South Korea has exposed me to a number of new things. One aspect of Korean life that has utterly baffled me from day one is the presence the adjumas. Adjumas are middle-aged korean women. In the Korean hierarchy, power comes with age and adjumas are power-hungry. This is a letter I composed to them. . .
My Dearest Adjumas,
I am new to this, your land. For you see, I have only been here six months and everything still seems so new and fresh to me. The reason I write this letter to you, my adjumas, is because I still have not figured out what it is that makes you tick. I see you selling food, toys and socks on the street. I see you cooking in every restaurant. I see you sweeping sidewalks. I see you everywhere but I still have a hard time understanding you.
For example, your street food can be delicious. But I can feed myself. I do not need you to be feeding me by hand and sticking your fingers into my mouth. You never do that to the Koreans that frequent your stands, only to me. And it leaves a bitter aftertaste of salt and humiliation to your previously tasty dukboki. To the adjumas who sell fruits, I thank you. My hat is truly off to you because I’m not sure what that thing is that is shaped like an apple and tastes kind of like a crunchy pear, but it is the most amazingly succulent thing I have ever put into my mouth.
This is not me. No, this fellow was lucky enough to find a sweet ajuma with chopsticks!
I will not claim to speak Korean but I have heard a great deal of Koreans speak it. Yet somehow it is only you, sweet old adjumas, only you who I hear making a distinct noise with the back of your throat whilst you speak it. Is this something I should be concerned about? And why do you always seem to direct your mouth towards me when you do it? Why is it that you take a pause, seemingly mid-word, to clear yo(gggghhhhhhhhhhuuuuu)ur throat? Do you require assistance? Perhaps some Binacha?
Where, oh sweetest of sweet adjumas, where do you get your clothes? Is there an Adjuma Unlimited somewhere that only sells leopard print spandex, flower printed flannel jackets, frumpy sweaters, face masks, umbrellas and enormous, clear visors? Do they give discounts on perms there?
Adjumas, I refuse to believe that sitting on the heels of your feet all day is the most comfortable position you can find. Please allow me to introduce you to the Crazy Creek. It will change your life.
And what are you doing with that cart? It appears to be a hybrid of a shopping cart and a baby stroller. Yet it contains neither groceries nor babies. It is killing me, adjumas! What is in those carts!?!?
Adjumas, I beg of you, please tone down the aggression. Please? Just a little? I wouldn’t say anything but you always seem to steer towards me when we pass each other on the street. I feel as though I have a magnet on me that only attracts you! I give you more than enough space and still, little adjumas, still you steer directly at me. And just last night my girlfriend swore to me that one of you growled at her as she passed. Growled! Why is this? Is it the way I smell? Do my odors offend you? Or perhaps it’s my small face. That’s it, isn’t it? You hate my small face and you want to get a closer view of its hideousness!
And on the bus, dear adjumas, on the bus the way you shove me and deliberately throw elbows into me; that hurts me. It hurts me inside and out. It makes me think, “why is she doing this to me? I was just standing here! Not even in her way! She went out of her way to come in and elbow me in the ribs! She hates me!”
But I don’t want you to think that I hate you. Rather, it is the opposite. I love you. I love the way you are always so concerned that I will enjoy your food. How entertained you become when you realize that I can use chopsticks. The way you shuffle, moving so fast yet never actually lifting your feet from the ground. And, finally, I love how you always have the best hiking gear, complete with hiking poles, even when you are in the supermarket. It always makes me think you will summit Everest as soon as you find your way out of the dairy aisle.
Thank you, adjumas! Thank you all!
Your curious foreign friend.
Somewhat unrelated but completely irresistable!