Saturday, December 02, 2006


I nearly always carry a small camera with me in Korea, but sometimes there are pictures you just can't take. So I have to ask you to imagine what I witnessed Monday.

It had been raining in the morning and it was still residually damp and overcast. It was market day and the narrow streets near my apartment were made narrower still by hundreds of market stalls crammed wherever they would go. I'm struggling to work through the crowd, wincing slightly at the heavy smell of dead fish in the air, when there's a commotion in front of me. A gap is opening up in the crowd - no easy thing when there's only a four-foot wide pedestrian route to start with.

A man with one arm and one leg is dragging himself slowly down the wet street through the dirt and organic remnants, trailing a solitary crutch behind him. For a moment I thought he'd fallen and looked to my girlfriend in case we needed to help him up, but I suppose I should have known better - he was begging. I've become used to beggars here playing up their afflictions, but this man had no need to - the sight that greeted me was as desperate as it was pathetic. It seems even the Koreans were taken aback - why was this man out like this? Who was behind him - making him do this? But there were no answers - as quickly as he had lain there momentarily in front of me he was gone, lost in the crowd as those behind us pushed us onwards. Sights and sounds of Korea, not easily forgotten.

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