I didn’t have to go to the bank, but everyone was doing it- my friends, I mean. I could choose to wait outside in the hot and humid Seoul summer, or go inside. Banks have such good air conditioning that I almost need a jacket inside. But I ran out of deodorant a few weeks ago, and it’s not really a big item to stock in stores around here. Meaning I should travel halfway across town and spend $8 for that- and I haven’t been able to bring myself to, since I’m pretty sure I only stink a little. So I went inside.
One of the only places I ever see guns in Korea is at the bank. There is always a security guard in the lobby, but he really acts like a welcomer and assistant to the little old ladies and gents who forget they need to take a number before they sit down. At my bank, it’s always the same guy, smiling. His handgun has a decorative handle with what looks like gold and ivory. I guess it’s probably one of the oldest guns I’ve seen, but then the real gun part is obstructed by his holster so I can’t really tell. This adds to the charm of the rarity of seeing a gun. In my mind, I liken guns to business suits- solid black, squarish, sometimes looks good on the wearer but you’re wondering if they only have it to get attention? But this gun breaks my business suit imagination wide open, and I feel like it matches its owner. Salt and pepper hair, professional attire (but not business suit), no paunch as if he still rides the range. I can never seem to get away from his welcome. Even if I’m in the foyer just stopping by the atm. I don’t know if he’s ever had to use his security guard skills, but his welcomer skills are on point.
This particular day, I just wanted to sit down in the cool and wait for my friends to finish their business, but it was prime time after lunch and the only seats were the bar stools by the window counter. So I took one next to my friend, and we immediately noticed something un-bank-like. Lining the window sill were old bottles of all shapes- even a tall Budweiser can was there. I recognized my favorite juice bottle whose glass is shaped like an actual apple, and several other containers still wore their labels proudly. But the original contents had been swallowed, and in their place, plants were growing everywhere. Even out of the tiny little pop tab opening that was the Budweiser can. Some only had water, and some had dirt, but the plants were all varieties of beauty.
Our jaws dropped at the same time and we started “whoa, look at this one!” “This one has little flowers!” “I’ve never seen a plant like this before.” “This one’s leaves are bright purple! The whole plant looks like a flower!” And so on.
The security guard noticed our exclamations and came over to explain. In his eyes was the love of a father as he showed us the various merits of each little grower. I had a favorite that looked like a mouth with teeth- but when you touched it, the “teeth” fell off. On closer examination, I discovered the teeth were actually baby plants! The guard went away to welcome a few more people, and returned a few minutes later with some of our favorite plants in little paper cups. My toothy one, and a few of the bright purple leaves. He said we could continue to grow them hydroponically, or just plant them directly.
As we were still waiting on banking, we continued the conversation but the thanking and seriousness was long gone. He joked about the little birds nests that he hid in two of the bigger pots, and tried to convince us that the giant sewn sunflowers were real. Of course they were too far away to tell for sure, and when you walked closer to check them out, he just watched with an amused smile. He suddenly reminded me of my grandpa, who used to hide candy in his pockets to give away when parents weren’t looking, and answered every serious question with a joke. But the real resemblance was in his eyes. The twinkling that gave away his joy. I knew we had gotten past the professional welcoming smile, if only just for a moment.
I haven’t been back to the bank yet, but I am armed with a picture of my little plant, starting its own big life in a new red pot.