Game Market 1983 - Chapter 62
The bright yellow streetlights were turned on as the sun had already set. And I had hurriedly crossed the street to arrive at a decrepit building and descended to the basement.
“Where are we now?”
“Oh, that’s… You can call it a type of a Korean-arcade.”
“There is an arcade in the basement of a building like this?”
… Of course, it wouldn’t be as good as the game centers in Japan either, being in a place like this. But did I really start frequenting these arcades since I was 7 years old? No way. No matter how I was into games, being 7 was way too young. My younger-self should be at home by now eating dinner….
I comforted myself and opened the basement door to be greeted with the putrid smell of cigarettes. Wow… I hadn’t realized this when I was a child, but this place was no different than a dungeon….In the midst of the noisy background music, I looked around the arcade. Thankfully, I only saw the silhouettes of middle and high schoolers. There weren’t any kids in grade school as far as I could see. Of course, this was to be expected….
As I thought to myself ‘there was no way a seven-year-old could…’ and turned my head….
I spotted two small bodies huddled in one corner playing the action game ‘Woodpecker’...
‘Could they... be…’
I tilted my head in curiosity and approached the duo, to be greeted the sight of two scrawny children who were fervently pounding on the buttons and pulling the lever up and down in excitement. One of them was Yongmin, another one of my childhood friends whom I had befriended in preschool. These rascals sure were getting along with each other very nicely!!
Seeing the blue and red woodpeckers swinging their fists around wildly on the screen, an exasperated sigh came out of my mouth.
“I’m going crazy. So you little rascals were here playing games all day… Hey!!”
The BGM had entranced the rascals; my outburst went unnoticed by the duo. I observed them for a moment before approaching them again and asked. “Do you guys know what time it is?”
“Ahh!! You scared me, mister!! Who are you!?”
Since Yuki was watching me, I suppressed my thoughts of giving them a well-deserved slap on the forehead and opened my mouth.
“Your mother sent me here to get you. Return home this instant!!”
“Really!? What time is it right now?”
“It’s already dark outside you little rascal!”
“... I’m dead. My mom’s going to murder me.”
The little Junhyuk stood up abruptly in disbelief after hearing that it was night already. Seeing Yongmin who was sitting beside him turning pale as well, I concluded that these two were probably in here for hours playing video games and not paying attention to the time.
“Yongmin, let’s run home now!!”
The young Junhyuk grabbed onto his friend’s arm and hurriedly left the arcade. And Yuki and I had also run after them.
“Hey!! Brat, wait a second."
After hearing my shout, the young Junhyuk stopped running and paused.
“Here, buy some meat at the butchers with this on the way home.”
“‘Who are you, mister? My mom said to not take things like this from strangers…”
“It’s fine, just take it. But don’t spend it on anything else, alright? Buy some meat on the way home. You know the shop near your house that you frequent with your mom; ask for 50,000 ($50) Wons worth of beef, okay?”
“Beef… Broth and barbecuing… 50,000 Wons…”
Junhyuk was repeatedly muttering my words as if he were trying to engrave it into his memory. Looking at Yongmin who was watching this scene with envious eyes, I also handed him a wad of cash for 50,000 Wons.
“If you accomplish this mission, I’ll give you another gift tomorrow. You have to keep our promise!”
“Yeah. I’ll be near your house tomorrow, so let’s meet at the supermarket around the corner at 5 P.M.”
Junhyuk was eyeing me with a slightly suspicious gaze, but seeing how the location I stated was the supermarket right next to his house, he slowly nodded his head.
“Then you two should hurry off now. Your parents must be worried.”
The two jokesters held each other’s hands tightly and started running off to their houses. Yuki came up to me and asked me a question after observing this quirky exchange. “Do you know these kids? What were you talking about?”
“Hmm. They reminded me of myself when I was young so...… I told them to stop gaming this late and return home.”
“You were like this when you were young?”
I let out a grin as I saw the silhouette of the two children growing smaller.
Mmm? What was this? I quickly turned my attention to Yuki who shied away from my gaze and murmured. “I didn’t have anything to eat after the brunch we had this morning… I.. I’m starving.”
Oops… I was too focused on my task. I had completely forgotten about eating. My journey to find my childhood home had been nerve wrecking for me to say the least; having a meal was the last thing on my mind. Yuki’s reminder snapped me back to my own hunger.
“Sorry. Today was such a crazy day for me, I completely forgot about eating. You should have said something if you were hungry.”
“Mmm…. I won’t die if I skip a few meals, But my legs are a bit sore from all the walking we did, hehe~"
As I showed my dejection, Yuki stuck her tongue out and smiled brightly like she had always been doing. This sight brought an unexplainable sense of comfort and relief to me.
“I finished everything I had to do for today, so we should eat dinner first and head back to our hotel.”
“Okaay~ What are we going to eat?”
“I don’t know… do you want to try anything in particular?”
“Wouldn’t you know the local restaurants well?"
“Mmm… I haven’t been here in a very long time, so I’m just as clueless as you…”
“Then let’s go with what you liked to eat when you were young, Mr. Junhyuk.”
“What… I used to eat as a kid?"
Hoh… Her words brought up a specific image in my mind… I did want to try that again, but wouldn’t it be too lackluster for Yuki who spent an entire day keeping up with me.
“Here is your rice cake sticks.”
Five sticks covered with a spicy sauce was served on a green plastic plate. Being 200 Wons per stick, the total amounted to 1000 Wons ($1). This rice cake treat was an instant favorite amongst children and still is today.
Yuki must have been famished, but she still resisted the urge to dig in and took out her shutter to snap photos of the food first.
“What is the name of this dish?”
“It’s called a rice cake stick. A wooden stick is inserted into a rectangular rice cake and cooked with oil and red sauce.”
“Ahh…. Is it spicy?”
“No, it shouldn’t be. At most, it’ll be a tangy flavor in your mouth.”
After being somewhat comforted by my words, Yuki nibbled on a stick. Shortly afterward, her eyes lighted up and she made an incredibly astonished face.
“Hoo..hoo.. Wow… T...This is amazing~!! The outside part is crispy while the insides are chewy providing a stark contrast of flavors that mesh perfectly together, really. The red sauce isn’t spicy either~!!”
But wasn’t that a bit exaggerated for a 200 Won street food? At that moment, the stall lady brought the main plate over.
“The tiny sushi and the rice cakes are here. And this broth is on the house~”
Our table was filled with various food items, but it only amounted to 30,000 Wons ($3). It was a pitiful compensation for Yuki compared to what she went through today because of me.
The meal should be tasty though…
“I think this rice cake dish will be spicy from the smell.”
“It’ll be spicy, but this was still one of my favorite foods when I was a kid. If it’s too spicy for you, you can wipe the sauce in the broth and eat it without any flavors.”
After contemplating for a short moment, Yuki grabbed a rice cake with a fork and placed it in her mouth.
“It is spicy, but it’s juicy and has a unique flavor. I like it.”
Yuki gave a satisfied expression while holding a fork in one hand. Nostalgic memories from my childhood surfaced in my mind again seeing the stall lady stirring a pot full of red rice cakes.
“Thank you. Come again.”
After taking care of the bill, I called out to the stall lady who was smiling back at me.
“Is there anything wrong? Was there a problem with the bill?”
“No, that’s not it…”
“This might sound weird, but you might want to go to the hospital for a checkup.”
“What? A hospital? I’m perfectly healthy.”
“Actually, I’m a medical school graduate, and you seem to be sick somewhere just based on your complexion.”
“I know you’re busy with the food stall, but please heed my words and go to a hospital for a checkup.”
“Ah… Okay… I will do that.”
“Thank you again for the amazing rice cakes.”
This very food stall was frequented by me when I was a kid. And due to the generous personality of the lady running the stall and the amazing rice cakes, her business went very well. After working tirelessly whether it hailed or snowed, she had collapsed onto the floor in front of the young me one day.
Thankfully, she was able to regain consciousness because she was moved to the hospital quickly, but the stress from overworking had taken a toll on her health, eventually claiming her life thereafter.
Seeing a familiar face that I saw daily suddenly disappear left a big shock in my mind when I was a kid. I definitely wanted to see her again when I came to Korea and tell her this.
Thankfully since this was the year 1988, she should be able to take care of whatever illness she has…. After walking out of the food stall, I quickly ran to Yuki who shivering in the cold night wind.
The next day…
I awoke to the morning rays shining onto my face in my hotel bed. Yuki must have been drained from yesterday as she was still sleeping soundly next to me.
Just to clear up any misunderstandings, but nothing happened between Yuki and me last night.
I wanted to immediately rest after our dinner last night, but Yuki, being drawn by the plethora of glowing street signs, eventually won me over with her innocent pleading eyes to explore the city some more.
She spotted a street food that was similar to the ‘Taiyaki’ back in Japan and expressed delight in comparing the difference in tastes. In the end, after roaming the streets of Myungdong well into midnight, we finally came back to our hotel and instantly fell asleep after taking a shower.
I quietly left my bed to not wake Yuki up and headed to the bathroom. I came out with a towel drying my wet hair to see an awake Yuki who was staring out the window.
“The view here is great. That tower over there on top of the mountain is the famous ‘Namsan Tower’?”
“Yeah, shall we climb up there after we take care of the business today? The view from up there should be great as well.”
“Really? Mmm~ Only if you manage to finish your work quickly. I don’t want to distract you from your work.”
“Don’t worry. We won’t be walking around nearly as much as yesterday.”
“Then I’ll also wash up now.”
Yuki walked into the bathroom while being wrapped in her blankets as if she was embarrassed to let me see her with her pajamas.
While she was taking a shower, I lighted a cigarette on the terrace and examined my bag to see if I was missing any items. Inside my bag was the mobile Gamboy that I would gift to the young me, along with a cartridge that contained a special message to go with it.
“To think… I would personally make a game that I would give to my younger self.”
I let out a stream of laughter as I looked at the cartridge that I was going to hand to Junhyuk.
“That brat would love this.”
“Mr. Junhyuk~ Are you on the terrace?”
“Oh, you’ve showered already?”
“Wait!! I’ll put on my clothes really quick, so please stay there for a moment even though it might be cold!”
… Shit, I should’ve just went in pretending like I didn’t know anything.