Today I needed to go shopping for some tea. My sojourn in China has left me thoroughly addicted to a type of tea that I previously have only seen in China. I brought some with me when I came to Seoul but it only lasted a month. For several days I had been searching for this tea but had had no luck. Today I decided to go to the traditional art and craft center of Seoul, Insadong, to try my luck.
I had heard from one of the people at work that tea culture was enjoying a renaisance in Seoul and that I should have no trouble finding the tea I was looking for. Unfortunately she had not yet had an opportunity to write down the address of the place that she new carried the tea so I just was going to have to comb the area.
A couple blocks from my house I saw one of the strangest sights I have ever seen. A very properly dressed older woman had just been drenched in a down pour. Her nicely matched Burberry outfit was completely soaked and she was very confused by the whole situation. The reason the woman was so confused and I thought it was a strange situation was because the downpour only encompassed about two square meters of ground. After the initial shock wore of she, I, and a few other people, who had just witnessed this sight, all looked over at a nearby construction sight to see if anyone was playing with a hose. As soon as we began to look though, the same realization seemed to come to everyone at the same time: the water was falling from the sky! We were all stunned and other than the spattering of the tiny storm, silence reigned on the street.
The silence was broken by what I can only assume was a stream of curses coming from the drenched woman. She had figured out where the water came from.
I followed her eyes across the street and up into the sky where I saw several window washers dangling over the side of a building. Their buckets were sloshing water and the heavy wind was carrying the water across the street. It wasn't God having vengance on the woman for some past transgression after all. It was only some inconsiderate and sloppy cleaners. I really couldn't believe this could be happening. I always assumed that all I had to fear from the window washers was one plummeting down from the building and crushing me. It never occured to me that they would be so neglectful in their work and allow such a mess to occur.
When I came up out of the subway station at Insadong the first sight that greeted me was the mascot of Seoul's finest, Podori. I have the utmost respect for the police in Seoul especially after seeing the riot police in action. It is respect though not fear. While repect is enough for a law-abiding tax-payer like myself I think that it would help deter criminals if perhaps there was a little more fear of the police. Podori is cute and all but perhaps window washers would be a bit more careful if they actually feared the police. Maybe there would even be fewer protests if they adopted something a little more sinister like the Predator as their mascot.
Well I joined the throngs of Korean tourists in Insadong and began to search for tea. While tourist watching is fun I couldn't help but wonder if around a quarter of the population of South Korea and rising lives in Seoul the domestic tourist industry in this city must be in its last days. Where did all these people come from? Were they like me Seoulites from the south of of the river visiting the north? Whereever people were from everyone seemed to be having a good time. My quest for tea was grueling. The first problem was asking for a type of tea that has no English translation and I dont know what to call it in Korea. I resorted to writing the characters and asking older people where I could find. This worked but I was soon confronted with a problem. Everywhere I went the tea I wanted was either about $300 for half a jin (roughly 250 grams) or it was from Taiwan. I am partial to the tea from Fujian but I am not a rich man. I kept my search going. Eventually I found a store where the shopkeeper was able to speak Chinese. Not only was it pleasant to chat in Chinese but she had the tea I wanted for a reasonable price. After a little good natured haggling I purchased my tea and headed home to sip tea and grade essays. All was right with the world...
...or maybe not. I saw these performance artists on my way home. I have no idea what was going on. It didn't really trouble me too much though because in the past when I have seen performance artists who were speaking English I also had no idea what was going on. It was strange though and slightly disturbing although I couldn't tell you why.
When I arrived home I found out that it wasn't the performance that disturbed me it was most likely some sixth tea sense that was trying to let me know something was awry. I opened my newly bought bag of tea (unlike in China I had not been allowed to open the vacuum sealed bag to inspect the merchandise) and found some strange black tea. I am not sure if it is the type I wanted but from Taiwan if it was the wrong kind of tea entirely. I just know the package said it was the right tea but my tongue said it was wrong.