whatever that stuff they’re pointing at is… what do you think it is? I’m sure I don’t know, but it’s not going in my mouth.

But once in awhile at Home Plus you get a little bonus, a plus if you will. I’ve been there a couple of times when 20 or 30 aproned, gloved, bonneted grocery employees line up with their backs to the walls and coolers, a jaunty tune (actually, the melody is “If You’re Happy and You Know it”) is piped in, and the poor schlemiels clap, twirl, and practically line-dance in unison, looking none too happy about it. They will keep customers waiting if need be to do their little dance. Said it before, say it again... everybody here crazy.

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