Condoms and Tattoos

One of Mother’s sisters and her daughter came to visit today. I met them both very briefly before I left Korea. We sat around, the three of them talking about my vacation plans while I nodded and offered up a “yes, that’s right” every once in a while.

I was surprised when I understood them while they were talking about varicose veins. It’s amazing how much Korean I remembered after only a few days in the country, although my spoken Korean is far worse than my listening or reading skills. Then Auntie got in very close and asked me about my health. She always does this—as if sticking her face very close to mine will make understand her better.

We had dinner together. Mother is obsessed with the idea that I eat ice cream every day, for every meal, and keeps telling me I need to diet. I don’t bother to explain to her that I refuse to diet for numerous reasons. She wouldn’t understand. Even if the words were crystal clear, she would choose not understand the reasons.

And it doesn’t matter, because Mother tells me to diet with her mouth. But in the next moment, her hands give me a huge plate of white rice, smothered in curry. When I am full and stop eating, she yells at me to eat more. Mother’s idea of a “diet” is very strange.

The three of them turned and all started talking to me at once. They wanted to know what I want to eat. I wanted steamed pig’s trotters. I wanted them last time I was in Korea, but we didn’t eat it, because Mother doesn’t like it. Mother asked if bossam was fine. “Sure,” I said.

While we walked to the restaurant, Auntie said to me quietly, “I like pig’s feet, too.”

“You tell her, please,” I said. Auntie is younger than Mother, but she’s not the daughter-in-law, so maybe Mother will listen. Several steps later, Auntie says, “We should get bossam and pig’s feet, since Amanda likes it so much.”

I whirled to look at her, jaw dropped, “You like it, too!”

***

Sister is working, and will meet us at the restaurant. I am practicing telling her something crazy Mother said to me today, while she dragged me hiking. I’m rolling the words over in my mind, when I notice the delivery guy pulling sleeves on his arms to protect them from the sun. The sleeves have a pattern on them so it looks like he’s covered in tattoos. I nod toward him, “His arms, he looks like a bad man.” “Bad man” is the closest thing I can think of to “gangster.”

Mother laughs, “Ah, like a tattoo.”

I pick up some meat with my chopsticks and smile. “I have tattoos,” I say, “where you can’t see them.” Mother’s chopsticks stop in midair, rice a few inches from her mouth.

“Really?”

“And [Good Man] has a tattoo on his butt. ‘I love Amanda.'” I nod, trying to look very serious.

Mother’s eyes are large. “Really?”

I laughed, “I’m joking. No tattoos.”

“Really? Promise?”

I get serious, “Mother, I’m just joking. No tattoos. I promise.”

She looks at me sideways and I think she might just strip search me in the middle of the restaurant to see my hidden tattoos. I look out the window to gauge how many Koreans are passing by, how many people might see my butt. I see Sister and run to greet her at the door.

I loudly, excitedly ask her about her day, so Mother hears me. Then I grab her in a hug and whisper quickly what I’ve mentally practiced. “This morning while hiking, your Mother talked to me about condoms. Shhh. It’s a secret.”

Sister stares at me like she can’t believe what she just heard. “Condoms?” I nod. “Oh my God, my mother!”