Retirement Planning for Senior Citizens| RetyrSmart

The Tie Lady
By Julia Crouch )
Source :

To start with, Dawn enjoyed being among the jostling night time crowd in Namdaemun, the oldest market in Seoul. She lost herself in a maze of alleyways, some lined with backlit bottles of ginseng, others crammed with unidentifiable fruit, or bubbling vats of street food.

But then jetlag, combined with the crowds, the noise, and the sweltering night odours - cooking chicken's feet, fetid drains, fermenting cabbage Kimchi - put her into a kind of a trance.

So when she saw the brightly-lit street bar, she slid onto one of the counter stools and ordered a bottle of local beer.

'Sure,' said the bartender. 'Draft or bottle?'

'Bottle please. Your English is very good.'

'Should be. I was raised in Seattle.'

'Ah, a fellow restless citizen of the world.'

He smiled and bowed and fetched her a bottle of Cloud lager and a bowl of sort of taste-free green Hula Hoops.

She wanted to photograph the snacks and SnapChat them to Dave, but she had forbidden herself to contact him.

To achieve this, she had kept her phone in Airplane Mode since taking off from Heathrow the night before. This was a massive deal for Dawn, who was somewhat addicted to social media.

She needed a clear head to come to her decision.

Swigging the icy beer, she turned her stool to face the alley. Across the way, an elderly woman, whose barrow sold nothing but neckties, squatted on a low stool neatly devouring a bowl of noodles.

Away from the endless distractions of her phone, Dawn was actually properly looking around herself.

She loved Dave, but at thirty she considered herself too young to be tied down. She was still hungry for the choices the world offered: her burgeoning career in fashion scouting, all the other men in the world, the endless possibilities! Settling down to mortgage, marriage, kids had not been on her itchy horizon at all, but clearly Dave had given it some thought before he proposed to her.

Poor Dave. In her last bit of phone action, she had texted him from her plane seat.

Need some space. Don't call while I'm away.

She hoped he wasn't too upset.

She was in Seoul for work, of course. She never took a holiday. Korea was big in all matters fashion and beauty: K- this, and K- that. She surveyed the tie lady's wares. K-ties weren't ever going to be a thing, though. Pity.

The tie lady finished her noodles, fitted a lid to her bowl and sheathed her chopsticks and spoon in a plastic bag. Dawn reckoned this tiny, bird-boned woman must be at least as old as her grandmother. But, unlike Gran, who spent her days watching telly and doing word searches, this old lady was still working. Good on her, thought Dawn.

Earlier, between visiting an indoor market full of hot young K-designers and a whole district devoted to K-cosmetics, Dawn had visited Jog-ye-sa, a Buddhist temple, hoping that perhaps she might find her answer to her Dave quandary.

She knelt in front of a giant golden Buddha in a brightly-painted, incense-scented pavilion, and tried to focus, but the K-pop earworm from the K-designer market intruded too rudely in her ears.

She finished her beer and watched the tie lady start to close her stall. Moving creakily but carefully, she ran a blue feather duster over each tie in her display.

Somewhere the humid night air, a lone urban cricket chirruped.

The woman dusted and straightened her ties for the best part of an hour. Dawn nodded at the barman and ordered another beer, which arrived this time with dumplings. Taking her cue from the man next to her, she stabbed the slippery parcels with metal chopsticks. They were delicious.

Satisfied that everything was clean and orderly, the tie lady slowly unclipped and folded up each side of the barrow, stroking the neck ties as she went, as if she were saying goodnight.

Then finally – and by this point Dawn was on her third beer, which arrived with Tteok rice cakes in spicy sauce – the old woman secured her nestled-away livelihood by tying first ropes around it – each evenly spaced and intricately knotted – then enclosing it in looped chains, finished off with four padlocks.

'She's quite a lady, that one,' said the bartender as he cleared away Dawn's bowl.

'Does she do that every night?'

He nodded. 'And every morning same thing in reverse. She's had that stall on the same spot for seventy years. Through wars, occupations and dictatorships.'

'Does she sell many ties?'

The bar tender winked. 'I have quite a collection.'

They watched the old lady gather her meagre belongings.

'Her husband was injured in the war,' he went on. 'They live round the corner. She's going home now to look after him.'

As she stepped slowly past them, the tie lady fixed a twinkling eye on Dawn and inclined her head in a bow. Instinctively, Dawn returned the gesture, a shiver of connection running down her spine.

As she watched the old woman steadily making her way along the alley, greeting her fellow stallholders with bows and the odd word, Dawn thought of how much she demanded of her own life, and how with all of that, she still couldn't find peace.

Yet here was someone whose whole existence consisted of that stall and a couple of streets. What really mattered? What had she come half way around the world to learn?

And it played in her mind as clearly as the K-pop earworm: do fewer things, but do them as well as you possibly can.

She pulled her phone from her bag, switched it off Airplane Mode and called Dave.

'My answer's yes,' she said, before he could say a word.

Twenty minutes later, she paid the bar tender, adding another forty pounds' worth of Won to her bill.

'Tomorrow, buy yourself some more ties,' she said.

He smiled and bowed, and Dawn went on her way. . ....