Oh, the ajumma (large sigh and shaking of the head in a way that lets you know there is no hope left ). This morning I was at the end of a line of people. It had ended precisely at the point where there was no more room for anyone because there was a large vending machine backed by an enormous supporting square column. I had slipped in behind the average Korean woman commuter: short skirt, long hair, body like a Victoria Secret model minus the boobage. (Yep. That’s right folks. Go ahead and insert it into your vocabulary and somebody call Webster. Boobage (n) /boob’- ij/: a word of db origin formed by joining boobs and baggage, both of which can be weighty and a pain to haul around.) So, I’m standing there thinking about the more serious issues in our world, i.e. does my hair look really greasy from the back today, how that guy got a shirt that says Wal-Mart, and how much longer I can wear these shoes before they need to be replaced. And Rainbow Brite Ajumma comes slipping through the lines on my left. I see her coming. You can’t miss the lady. She is sporting a bright punch-you-in-the-face green jacket and the mandatory foot-long visor. If I were in a room with my eyes closed, this jacket would wake me up. Seriously.
So Rainbow Brite Ajumma comes closer and I assume she shall wheedle or whack her way through my line. I squeeze as flat against the vending machine behind me as the chubb-o belly will allow in order to let her pass because I don’t like people touching me before 9 a.m. I thought she would just move on through. Negative.
She just stays there.
Yep. She just plants herself on top of the girl in front of me. I can see Victoria Secret Minus Boobage’s hair blowing in the breath of R.B. Ajumma. Yeah, she’s that close. And then she kind of leans her shoulder into Sans Boobage’s back to look around her at who knows what. So Sans Boobage kind of arches her back and gives a halfway glance behind her with a look of annoyance on her face. R.B. Ajumma does not notice or does not care. She does not take a step back. I wonder how long it will be before Sans Boobage turns around and gives Rainbow Brite a good verbal scathing in Korean, but all of a sudden, this ajumma steps out of the line, wheedles through two more lines to the right of us and stands next to the first person in that line, bypassing the 10-15 other waiting commuters.
Rage! Absolute rage! It’s so fortunate for R.B. Ajumma that no one in this country is allowed to own a handgun. (Most fatalities are stabbings, which cannot be done en masse. Perhaps America should consider this. Just a thought.) The thing that most infuriates me is not that this woman has no respect for personal boundaries. I understand that every culture usually has different values, especially when it comes to personal space. I’m able to accept that. But the fact that in any country, any person thinks they have the right to step in front of a line of waiting people in order to beat them all to the first seat, is simply enraging. To quote Jim Carrey as the Grinch: “The audacity! The unmitigated gall!” I cannot fathom thinking in this way.
Or perhaps it’s not a mindset, a thought. Perhaps it is a lack of thought, the absence of public consideration for others. This country harbors so many contradictions within its customs. Koreans are some of the most kind, generous, and giving people I’ve ever met. Individually. It seems that the same rules that apply to any single person do not apply when one is in a large group, particularly underground. I’ve had several ajummas whack me with purses, shove me out of the way, and literally run over my feet to beat me to a seat on the train. But I’ve also had the singular experience of an ajumma giving me her seat an entire stop before she left the train. And one other time, an elderly woman patted the seat beside her with a smile, inviting me to sit down with her.
And because of these small incidents, because of these exceptions to the rule of inconsiderate behavior, I do not retaliate. I silently bear my rage and grit my teeth and take deep breaths. I do not push back. I do not cut in line. I do not always close my eyes while sitting down so that I don't have to feel guilty about not relinquishing my seat to the nearest elderly woman or man standing on the train. Because if I resort to mimicry, if I give in to my heart’s burning desire to push Rainbow Brite Ajumma out of the way, to step back in front of her, it’s like a seal of approval. I am signing off on this behavior as acceptable. And although this behavior is rampant, there are a great many people not partaking in the serve-yourself subway mentality. And for them, I rage here, instead of on the platform waiting for the train.
You’re welcome, Korea. You’re welcome.