The Shop

from June 15, 2017.

There is this cafe I sometimes stop by on my way to the subway — called The Shop. It’s a cute coffee shop, cozy but also modern, that serves good lattes but also old-school 미숫가루 drinks. Every time I’m there, I see a different group of people from the neighborhood. Young students on their way to 학원 / hakwon, middle aged women talking about their children’s latest accomplishments. Today, there was a young guy on his bike who was about the cross the street, but then turned back to grab a cup of coffee.

***

I remember the one time  I went to the big coffee shop across the street, the one that’s a huge franchise and found on every other street corner in the city. I was sitting there in a nearly empty cafe, when an elderly woman came in. I didn’t really think twice about it, until the manager came to make her leave. 계속 이러시면 안돼요. 그냥 앉아있는 곳이 아니에요. She nodded and smiled, saying that she was sorry. She said that she had come into get away from the summer heat. Her face was flushed from the piercing sun and humid Seoul air. The manager didn’t budge and kicked her out of an empty store. There was no one sitting at any of the other 10 tables. I was sitting in the corner and just watching this happen, unsure what I should do. I watched the woman walk away into the blistering summer heat, and with that layer of glass between us, everything felt so far away and distant. I felt so grossly hygenic, sitting in that air-conditioned glass tank. I told the manager why I was leaving and walked out into the sticky summer air, filled with loud burst of laughter and sounds of fierce haggling from the street market. I have kept my promise and never stepped back into that cafe.

I went to The Shop today. That’s just what the place is called. “The Shop, A Coffee House,” where the barista remembers my order; I’m not an adventurous coffee drinker. Just a regular latte is all I order. Today, she pointed at the space underneath her counter and showed me a soft fuzzy golden striped kitten, sleeping with its head buried in a small pink blanket. “Are you raising a cat?” I asked her, and she told me that she had heard the crying outside for days, in the alleyway behind the cafe. “There’s a lot of cars there. I didn’t want the cat to get hurt.” She had taken the cat to the hospital. They said it was 2 months old. “What are you going to do?” I asked. She didn’t know. But I could already see from the small makeshift bed that she had made her that it would be only time before she named the cat. It just made me think about the cafe across the street, that wouldn’t even offer a sitting place for its neighbors, and this woman, who had taken in a stray cat and shared the news so excitedly with her customers. It felt different, walking out of that cafe, knowing that it was a home to someone — that small kitten — and that it was a place that took care of its people.

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