Various Dumplings

Humpling, mumpling!
Give me a dumpling,
A big ring of sausage,
A bowl full of porridge!

There’s a little girl I saw twice yesterday, she’s probably a first or a second grader, and she distinguishes herself from the rest in two important ways—she says hi, instead of hello, and possesses the kind of cuteness that knocks down trees or levels entire city blocks. I saw her twice yesterday. She said hi both times, and both times a sudden gust of wind kicked up and nearly carried me off into the sky. I had to grab onto the windowsill because I was almost sucked out. Anyway, on the second occasion I saw this girl she and a friend shyly delivered two little chocolate candies into my possession for Valentine’s Day, or maybe the Lunar New Year, or maybe both; I gave them two caramels in exchange, and then they vanished.

So through this day’s peculiarly mundane and Busanian pointlessness I recalled that pleasant memory and decided to nickname the girl Dumpling, or 만두, Mandu, in Korean. It fits perfectly, and naturally takes us directly back to Gogol, who provided us with the appropriate poem and epigraph to this post almost two centuries ago.

One of the best things about Korea is the ready availability of dumplings. I bought some last night from an extraordinarily nice woman who lives in a small shop down the street. Like many workers, she seems to be there all the time, and no one ever seems to be buying anything. The little shop is open to the air, and there’s a heater and a television inside, both of which are always kept on; after I paid for the dumplings she nearly bowed all the way to the floor, which was ridiculous.

But the real question is this. Why is it that when you travel through Asia, and possibly elsewhere, everyone says hello if you look like a foreigner? Who tells them to do this? It’s usually nice and polite as long as the helloer isn’t a lecherous old man reeking of alcohol, but what does this helloer expect to gain? And sometimes the interaction is knee-jerk, entirely without premeditation: it occurs virtually the instant a foreigner is spotted. It’s as if there’s some kind of vast conspiracy. Who knows?

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