The Strawberry Man

Well, before I go off on this amusing anecdote, I got my 외국인등록증 today, which is an “Alien Registration Card”. Basically, it’s a green card. Except it is actually blue in color here. It has a terrible picture of me on it, but it does have my registered address on the back, meaning I can hand it to taxi drivers and end up home. Which is good. My complex is called “Pre-Sent Apartments” and virtually no taxi drivers know where that is, and those that do have about a 75% chance they can understand me saying it with my terrible English accent. But I have gotten home by handing people a piece of mail, having them shrug and then they just deliver me at the apartment like a 6 foot tall package, so this card will at least simplify that. In other news, with this card I actually exist as far as the law is concerned, which means I can get a bank account (tomorrow) and a fancy new smartphone (this weekend, since I must go to Seoul).

Anyway, this was an amusing story that occurred last week, while I was still sick. Since arriving in Korea, I’ve fallen in love with Korean Pears. They’re also known as Chinese Pears, Japanese Pears, or Asian Pears, depending on where you are when you buy them. Suffice it to say, they’re a little different form “American Pears” (or whatever you want to call them). For one, they’re round and juicy. They really taste like a hybrid of an apple and a pear. In Korea, they vary in quality from “delicious and juicy” to “an apple filled with sand”. When you get a good one, they’re one of the best fruits ever. When you get a bad one, they’re downright unpleasant. They also vary in cost. The local fruit guy near my apartment sells them for around 1,000W (about 1USD) a piece and you usually get a bag of 3-5 of them. The local supermarket sells them for about 2,500W (around 2.50USD) which is quite pricy. Of course, GS, the local supermarket, has better packaging and relatively consistent pricing, while the fruit guy sells them based on unknown fruit variable that would make sense if I actually knew something about growing said pears. You would think that the price would be in someway connect to the quality of the fruit, but it isn’t. Usually, the fruit guy is cheaper and has tastier pears, but there’s a certain level of gambling involved. Or finesse, but I lack the language skills or fruit knowledge to have that.

Anyway, I discovered, while I was sick, that the fruit was very good on my sore throat and acted as a mild cough suppressant. So while I was ill, I ate at least one a day. Usually it was my breakfast and my dessert after dinner. One day, after work, I knew I was out of pears back at the apartment. Shannon, a fellow teacher, needed to pick up something for dinner at GS. I also needed an umbrella because of a sudden rain, so we stopped in. While she was off getting whatever ingredient she needed. I stood looking at the Asian Pears. It was a box of 3 and they were a whole 8,800W (around 8.80USD). I starting thinking that I should just get them from the fruit guy, they were most certainly cheaper there. But that involved an extra stop. And I didn’t feel well. And it was raining. I was attempting to justify the extra cost, but I really couldn’t. I knew they’d cost almost half as much from the fruit guy. And then I heard a voice behind me.

“Yeah! You want those pears!” I was really kind of shocked to hear English out of nowhere. I turned and there was a guy close to my age wearing the familiar red GS jacket. He had a enthusiastic grin on his face that matched his tone, which was almost bursting with joy. I really had an almost incredulous look on my face. This was one of the strangest things in English anyone had said to me (currently ranked 4th strangest) and the enthusiasm really caught me off guard. I was used to older women in GS walking up and telling me the great features of something I was looking at in Korean, in which I would nod and feign understanding and they would walk away, leaving me to decide on if I wanted the product independently of the suggestion they made. This was the first time someone actively attempted to sell me something and could actually influence my purchase. The fact that this man pretty much spoke the words going through my brain was pretty unexpected.

“Yeah, I was thinking about these pears. I’m not sure about them,” I said, somewhat ambiguously. I didn’t want to blatantly say the pears cost too much, but I wanted a window out.

“Oh, yeah! You want some strawberries!?” he suddenly interjected, “Yes! ”

I looked up at him, this time quite shocked. I then looked back at the fruit. There was a box of pears. A box of apples. Some kiwi. There wasn’t a single strawberry on that display. I whipped my head around behind me. Not a single strawberry there either. My brain immediately went into overdrive. I could not connect the ideas of Asian Pear and Strawberry to each other other than that they were both fruit. I suddenly realized this guy might not actually have the ability to speak and comprehend English conversationally. He could potentially be excited that he has fruit vocabulary, that there is fruit present and there is an English speaking man present, creating a perfect storm for fruit vocabulary testing.

In hindsight, I should have then further engaged this person in fruit-related conversation and could have had a blast, especially because he was so excited. But I had just finished with a long day of teaching, and I was fairly under the weather. This sudden, energetic outburst about strawberries was too much for my brain to handle. I more or less looked back at him in a mixture of confusion and terror. Then I looked at the pears with a similar look of confusion and terror. I grabbed the pears and then looked at him.

“I think I want the pears,” I said, mostly enthusiastically, but I think a drop of sarcasm leaked in. I quickly changed my confused face into a smile. Not a grin, like would have been preferable, but one of those awkward smiles a person gets when they’re smiling and laughing, but incredulously shaking their head at the same time.

Me and the Strawberry Man then stared at each other awkwardly for a minute before we both awkwardly bowed and I uttered my usual “감사합니다” (thank you) and I heard him replay something like, “Eh? Yes!” before he went back to his job and I bought pears that were higher priced than usual. I go into GS market every weekday before work, and occasionally after work as well, and I have never seen the enthusiastic Strawberry Man again. Maybe one day I will see him again, and we can have a proper conversation about fruit.

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~ by James on March 13, 2012.

3 Responses to “The Strawberry Man”

  1. Good luck getting your cellphone and bank account sorted. They’re the type of thing we take for granted in the West but can be a nightmare in Korea.
    Good luck.

    • I’ve heard that. I’m taking one of my Korean co-workers with my for the bank account, and KT Olleh has global stores that offer special foreigner contracts for phones complete with English speaking employees, so hopefully everything will go smoothly. KT Olleh’s website for foreigner contracts is pretty well laid out and pretty clear, so I feel like that should actually go alright, but I am admittedly worried about my bank account. One of my fellow foreign co-workers had to cry while in the bank to get them to give her a debit card.

      • I was told I’d have to wait 3 months for a debit card, I then asked to speak to the manager. He looked at me then said something in Korea, 2 minutes later I had my card. It’s a policy not a law, fingers crossed for you.

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