Thursday, November 11, 2010

Seoul sister

As I was logging onto the Web to check my Inbox, the title "Going Korean" caught my eye on the New York Times, which is the home page on my browser.

Kyopos and / or the people who know and live with us might want to read it: To know and live with us with an understanding of why we live in mortal terror of ajooma.

When among acquaintances and casual friends, I am vigilant to string up white lies like police tape around my personal details. But a nod from any woman born earlier than 1970 on our Asian peninsula flanked by the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea, however, awakens pre-programmed behaviors I can’t control. I answer every question to the best of my ability, and make my own polite inquiries, always careful to employ deferential syntax, the doily-lined, dustier version of the language that rarely appears in pop songs or the revenge trilogies I stream from the Internet.

I remember when I worked briefly at a maternity clothes store (as part of anthropological research), a well-heeled Asian woman about my mother's age, carrying a nice purse, came in with her pregnant daughter, who was about my age, and like me, wearing no make-up. Ajooma looked me up and down, addressed me in Korean, and asked me oh-so-sweetly to do a good job taking care of her daughter, who was a doctor, and had no time to shop, but needed new clothes. The daughter looked at me pleadingly: Can we do this quickly? My mother is embarrassing me. Please do not hate me. When I was in high school, I dyed my hair blond and ran around with a white boyfriend with a Flock of Seagulls haircut. My mother, though she never speaks of it, has not forgotten. Or so I thought I could hear her trying to tell me...

Unfortunately, both the daughter and myself were much. too. weak. to counter ajooma. Even the non-Korean store manager was powerless to do much other than fetch additional sizes and colors.

BTW, author Mary H.K. Choi is spot-on about David Chang. When StraightMan and I had my celebratory 40th birthday lunch at Momofuku, part of the enjoyment, I felt, was being "in" on the joke: I liken it to Ding Dongs made "upscale" with molten Valrona chocolate and creme freche. There we sat, eating Korean comfort food made with ingredients whose organicity / sustainability / provenance would register no response from my mother. "Heirloom pig? Who care? Just more expensive," I can hear her saying now. Is she wrong?

As I get older, I sometimes wish I were a bit more Korean because then I, too, could become an ajooma.

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