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Hello Metro Fight! (whoa)

October 9, 2009

An introduction is necessary here.

I knew before I came to Korea that the older women, called ajumma, are a rather aggressive, privileged type here. I knew to stay clear of them and give them my seat on the metro. Koreans and foreigners alike tried to warn me about their crafty ways and yet…I wasn’t ready. No one could have prepared me for the elbows to the gut, the shoving, the yelling, the cutting in line, and the attitude. It’s not just a matter of giving your seat to the ajumma, she’ll get on the metro and sit in your seat whether you’re still in it or not. God help you if you haven’t moved fast enough lest you face the dismissive stare of the ajumma.

I should also mention that the subway systems includes seats specifically marked for the injured, elderly, those with small children or those who are pregnant. But, who are we kidding? Those seats are for the ajumma. Even the older men will leap from their place for an oncoming ajumma. Now, I wasn’t sure what sort of “older” woman qualified for the exalted ajumma status…women with grey hair? women with the curly ajumma perm? wrinkles? I dunno but I got to watch two women have a screaming match on the metro to figure it out.

I got on the train and two women sitting in the special seating were already crescendoing their way to cat fight status. It literally sounded like cats screeching at each other. Old Ajumma was pointing at the handicapped signs, pointing at Young Ajumma and barking directly into Young Ajumma’s face. Young Ajumma held her own, flailing her hands, stomping her feet, laughing derisively and even whipping out what I could only assume to be her Korean senior citizen’s discount card. This only served to further enrage Old Ajumma as she belted louder while shooing Young Ajumma away. After five minutes, I realized I was staring but turned to the rest of the riders who were equally interested in the outcome of this battle. Five minutes later….still screaming, still pointing…now, there’s a little pushing. It could have gone on forever I’m sure but Old Ajumma recruited some other elderly people who were nothing more than bemused by the situation. Young Ajumma, realizing her defeat, scurried from her seat switched to another car on the train…Old Ajumma sat in her seat grinning, relishing her victory.

I’m pretty sure this has never happened in DC. Not ever.

That’s not even the focus of my night. I spent the evening with my co-teacher exploring the French village of Seorae. The Frenchness was next to nonexistent but we walked around, noted hanbok stores, exchanged stories, and got some French food in a restaurant called Sicily. Hmm…I should also add that one of the songs playing during our meal was a selection from Jesus Christ Superstar. Yeah okay whatever. We had a lovely time and the food was fantastic. Somehow we got to the topic of bugs and I found myself explaining the cicada invasion of ’04 to my coteacher, Joey. I don’t think I left out one disgusting, gnarly detail of the cicada plague that engulfed my corner of Maryland for a solid month – I told her about the molting, the holes they left when crawling out of the ground, the sound, the way they’d crash into you because they can’t see or fly so well. I asked if anything like that happens in Korea. Joey’s response was just a slow, silent nod with an expression of disgusted horror on her face. Hilarious! I don’t think I’ve seen anyone look so bewildered yet frightened and disgusted in my life. It was very genuine.

My night was full of laughs and surprises, I hope the rest of the weekend calms down a bit.

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