After another one of my long days, I sat at my dining table with a bowl of overripe strawberries to draft out a new lesson for this week’s classes. Strawberries seem to be in season right now, the ones grown in greenhouses down south. All the street vendors have stacks of them piled up, with a cardboard picket behind it that say “a pack for 2,000 won” or “golden strawberries for 4,000.” It’s getting a bit warmer now, so the strawberries are probably going to be replaced with something else real soon.
The weather is always mild here, compared to Minnesota. The sky is always gray from the smog, and people have pruned the trees on the streets down so much that I think some of them died. Sometimes I can only tell what season it is based on the fruit that vendors are selling on the streets.
For awhile when I first got here, it was all persimmons. No one had anything else but persimmons. Hard ones and soft ones, round and oval, the ones that were pointed at the ends and kind of melt when you hold them in your hands too long. Then one day, everyone switched over to strawberries, and now it’s the season of greenhouse-grown strawberries. There are of course large groceries stores that sell a variety of fruit all year round, mostly imported from the U.S. or Latin America, but I prefer to buy fruit from local vendors. It’s a different feeling than grabbing overpriced prepackaged fruit from a neatly arranged shelf. These fruits come straight from farms down south, where vendors go to pick them up at the peak of dawn. It reminds me of stories that my mother told me about how she would wake up at 4am to hold my grandmother’s place in line so she could receive the day’s worth of vegetables from the farm middleman. And sometimes the women crouched on the streets with their floral pants remind me of my grandmother, how hard and calloused her hands are and how at home she feels in the local markets in her neighborhood.
At first, it was also a way of integrating myself into the community here — letting folks know that I live along this road, that I prefer soft persimmons over the crunchy ones, getting long sermon-like advice on how to eat whatever I bought that day. I once asked for a single persimmon, and the vendor told me that she only sells it in batches of 6. They weren’t prepackaged, just piled on top of one another in a red plastic bowl. But she still wouldn’t sell one to me. Instead, she told me to go give it to my neighbors or family. That persimmons are not supposed to me eaten like that. It’s things like this that make me think.
Walking down that road each morning makes me more aware of the seasons, the passage of time, and the ebbs and flows of nature — even in a city like this, with its concrete grounds and depthless skies.