Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Square Jungle

Tuesday is Parents' Day in Korea - until 1973 it was known as Mothers' Day but rather than create an extra Fathers' Day they rolled everything into one instead and gave it a more encompassing name. I guess the greetings card lobby isn't very strong here.

In fact, we don't have to buy a card at all for Parents' Day, but rather needed to find a carnation - the traditional flower given to parents for the occasion. As yesterday was Children's Day, tradition suggested that Korean Parents take us out somewhere, so in an ironic twist, we ventured out to a well-known flower market with Korean Mother a couple of miles away from our area to look for carnations and a new plant for her apartment. But while the market might be well known, the route to it - which took us through a dingy industrial estate largely concerned with processing vegetables (and animals judging from the smell) - should ensure it stays well off the tourist trail.

While there were a few species I hadn't seen before, much of what was on sale was what I'd expect to find in a garden centre back home - I suppose that's plant globalisation for you. But there are subtle differences.

When I first saw my Korean Parents' apartment - one of the first things which struck me was the quantity of foliage Korean Mother had amassed. The small plants were one thing - but it didn't stop there - the largest two were eight feet tall trees. I'm sure they'd grow taller if they hadn't hit the ceiling already. So the Korean flower market sells a lot of small trees - because Korean Mother isn't the only one that likes squeezing them in their apartment. That's all well and good, but I'm slightly perplexed about how they get them through the door.

A couple of smaller trees were of interest, but Korean Mother turned her nose up at the price of 300,000 won - £162, and I was staggered, because they really didn't look like they justified the cost. That was nothing though, as many of the larger plants ran into several hundreds of pounds - and this market had a reputation for being cheap. People pay these prices though, so I guess you could derive from this that there's a certain section of Korean society which takes their greenery very seriously indeed.

Big plants require big heavy pots, and there were plenty for sale - though they often feature designs which I suspect wouldn't be to the taste of people back home, even if they put trees in their apartments, which hasn't been my experience. Combination plant/humidifier arrangements are also on sale for Korea's dry atmosphere. I see a lot of these in restaurants here and from experience I suspect they're rather useful in the dry winters. While I find they have a certain aesthetically pleasing quality, the effect is somewhat diminished by the inclusion of changing coloured lights in some of them resulting in a disco-style effect.

Korean Mother found a plant she liked and haggled the owner down from 50,000 won to 45,000, plus a free 'money tree', which once selected, magically turned into two free money trees after some additional haggling. How you can haggle over a free item is beyond me but clearly Korean Mother relishes the challenge. The owner of this particular store within the market was left shaking his head at this tough 'ajumma', and I felt rather sorry for him because even though I don't understand Korean, I swear she usually destroys their will to fight somewhere among the sentences. Or perhaps she's using some kind of Jedi Mind Trick. We were still standing outside when the next 'ajumma' came along and the owner quickly told her how the last person that had offered him less than 50,000 won for such a plant went home empty handed... but he really refused to lower the price this time.

We paid for the plant and beyond the token carnation this is Korean Mother's Parents' Day gift sorted out - we still have Korean Father to worry about, but since he is away in Namhae until Tuesday this buys us more time to think.

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