Monday, February 6, 2012

Andong Nonghyup, a place

In the Jeongha-dong district of Andong, South Korea, there is a Nonghyup supermarket on the bottom floor of the commercial “Gangnam” building.

It is a medium-small supermarket. It has four double-sided shelves that run parallel along the length of the store, two at the front, two at the back.

On the right side of the store, looking in past the cashiers, there are two tables with produce and an island shelf with refrigerated goods. On the side of the island facing the front, they have yellow pickled radish sticks for kimbap.

The right side of the store has more refrigerated foods. Toward the front there are toys and school supplies and stationary, then produce, then sauces and soup mixes, then dairy products, and finally different juices and soft drinks in the far corner.

On the back wall, starting on the right, there are seafood products. On the left there is meat. In the evening, one of three men in aprons and brick-patterned blue and white shirts barks for the fish and meat.

Along the wall on the left side of the store there are specialty products, dried fish and packages of seaweed, a deli with packaged kimbap and fried fish, and a bakery guarded by women waiting to greet anybody pausing for a moment to look at the bread. They have pizzas topped with hotdogs and mayonnaise, and occasionally bags of croissants with an included tub of whipped cream.

Past the bakery toward the front of the store, there is a cabinet and a refrigerator with alcohol: beer, soju, fruit wine.

Next to the alcohol is a little island with deodorant.

Past this is a little alcove at the front of the store containing personal non-food supplies, mostly bras and tights and undershirts, but also car products: padded covers for steering wheels, seat covers, dashboard toys.

On the shelf near the front and on the left, there are kitchen and house supplies: pots, pans, spoons, knives, rags, cups, faucets, toilet paper. At the top there are candles and incense.

On the shelf near the front and on the right, there are snacks and hot drinks. The snacks are on the side facing the left, and the coffee and tea is on the side facing the right. The snacks are chips, cookies and crackers. They have only instant coffee and green tea, but many different kinds.

On the shelf in the back on the right, on the side facing the right, there are seeds and indeterminate beans. On the end of the shelf facing the front, there are noodles: rice, wheat, egg and glass. On the side facing the left, there are packages of ramen, including a cheesy one and one that tastes like spaghetti.

Across from the soups on the left back shelf, on the side facing the right, there are hygiene products: shampoo, hair dye, body wash, shaving cream, razors. On the other side there is more seaweed and dried fish.

There are four or five ladies who work the registers. They all wear blue vests, white dress shirts and matching hair ribbons. One is young and has an angular, roman nose and teardrop shaped eyes. Another has large eyes and a square face. She is very brusque and efficient. One is large in every way, with a strong chin and broad shoulders. Her makeup gives her a slightly robotic aspect, but she's very nice. The last two are easily confused. They don't leave an impression. They both have their bangs cut straight across in the front and slightly long faces.

The bags they hand out can hold a lot. They are sturdy and have the green, circular Nonghyup logo.

I always used them for trash and sometimes left them too long in my entryway.

Dead Man

The dead man lay on the floor of the shop. The blood pooling around his head pushed back the drying smears of dirty water left by crowds of winter boots. A salt and pepper mustache perched over his cakey, molded lips, which hung open to the side. The pupils of his eyes peeked flatly through a slit under their lids. His plaid coat was zipped almost to the top and the grubby knobs of his fingers curled just beyond the sleeves. Somebody had killed him.

We had only come to get something to snack on, cookies or crackers, maybe some juice. We passed him and took a good look. Strange to see a dead man in such a public place. The assistants were gathered around him, waiting, gripping their mops and clipboards. They had phoned already, the police would arrive soon so they could start cleaning everything up.

We didn't want to disturb them. We paid silently in acknowledgment of the inconvenience and went out.

Two hours later, they had moved him off the floor and mopped the spill. He lay in a shopping cart packed with bags of ice, his mud-spotted legs flopping out over the edge. The police had come. They were mulling around taking notes and crossing their arms, putting their hands on their hips.

We had run out of dish soap and it was annoying to leave dishes in the sink. It was sunny, anyway, nice for going out. We stepped around his cart. The ice was a good idea, kept him fresh.

Near sundown, we wanted a cake. We were surprised to find him still resting there in his cart. The ice had melted and left a pinkish puddle on the floor. They had caught the killer and chained him to a bar in the corner. He paced and muttered. The police talked into their radios. We locked a bag into the bin by the counter and went to browse. There were always many cakes to choose from. We picked one with cream and layers of flaky crust.

The clerk was eying the killer when we reached her. I had to clear my throat to get her attention so we could pay. “Sorok, shest” repeated the killer over and over. We took the bag out of the locker and went home with the cake.

I suppose they've taken him out and it's all cleaned up by now.