Cackling Ajummas and Looking for Sex in Korea

Good Man and I are in Jejudo, the Korean Hawaii. (So they say. It’s beautiful, but it’s not Hawaii.) Good Man’s Mother thinks he’s at some computer conference.

Last night at the airport I saw something I hope to never see again.

Ajummas, technically, are middle aged women. Ajummas as most people use the term are loud, square-shaped women with the same ajumma perm, ajumma visors, ajumma sun masks that make them look like birds, and ajumma clothes. (Patterned cotton/poly pants and shirts, patterns not matching.) They’ll hit you with their umbrellas, push you to get on the subway first (even when their are tons of open seats), and yell at you if you’re doing something they think is wrong.

(Side note on the last point: In my apartment complex we can only bring paper recycling out on the 9th, 19th, 29th of the month. We came to Jejudo yesterday, and we get back the 31st, which is the same day I need to have everything out of my apartment. So I brought out the paper recycling yesterday. On my way to the recycling area, so ajumma started screaming at me.

I just stopped, waited until she was done. She shook her head and starting complaining about how foreigners don’t learn Korean. I said, in Korean* “Yes, I understand. But Saturday I’m moving. And today until Saturday I’m going to Jejudo. So I’m doing it today!”

Well, that shut her up.)

So last night at the airport, I went into the restroom to find 6 stalls and about 25 ajummas. Were the ajummas in line? Nooooo, this is Korea, and a single line in a room full of ajummas would make too much sense!

Instead, there were ajummas in front of each stall. So we basically had 6 ajumma lines. I stood behind all of them, trying to be the start of one normal non-ajumma line.

The ajummas would exit the stalls, pants still down around their knees, all cackling and talking to each other. If you’ve never heard an ajumma cackle, consider yourself lucky. An ajumma cackle is grown-up agasshi wining combined with a chicken clucking with a hint of witch in it.

They’d start tucking themselves into their pants (yes, themselves, no, not their clothes, themselves), but none of them would actually move out of the doorway so that their ajumma friends could use the toilet. No, they were just showing off their ajumma underwear to their ajumma friends in their ajumma visors with their ajumma perms in what had clearly become the ajumma bathroom.

Finally, a stall opened up. The first stall. The one closest to me. There were no ajummas in front of this door, so I looked at the next one, expecting her to change lines. She didn’t move, so I started to walk toward the stall only—

To be rammed in the shoulder by the ajumma standing behind me in line.

I left the bathroom and found Good Man.

“I need to find another bathroom because I am not an ajumma. And luckily, I am not Korean, so I will never become an ajumma. I think this is why you love me.”

He nodded very seriously.

*Usually when I say something in Korean, I write it in Korean. But I’m at a PC bang using IE 6 and for some reason IE doesn’t work well with my blogging platform. Of course it shouldn’t, IE is crap and Firefox rocks. Korea has not yet caught on to Firefox. Korean government websites often only work with IE and a ton of ActiveX plugins. Korea, in spite of being so well wired and connected, is pretty clueless when it comes to options other than Microsoft.

Now, speaking of clueless, I was looking for information about the Jejudo Sex Museum and Yahoo is now automatically opening up Korea Yahoo. So I typed in “Jejudo Sex Museum” and a screen popped up telling me I had to enter my Korean ID number to prove I was over 19. I suppose this is a way to prevent youngsters from looking at things they shouldn’t be looking at. I went to the US Yahoo site, typed in the exact same thing, and got what I wanted. Try again, Korea…

I Could’ve Done Better

So yesterday was my last day at work. I see my third and fourth graders once a week, fifth and sixth graders twice a week. So since last week, we’ve been giving them time at the end of class to write good bye notes to me.

Some of them are really funny, some are really touching.

And then yesterday, a fifth grader who rarely talks, who almost never has his book or a pencil, wrote me this card. Everyone else used markers and crayons, he used only his pencil.

happy Korea
happy Canada

I am not from Canada. This shows you how much he pays attention. In fact, when I got it, I teased him about it. “Canada? Me?” He blushed and I gave him a half-shoulder hug. I only read the inside of the card after he left.

Hellow Amanda
I’m chan hee
after before very nut like
after very like English
because you teach very
I love you
Tank you

before teacher is
not very teach very
but you is very very
English time very
happy und very great
good bye Amanda
good bye

Chan hee

When I read it after class, I was able to hold back the tears. When I got home and showed Good Man, I couldn’t stop crying.

He wrote that without any help. One of my many no-book, no-pencil, no-talking students wrote that. We told them they could write in Korean, and yet he wrote that. All of that.

Why didn’t I know he could do that? Why didn’t I see it?

I was bawling, “[Good Man], I could’ve done more! I could’ve done better! I could’ve taught more!”

“You’re a great teacher, Amanda, they like you. In elementary school, English is not tested, it’s to introduce them to foreigners and English and to have fun, he remembers you,” Good Man said. “You did a great job. You don’t need to cry. He will have good memories of English and foreigners because of you.”

My first year as a teacher, I had a student give me a handmade bracelet. It was your typical fifth grade girl craft bracelet. Sort of like the pasta necklace I gave my grandma for her 50th birthday (which, 10 years later, she still had in her fine jewelry box).

“Here, Ms.,” she said. “I want to give this to you. I gave it to my mom.”

“Oh, then, hon, you should—”

“But she said she would never wear it and gave it back to me.”

I tried to hide my shock and slipped it on my wrist, “Well I will wear it.”

She touched my heart and broke it in the same moment.

This card did the same, because I want to shout “MY GOD, WHERE DID THAT COME FROM? YOU’RE AWESOME!” from the school courtyard, and yet I ask myself, “Why didn’t I know he could do that? What if I’d known? What could we have done then?”

Did I do enough for these kids? All… 700+? Did I teach them any English? Did I make them less afraid of foreigners? Did I make them think, just a little?

Did they learn half as much from me as I learned from them?