It’s 6:45am and there’s a guy in truck just down the street from where I live yelling fruit and vegetables. His pre-recorded monosyllabic sales spiel crackles and pops through a loudspeaker on top of the truck as he slowly drives down the street and turns onto another side street in close proximity to my window.
Though heavily distorted, I make out the usual medley of fruit and vegetables: ba-nan-na, kam-ja (potato) o-ee (cucumber) yang-pa (onion) ta-ma-to (tomato). Each distorted syllable reverberates and bounces off the concrete blocks, which pass for homes and apartment complexes.
No point in trying to get any more sleep because no sooner has he driven off to wake up another sleeping neighborhood, the tubu (tofu) lady shows up with her cart of freshly made tubu to sell. She doesn’t need a sales pitch. She just has to ring a bell.
Korea is supposed to be The Land of the Morning Calm (if you can believe that romantic tourism hype you read in the tourist literature) but the mornings here are anything but calm. Mornings generally begin noisy and crescendo into a cacophony of raucous racket.
Construction starts early here too. Jack hammering concrete at 7:00 is par for the course even if it means the vibrations will wake up everyone and shake foundations in a five-mile radius because everything is cemented together—literally with all the concrete used here. I swear, I can be in my apartment and feel the vibrations of a jackhammer being used to break up concrete in another neighborhood.
Then there’s the guy who can’t get his car out of his parking place because someone has parked behind him. He’s laying on his horn hoping that whoever has blocked him in will hear it and come out to move the car. Most people will have a sticker or sign inside the windshield with their cell phone numbers on it for such an emergency, but not this guy. So, the neighborhood gets an early morning serenade of horn blowing—too bad for those of us trying to get in a few more minutes of sleep.
This horn blowing won’t cease until whoever it is that owns the car sheepishly arrives on the scene and moves it. Hopefully, the guy whose car is blocked in won’t raise a fuss and start yelling. There’s always the chance of that happening.
The produce man and tubu lady might have come and gone but there are more vendors plying the streets and yelling their wares as the day progresses. Daejeon in 2008 reminds me of Seoul in 1990 when many such vendors made the rounds in neighborhoods and apartment complexes selling vegetables, fruit, fish, and tubu. Back then I lived in this rather large housing complex not far from Olympic Stadium in Chamsil and dealt with a variety of early morning cacophonies.
On the other hand, if you preferred a little operatic serenading in the morning there was the guy from the local dry cleaners who rode around the complex on his bicycle delivering clothes and picking up other clothes to be dry-cleaned. Well, it sounded like singing—”sae-tak…sae-tak“—(Korean for dry-cleaners) as he rode through the complex announcing his presence. Never mind that it was 6:00 in the morning.
At first, I didn’t mind because he was the guy I took my dry cleaning to and besides, he had a pretty good singing voice. However, when his competition starting to muscle in on his turf, and who had a terrible singing voice, which sounded like he was gargling with gravel, it was no longer charming.
This morning, the produce man has come and gone (this morning his sales pitch must have been a few distorted octaves higher than normal because it set off a chorus of howling from dogs in the neighborhood) and the tubu lady should be making her appearance heard soon.
Land of the Morning Calm?
Maybe for a little while.