I love those commercials you see here in Korea that start with a group of happy cows munching grass in a sunny green field, and fade to a second shot of raw red beef on a plate (it would be so much better if you did the same thing with people!), and I also love ajumma stories.
My wife, now, is a very pregnant woman, which means that in Korea, if she steps onto a bus or a subway, someone is supposed to give up his seat for her. But the reality is that people rarely give up their seats for anyone. I almost never sit down under these circumstances (even on those long rides to the edge of the Busanian world) because there is always someone older and more decrepit hanging around and eyeing all the greedy young bastards you see playing on their phones or Ipads or whatever. That is the principal difference between old and young on the subway: the old fight to sit down and zone out or take a nap when they accomplish this sole object of their existence, the young play with their technology. Anyway, this is the theory behind Korea and Confucian culture (which I suspect, as with the North, is just window dressing to conceal the true nature of things), but it is not the reality.
So my wife is pregnant, and standing, on the subway. Sometimes she would like to sit down, sometimes not; because you are more or less in constant discomfort in the third trimester, it does not make much of a difference. On this particular ride there were two particular ajummas who will be very important to the rest of her story: one younger woman, a so-called “bujamma” (buja = Korean root for rich, but the neologism is proudly my own!), the kind you see that matured in the last decade and which covers its face with enough makeup to keep any clown happy as a plum; and an older woman, a real deal ajumma, who is actually old enough to be a halmoni (grandmother, rather than ajumma, or auntie), and who, we can assume, dressed with some assortment of very colorful clothes, curled and dyed and permed her hair, and grew up in a less nutritious era, thus leaving her a head or two shorter than the current generation. Both women, having been married and long-since impregnated, are considered (by some, not by me) to be outside Korea’s sexual social life, and therefore constitute a third gender.
That is the setup. The bujamma also had a young child with her who was old enough to be running around and nearly falling flat on its face while the train was moving, but this bujamma, belonging to the younger generation, was too busy with her cellphone to bother with properly supervising her child, which meant that it was my wife who prevented it from running outside the subway through the opening doors—where it very possibly could have slipped through the gap between platform and car and cracked its life open on the tracks—and not its own mother. If you think this is incredible I have actually heard the same story from one of my friends. Perhaps it was even the same bujamma she spoke of!
At some point after this, the older ajumma, the halmoni, standing behind my obviously pregnant wife, abruptly castigated everyone on the subway car. Everything stopped, everybody stared, as the ajumma bemoaned the loss of dignity and morals in this era, among this generation of vipers, and pleaded with one good soul hidden among the passengers to please give up his or her seat. And four people nearby stood up and walked away! My wife said it was alright, she could stand, but they had already swiftly ducked out of sight, so, blushing almost to tears, she thanked the ajumma, took her seat, and, as is so often true in this kindergarten society, where no one will sit next to you if you have been tainted for some reason—no one sat next to her for the rest of the ride.