Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Snake Pit

Korean Brother has a pet snake, which has become a problem given that he's now been away from Busan working for several weeks. He asked Korean Mother to sell it, but that's easier said than done; snakes are not the kind of pets that are sold in your average pet-store here. Meanwhile the snake started to look extremely thin, and Korean Mother faced the choice of whether to try and find somewhere to sell it urgently, or find a way of feeding it. So with great reluctance she went to a local pet-store and bought a couple of small mice... I declined to hear the rest of the details.

Now to my mind it was an easy choice. The snake had to go. But it turned out that the situation had an added cultural complication which made Korean Mother reluctant to see it removed from the apartment. Snakes are believed to in some way protect the places they live in, part of Shamanistic practices dating back to Korean life centuries ago, when snakes in the immediate area around the village were thought to keep evil spirits away. Given that Korean Brother's snake had been with them for a few years - Korean Mother was afraid that if it went it would take something with it. I'm not really sure what that 'something' was - good luck, good fortune or peace and security - and I'm not sure she was either, but 'something' there nevertheless was.

She wasn't very happy to have put the first mouse in the snake's tank, and after it disappeared the next day she put the second one in. But breaking point was reached when she checked on the snake later, and found both mice running around in the tank playing with each other, apparently as oblivious to the snake as it was to them. She finally resolved to sell it.

So today I found myself on the way to the only pet store in Busan known to deal with snakes, with said creature in a large semi-transparent container with a carrying handle. While Korean Mother had put some newspaper at the bottom, I think it would have been fairly obvious to anyone who cared to look on the subway train what we were transporting. As if foreigners aren't sometimes thought of as strange enough, now I was a foreigner carrying a snake through the underground. Still, if the Koreans are going to stare, they might as well stare for a good reason for once. I kept opening the lid slightly from time to time to let some air in, nervously checking to make sure it wasn't trying to escape and fearful creating a 'Snakes on a Plane' style incident, but it barely moved.

The reason transpired to be that it was sick, unsurprisingly. This Bull Python - as it turned out to be - had a heating element underneath its tank which had managed to become unplugged at some point since Korean Brother left. Given that it's a tropical reptile that doesn't like Korean winters it's somewhat surprising that it didn't die in the interim - something which Korean Mother is extremely relieved about because of the perceived bad luck that would have brought. The pet store owner is going to try and nurse the snake back to health and then sell it for us and take a commission. I was just relieved we didn't have to carry it back through the subway.

All in all, it's probably a happy ending for the snake, and it's certainly a happy ending for the mice. They made it through their last night with the snake and Korean Mother is going to keep them.

5 comments:

mark said...

Just to add to you're Korean vocabulary, snake is "paem" in Korean.

What do the mice represent in Korean culture? :)

Anonymous said...

very interesting. I accidentlly jumped to ur blog while searching for 'paris bagette' online shop in Busan. By the way Im Iris,a Chinese here and studied in Coventry for my Master's.

Anonymous said...

very interesting. I accidentlly jumped to ur blog while searching for 'paris bagette' online shop in Busan. By the way Im Iris,a Chinese here and studied in Coventry for my Master's. My korean is so limited that i don't know how to post comments on this site.....

Mike said...

I think the mice must represent fear! :-) Actually, they turned out to be hamsters though, not mice after all.

Mike said...

Hello Iris, thanks - you managed to post your comment :-)

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