I love ajummas.  I’ve said it and I don’t care who knows it.  I have cultivated a deep and profound appreciation for Korea’s collective grandmothers and I’m not afraid to show it.  They are pushy and overbearing.  They are tight black curls and sharp elbows.  They are the space invaders of public transportation. Ajummas are surely the product of a nasty but intriguing threesome between Mrs. Roper, Derek Zoolander and my high school janitor.  Their sense of style can only be described as chaotic.  It’s janitor sheik, with a touch of klass. (That’s Korean Class.)  And they’ve got something I don’t: Ajumma Power.  

Ajumma Power can strike at any moment: feeling harrased by the belligerent ajjossi on the subway?  Ajumma Power.  Unsure of the proper trash disposal etiquette?  Ajumma Power.  Craving a grandmotherly figure who’ll bring you toothpaste and potholders as housewarming gifts?  Ajumma Power.  And my Building Ajumma’s got it in spades.

After a long, exhausting day of teaching (read: Marathon Information Dump), I wanted nothing more than to sprawl on my bedroom floor, starfish style, and soak up the heat.  Korean winters are cold and I’m a pansy.  I dropped my purse, crawled out from under the clothing mountain, and pushed that little pink button.  Immediately the green light popped on.  I tottered around the kitchen for awhile, giving the boiler a chance to heat.  It wasn’t long before I realized something was wrong.  I kicked off my slipper.  Cold floor.  I ran the tap.  Cold water.  I peeked around the corner into my bedroom and saw a curious red flashing light. 

This was a job for Building Ajumma.  I slipped on my tennis shoes and headed upstairs.   

“Yoboseyo?” she sings into the intercom.

“Hello?!”  I answer in English, unsure.  I feel the need to make it clear the Waygookin is calling, lest she confuse my poor attempt at Korean with an ACTUAL Korean speaker.  Clearly I am giving myself  too much credit.

“Oh, hello!”  She is surprised.

“Um, boiler, obseyo?”  I mutter.  God, why doesn’t she have a video camera out here?  I am amazing at hand gestures.  Utterly genius.

“Okay.”  This word is America’s greatest export. 

I hear her shuffle down the stairs.  She is tight black curls and sharp elbows.  She is wearing the obligatory red apron and oversized eyeglasses, making her more than slightly resemble Scooby Doo’s Velma.  She has folded down the backs of her shoes.  She greets me with a smile.

“Boiler, obseyo,” I say more emphatically this time, as now I can cross my arms over my chest to really drive the point home.

She leads me to my apartment and lets herself in.  Before I can wriggle my giant foreigner foot out of one shoe, she has kicked hers off, bounded over my bed and is crawling out my window onto the patio.  She is a ninja.  I fumble around the kitchen while she tinkers on the porch.  Minutes pass.  Long, silent minutes.  Studies show Americans start to feel uncomfortable with conversation lulls somewhere around the two second mark.  I am no exception.  Just as my anxiety mounts, I hear her call, “Heat-uh.  Off-uh.”  Her accent is thick and endearing.  

I dutifully follow directions.  She tinkers some more.  I stand uncomfortably in the doorway, only now realizing she probably planted her tiny ajumma foot directly on my pillow in her haste to get through the window.  The same pillow I rest my head on every night.  Gross.  Employing ninja skills of my own, I snatch the pillow and toss it across the bed.  I am feigning interest in her task when she shouts, “Bo-luh!”

I do not speak Korean, but I do fancy myself a wicked Konglish Interpreter.  I could not, however, discern what the hell she said.

“Bo-luh!  Bo-luh!  Lar-gee bo-luh!”  she shouts. Now I can hear the gushing water spilling onto the patio and realize she is shouting for a bowl. Well why didn’t you say so?!  
I dash into the kitchen (which is really not dash-worthy, as my entire apartment is about the size of most American SUV’s) to find a bowl.  I grab my largest cereal bowl, which is to say just about average American-sized.  But in a country where everything is in miniature, this bowl is HUGE.  It will suffice.  I whip around the corner and attempt to pass off the “lar-gee bo-luh” and am rebuffed.

“Anio.  Lar-gee!  Lar-gee!”  She repeats.  I love situations when I am perceived to have  misunderstood my own language.  Unfortunately for her (and my patio) I do not bake in Korea and therefore have no “lar-gee bo-luhs” to speak of.  I do, however, have a tiny trashcan that is about the size of a large bowl. 천재!  I pull out the trash bag and offer her my trashcan.  She is exasperated.  By this time the water has ceased to run and she has one leg through the window.

“Heat-uh on,”  She instructs me.  With fingers crossed, I punch the button and we both wait.  More silence.  Thirty, sixty, ninety seconds pass.  The ominous flashing red light is gone and it appears her Ajumma Powers have fixed my heat.  My bowing and kamsahamnidas are emphatic as I thank her for a job well done.  She, however, is not finished.  She pulls herself back through the window and plants her stocking-ed feet in the middle of my white down comforter.  With a look of self satisfaction usually reserved for shitting babies and mischievous children, she raises her hands, points both thumbs squarely at her chest and proclaims, “Me how-suh doc-toe!”

I cannot contain my giggles.  I smile and clap, and repeat, “Yes, House Doctor!” 


Social sleeping, part duex

like a child, i am bored easily and am in need of constant entertainment. during one of my many bus/subway/cab rides last week, i decided to go through the pics on my phone (public transportation bores the hell outta me. if only the people of seoul were more interesting to look at). this is always very fun for me, as i like to see the progression of drunkenness that takes place and is then documented on my celly cell.

well, i scrolled waaaaay back, all the way to 4:53 AM on saturday, march 28 2009, according to the date stamp. and i found this gem.

this is a mcdonald's on hagwon-ga, the street i used to work. (ha!) i love the social sleeping that's taking place here. by the looks of their table, they didn't even bother to order any food, as those cans of coke are sold at c-stores, NOT the golden arches. as a matter fact, the entire scene looks as if they died mid-snack. maybe this particular mcdonald's was all sealed up and the fan was on. fandeath can strike anywhere, people. or maybe a rogue drunken ajjoshi (man, is that a redundant phrase) puked on their shoes and they're all just looking down at the mess. or maybe, these are korean runaways, seeking refuge under the comfortable glare of the neon lighting.

whatever the case, this little tidbit of social sleeping made my day.

Sunshine and rainbows and unicorns

confession: i find it INCREDIBLY hard to blog from home; something about the peace and quiet are oppressive. it's much easier for me to write from a coffee shop filled with the drone of mindless korean chatter. and it has the added bonus of providing me with endless fodder.

anyway, i was reading through my "korea: round two" posts and realized two thangs: 1. i was posting pretty regularly through the fall, and much like exercise or binge eating, the more you do it, the easier it gets; and 2. although i was posting regularly, my posts were increasingly bitter and "woe is me." i was only blogging when something pissed me off or confused and annoyed me, something i REALLY didn't want to do. and let's be honest, there are already a retarded amount of expat blogs in korea ranting and raving about the ass-backwardness that is life on this peninsula, and most of them do a way better job of bitching than i ever could.

so i'm turning a corner. from now on, i'm gonna search really, really hard to find that sense of wonder and awe that inspired me to keep a blog in the first place. yes, wonder and awe in seoul. maybe i should rename this shit...

*editor's note; band of horses' the funeral just shuffled through itunes. god, technology can be so intuitive sometimes.

to begin... i teach kindergarten. or more appropriately, i make funny faces and jokes at my students' expense for the better portion of my working day. (and we dance to chromeo, but that's another post.) so, you know, all in all a good gig.

anyway, my six-year-olds (and i cannot stress this point enough) were asked to keep a picture diary. three times a week, they draw a picture and write 5-7 sentences about the picture. mostly the diaries are filled with drawings of princesses and cars and food. (ah, the musings of a six-year-old. terribly... boring.) but last week mandy busted out, hands down, the BEST (and most insightful) diary to date. in it's entirety:

*note: the italics are my edits.

I'm in the Market

Today I'm going to the market. I want a car cart, but my mom says "there are no more." "No there are more," I say. But I say "Mom, can I have a big cart?" "Do you have change?" My mom says. (you have to pay a deposit to use shopping carts.) "Or I will go home," I say. "You don't have a car," My mom says. "I will go with my bike," I say. "You don't have a bike," Mom says. "I will play with a noisy toy," I say. "OK," My mom says. The end.

is it weird that i'm condoning this behavior? probably just bad karma.

how awesome is that?! when she doesn't get what she wants at the grocery store, she presents her mom with a series of ultimatums. mom, ever the Klever Korean Mother, counters each ultimatum with logic. but mandy stays cool as a cucumber and finally decides to annoy mom throughout the shopping trip by playing with a noisy toy. sheer genius! and also, a telling glimpse at the cold calculation that is childhood manipulation.


Because one blog just ain't enough

wow, february passed me by. this is how i've been spending my free time. damn korean winters. enjoy!