A beautiful day in the neighborhood

I never ate an apple, a whole, unpeeled, raw apple, before I came to Korea.  True.  So I don’t know if American apples are as delicious as Korean apples.

The number 12 highway runs through Hallim and looks out of place there.  It’s a well-paved, freshly painted, road that the taxis veer onto the burm of to avoid the speed bumps; nicer than the roads that PennDot poorly maintains at home and it goes through this podunky place, lined with un-mortared, waist-high Jeju volcanic rock walls that surround plots of agriculture or little well-weathered, sometimes trash-filled and seemingly abandoned, traditionally roofed Korean houses, minbak hotels, along stretches of overgrown, uncultivated plots in such disrepair that the vines have completely eaten the walls, and then right against fingers of black lava flow poking into the ocean.  The road is a few feet higher than the land on either side.  This makes the houses seem especially small, like little hobbit homes over whose roofs you can see the ocean, even from some distance inland.

Not all of the rooves are ceramic tiled, sometimes they are corrugated tin, weathered and chipped or thickly painted and repainted.  A few have been retiled with shiny plastic that looks, frankly, ridiculous in context–like Lego roofs in a rundown neighborhood.

I wanted to take a picture this morning as I shut the bathroom window (I still can’t pull my pants down in front of an open window with a street on the other side frequented by delivery trucks, although my hosts seem to have no such problem).  On the other side of the road, in a large cabbage patch, half a dozen ladies in big visor-bonnets crouched amidst their crops, barely moving, multi-colored humps; I thought I could hear one of them singing.  Cabbage is being delivered to the Hanaro Mart when I go in to buy coffee and an apple on my way to the beach.  The back of the delivery truck is piled high with cabbage in mesh bags; they hack off the browning outsides before handing them off to the store.

People are collecting the nuts that have fallen from the trees that line the number 12 highway–men sitting on the curb beside their truck, a woman on her haunches with a plastic bag, two men and two little girls.  One cracks the nut for her with his teeth.  They must be delicious.  A high school girl in uniform snatches a handful and offers them to her friend.

At the beach, no one is riding the horses tethered in the parking lot, or hiring the honeymoon carriage that is full of flowers.  Then a group of tourists arrive.  An old man in gray cargo pants and a pith helmet leads a brown horse down the beach followed by a woman who looks picked out of the cabbage patch –purple plastic clogs, shirt and pants that cover her arms and legs, long visor with a bonnet in the back to cover her neck, white knit gloves with red rubber palms– leading a white pony with some lady on the back.

I sit in the sand reading the acknowledgments of Annie Proulx’s collection of short stories, looking for the secrets to success.  The secrets: have a body of published work behind you and good connections.  I leave the beach following the at first perplexing tracks of a high heel in the sand.  In the front yard of a wedding reception venue that is on the walk home, three wooly puppies chase some chickens, although I cannot convince them to come and play with me.


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