Trust Your Guts means a lot of different things to me; it means going inward for answers instead of outwards,it means authenticity, it means knowing when to stay and it means knowing when to leave. The following is a story of the latter.
I had an uncomfortable run in with a man named Phil where I learned the very important lesson to prioritize my feelings above those of a stranger (or anyone for that matter). I did not want to hurt this man’s feeling by rejecting him but I also did not want to give him my phone number. In the end, I gave him my phone number and in this battle between protecting Phil’s feelings and honoring my own, I lost.
I vowed I would never lose this battle again.
The very next day I had to face this battle again when I found myself sipping an instant coffee out of a paper cup sitting on a chair made of old newspapers inside the stall of a frozen squid vendor.
I went on a long walk to wander through some nearby neighborhoods. On weekends in Korea, markets can pop up on the sidewalks and turn the pedestrian pathways into teeming hubs of vendors. People take to the streets with bins full of fruit and curious spices. Fish take all forms in these markets ranging from frozen, dried and living. It’s an assault of the senses where people are offering you tastes of their fruits by holding them up to your mouth. Smells range from the enticement of roasted chestnuts to the putrid onslaught of unwelcome fish. It’s loud. There is bartering. Everyone wants you to buy from them despite the endless rows of seemingly identical stalls.
It’s easy to lose yourself.
On this particular Saturday I found myself completely by accident in such a place. I was thrilled as I stepped into the busy scene. I love a new discovery and I really love a market. I began meandering through the bustling scene, tasting and observing, taking it in.
Then things got a little weird.
I walked past a fish stall. It had Styrofoam coolers filled to the brim with frozen squid. I paused to take this in and as soon as I did I noticed the man running the stall, his face lit up at the sight of me and he motioned for me to come inside his stand. Now, I don’t claim that I always make the best travel decisions but I love adventure, I love a good story and I love meeting people I would never otherwise interact with. So I took this man up on his invitation and I stepped inside the squid stall.
He made a seat for me out of old newspapers and piled them on the floor. I saw this as generous and happily took my place on my paper throne. He had an old TV inside the stall. The kind that’s cubical with an antennae protruding and a 6 inch screen blaring a Korean drama. This was heaven.
He made me some instant coffee chock full of sugar and served it to me in a paper Dixie cup. I greedily accepted because I love coffee, in any form, in any setting. I sat up on the newspaper chair and sipped my coffee and watched the market happen from the inside looking out.
I briefly contemplated my future, I could be Mrs. Squid and we could hawk various sea creatures to the good people of South Korea. Yes, this could be it for me. Life as a Korean street vendor. I think Squid Man read my thoughts because at this moment he flashed me his gold tooth in a devious smile and winked at me.
This served as a moment of clarity and brought me back down to Earth and I decided my future did not rest with Squid Man. I decided it was time to go. I thanked him for the coffee and got up to leave. He grabbed my arm.
He grabbed my arm kinda hard.
I did my best to explain that I was leaving in a polite but firm manner. He motioned for me to wait and went to grab his phone and demanded I put my number in it. Shoving the phone in my face he wouldn’t take no for an answer and the instant coffee no longer seemed worth it.
I recognized I no longer needed to be in this situation, I did not owe him an explanation, I did not owe him my time and I certainly didn’t owe him my phone number.
The right thing for me to do was just walk away.
So I did.
I didn’t explain myself.
I didn’t stay for one second longer after I made up my mind.
I said no.
I learned my lesson and I listened to my guts. I was proud of myself, I was in tune with my feelings and when they told me to go, I listened.
I still am unsure of what the man thought would come of a phone number exchange since he spoke not a word of English, maybe he wanted to text. But what I am sure of is the next time I go to a market I will not be seduced by the fleeting promise of a future as a street vendor.