We live on the outer edges of what’s called “Old Mokpo,” though many of the buildings seem to be less than forty years old, which isn’t very old when you con
sider the age of the city, and of Korea (or Asia) in general. Ours is a modern building, one of fifteen or twenty high-rises set around numerous courtyards that open into each other like a little urban maze. There are lots of kids here. They ride their bikes, in-line skate, or just make mad sweaty dashes from playground to playground, under trellises that are starting to bloom red from roses that climb up and over the walking paths.
When you do find your way out of the high-rises, there is a short street with about a dozen storefronts. The first one has fruit out front, a small meat department, vegetables, hardware, cleaning supplies, frozen snacks, ramen, diapers, hygiene products, nail polish, and other things for every room in your house. Every time I go in I’m amazed by the way they’ve maximized floor space to fit all the goods.
Around the corner is a stationery store, where the local school kids can buy paper, pencils, erasers, small toys, and, when the weather’s right, water balloons that they carry around cradled like heavy jewels till the urge to see them spatter on the sidewalk gets too strong. Across the street from that, there’s a bakery called Paris Baguette, which is part of a Korean chain that has outlets in every neighborhood we’ve been to. They bake and sell
Korean interpretations of traditional baked goods, including twisty donuts, bean curd bismarcks, sweet potato strudel, and hot dogs sliced onto buns and baked with tomato paste and imitation cheese. (It tastes a bit like dry spam on stale bread with ketchup. But hey, if that’s Korea’s thing, I don’t judge.) Next to that is another market like the first, only larger, with an open-air kitchen that serves up sweet potato noodles in spice-sauce, busan fish-cakes ribboned up and stabbed with a skewer, and an entire selection of kim-chi in metal bowls for sale by the pound (or kilo, I guess).
Which isn’t even to mention the pretty-much permanent farmer’s markets that line the
other side of the street. From morning till dusk older ladies line up to sell vegetables, fruits and fish on the narrow sidewalk. In the evening when we walk the dog we take care not to go that side of the street because it’s too narrow for him to through without giving in to temptation and eating whatever’s there. They line up the cardboard boxes with peppers and onions and bok choi while the kids play basketball on the courts behind them and the vendors across the street sell t-shirts with horrendous English. Every night around nine they tear down the shop, and the street sits quietly until morning when they all come by again to re-start the commerce. It’s a cycle that’s been going on forever and like the daily sunrise, it shows no sign of stopping.
In addition to the vegetable market, there’s a
steady rotation of vendors that divide the week among themselves. One day the guy who sells flowers will be there, the next day it’s a meat rotisserie selling roasted pork, where we once bought 10 dollars worth of pork that made four meals. Or one day the ladies with plastic bins filled with dried beans will be there. And there’s usually a few clothes vendors who set up brightly colored sunshades, under which they hang dozens of ‘designer’ fashions: t-shirts for seven dollars, or sweatpants for fifteen.
Much as we love this cozy neighborhood to the north, it’s fairly secluded and relaxed, even easy-going compared to the area to the south. The other way is a street we call Magic Street, because absolutely everything you want, it’s down there. And I think Magic Street will deserve its own entry.
Next, though, we’ll be profiling the agricultural life of Mokpo, where you don’t have to leave the city limits to see figs, onions, canola, and various other vegetables being grown right before your eyes.