I might have just experienced the most bizarre, most rewarding hour of my life in Korea thus far. No, it was not the “Dead Poet’s Society” moment I’ve always dreamed of, where I inspire my students to burn their terrible Korean textbooks and jump up on desks screaming, “Oh Captain, my Captain.” Though this is still an ambition of mine, The Ajumma Experience was much more unplanned.
So, after a rather delightful dinner with two of the teachers at my Monday school, I was walking home in the freezing cold, which isn’t an exaggeration, because things are actually starting to freeze, and I remembered that I needed milk. So I go into this tiny, dusty convenience store that I walk by everyday and the ajumma at the counter starts screaming at me. Ajumma (literally translated as aunt), for those not in SoKo, is the the term given to a specific species of female person, over the age of 55. They’re known for their everyday hiking wear, tight perms and constant scowls. Korea doesn’t have many large, scary animals. The war killed off the bears and the cats, but the ajumma survived.
So this ajumma starts screaming at me and I’m standing there, terrified, about to put the milk back in the fridge and run for my life, when I realise that she’s staring past me at the large TV located above the rows and rows of ramen. I turned to see a heavily made up young woman, weeping and wailing into a telephone, while some violin strings crescendoed in the background. I have no idea what was happening in the scene, but in seconds, I was hooked. I stood in front if the counter, milk in hand, debit card between my fingers, being ignored by the woman behind me, but it didn’t matter, I was transfixed. Why was she crying? Why was the lazy-eyed girl so desperate to reach the k-pop guy and what would happen now that they were stuck in the elevator? All these question buzzed around my brain. After a minute or two of this, I felt a tap on my shoulder and the ajumma tore her eyes from the screen long enough to offer me a seat on the crates next to her. You know what? I took it. And there we were, just two soap-watchers, enjoying Ji Eun’s pain. At some point, a guy came in to buy smokes and was defiantly ignored until he gave up and walked out. This was serious stuff. Every once in a while, between yelling at the TV and making dramatic gasps (the latter done by me), my new TV buddy would say something to me in rapid, impassioned Korean to which I would knowingly nod, without understanding a word. About forty seven minutes after I walked into the store, it was over. I got my milk and we parted with the warm of smiles of those who’d just shared a special moment.
I might just go back next week to find out the pretty dude in the elevator ever got to the the girl in time. I sure hope so. For the ajumma’s sake.