Bent at the elbow, the prosthetic arm laid aging and unused, swaddled by yellowing cloth in the darkened display window. The arm’s beige paint was peeling along the forearm, revealing a metallic base below. My eyes lingered on this shiny patch and my mouth filled with the taste of metal. The arm’s lifetime, intended for hugging, handing, and handshaking, was one big missed opportunity spent rotting in public view.
Under the guidance of a mammoth greyish-blue cloud, Jessye and I walked down the quiet street heading away from Seoul station, passing by a parade of similar shop windows advertising aged, lifeless limbs to non-existent customers. I listened to the snores of the homeless coming from “Children’s Park” and the waves of disgruntled grunts coming from a sullen union meeting in a garage a few blocks away.
The taste of metal amplified in my mouth and to quote Dante, “In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.”
But then I looked up and saw flickering-red sign. I was expecting it to say ”All hope abandon ye who enter here” but instead it said:
There were four ajummas at their individual stations, one making the dough, another making the filling, one frying the pork dumplings and the other steaming the xiao-long bao.
After twenty minutes we were standing in the front of the line and the owner came out to greet us. He was an older man, who had been moving around the restaurant with a pleasant urgency.
“Hello, I am sorry but we only serve dumplings” he said apologetically.
“Great, I love dumplings” I said, laughing with a newfound joy.
His demeanor changed completely and he straightened his back like he had been struck by lightening. “Really? Me too!” he said with delight. “Just wait a moment!” He ran back into the restaurant and cleared a table. The place was small and decorated simply.
In solemn preparation I filled a tiny bowl with soy sauce, green onions, and ginger. We ordered xiao-long bao and shrimp dumplings to start. and they came steaming, one on-top of another.
The shrimp were juicy and the xiao-long-bao, tiny bowls of soup tucked into twisted up dough, were perfectly suited for the fall weather. The spices were not heavy, but rather a nicely balanced ecosystem that dropped like a comfort bomb into my mouth. The flavors were soft, tenderly giving each individual taste bud a sweet hug and telling me that, at least for the moment, everything was all right.
I pictured myself in robes, solemn and chaste, standing under a flickering neon depiction of a dumpling in a vaguely European cathedral. The long line of the devout stood before me waiting for me to drop a dumpling into their mouth and let them sip from my gauntlet of soy sauce.
“Eat my body, drink my blood” I muttered under my breath. “What?” said Jessye. I ordered the pork dumplings. The owner informed me the pork dumplings were cooked using water, no grease. The result of this method was that the bottoms had crispy flakes stemming out from all over the place while the tops were soft as if they had been steamed.
Belly full, I paid at the register and went outside. The sun had come out. I heard some birds calling to each other in the distance. An elderly couple walked down the street, laughing, hand in hand. I grabbed Jessye’s hand, “let’s walk this off” I said.
I fingered the rosary in my pocket. “Forget the church of the flying Spaghetti Monster” I said to Jessye, “I want the church of the Forgiving Dumpling.”