How do you tell if something you are seeing is normal?
Even before I board the subway, I’m on the hunt for a seat. It’s the end of the week. It’s been a long day. I’m tired. But it’s rush hour and I know being determined won’t help me much.
The train pulls up and it’s full of people, but at least I find a place to stand that’s directly in front of the seats. If this one person sitting in front of me chances to get off soon, I’ll be in luck. Praise the Lord, after a few stops, she stands. I’m sitting before anyone can sneak in and steal my prize.
But I start to smell something. I’m thinking, what did that lady do before she left? But the smell stays and gets worse. I’m watching people’s faces around me to see if anyone else notices. I see one other person looking around. Now I’m hoping no one will blame it on the stereotypically stinky foreigner.
I’m thinking about abandoning my seat for a less smelly car, but I only have 2 stops left. The guy next to me isn’t so stoic though, or perhaps he’s just lucky his stop came up early. He stands.
People start shifting as if an old woman is pushing herself though the crowd towards me and my empty left. Surprise, it’s not an old woman but a man. And with him comes the source of the smell. Actually, it’s not him, it’s in his hand. And he’s chewing it loudly.
Once again I’m searching the faces but everyone seems to be immersed in their social networking. Is this normal? Just like durian isn’t allowed on public transport in Thailand, I’m thinking eating radishes should be banned in Korea.
There’s not much radish left, and I can tell that he’s been eating this radish for a while, based on the duration of the stink. Now that he’s sitting next to me the concentration of the smell plus how the radish is mixing with his breath is toxic. But he’s eating it like an apple. He finishes and he holds the root end in his hand. Eat it, I think. You’ve just eaten a whole radish, what’s the difference?
Even my tired legs are no match for this, so I stand early and get ready to leave.
Later, I inquire of my friends. By this time, I’m able to laugh at the old guy’s cloud, and every friend I tells joins me. Definitely NOT normal, they say. But, maybe radishes used to be cheap and maybe people used to eat them just to fill their stomachs, maybe about 40-50 years ago, they say. I feel like my subway friend was no beggar, but that’s an interesting piece of history, I say.
Today, my Korean friend told me a story. She said she’d been coming into the office, and she’d seen one of the foreign English teachers that works downstairs. He was walking around, eating a giant carrot. Is this normal? She asks me.
*For those interested, Korean radishes are a variety of Daikon. They can be eaten raw, usually prepared like kimchi or pickled. My opinion is they are a little chalky like a raw potato, but delicious if prepared correctly.