I love ajummas

I think ajummas can be some of the most caring people ever.

There are exceptions, of course, but the ones I have met have been so nice.

The janitor of the building at which I work is a real sweetheart. She doesn’t speak any English, but always says hi and starts a conversation with me in Korean. I’m quite sure I’ve told her some really strange answers (she often laughs when I answer…), but I do my best to follow her questions. She also always expresses concern when my collarbone and neck are exposed to the cold air. It’s adorable.

The school cook is another sweet lady. Her food is not as good as the previous cook, but she’s still really nice, so I always compliment her cooking anyway. She always praises my outfits, and also worries that I’ll be too cold if I’m not wearing a thick sweater in the winter. She also sometimes gives me leftovers if she can tell that I enjoyed the food. That’s a major bonus.

My friend’s mom bought me flowers the first time we met, and took us for really good 삼겹살.

My friend often receives vast amounts of kimchi from her friends’ moms.

Honestly, some of the most caring people I’ve met.

Never hesitate. It’s a battleground.

One thing I learned on the subway is that if you want a seat, you have to fight for it. No holding back. Unless it’s the seats designated for the elderly/impaired/pregnant. You don’t touch those.

In the winter the seats are heated, so you definitely want one, even though at first you grimace at the thought of such warm residue butt heat.

Ajummas in all their glory will throw their bags on seats to claim them as they push into the subway car.

If you couldn’t beat the ajumma to the last empty seat, then you have to stand in front of someone who did manage to snag one. You have to keep a sharp eye out for the telltale restlessness of a person who is getting ready to disembark. The moment they start to stand up, you can already begin your hawk-like decent into the barely-vacated seat. If you don’t, somebody else will.

Of course chance is a big factor too. If you are lucky enough to stand in front of people who are about to get off, then your chance of claiming that seat is much higher.

Sometimes, though, you end up in a dud spot and have to stand the whole way. Then it’s just torture to watch everyone around you be lucky and get a seat. The urge to switch spots is really strong, but the risk of it turning out to be like that traffic scene from Office Space is a little bit too high.

I just stay put and hope for the best.

I don’t think I did…

I didn’t really have any culture shock when I moved to Korea. I think.

It’s a very different place from Canada, obviously, and it’s very unique.

It is not the first time I have been to a new country, or a country where I can’t speak the language. (more on that later)

I’ve used squatting toilets before (I’ve even used holes in the floor), I’ve used full-bathroom showers before, I knew I wouldn’t have an oven, and I’ve heard lots about plastic surgery from my Korean students in Canada.

I’ve heard people complain that Korean people are rude, but I don’t really find that to be the case. I’d say they’re more brutally honest. If someone bumps into me and doesn’t care, they won’t say anything. Most of them don’t do that, of course, and are quite polite.

In fact, if you go into a store, or accept something from somebody, you normally use two hands, and often accompany the action with a bow. If that’s not formal and polite, I don’t know what is. And then there are drinking formalities… but maybe for another time.

What does frustrate me is that there is no order on the escalator or stairs. People walk all over the place, and stand all over the place too. There’s no such thing as standing on the right of an escalator, and walking on the left. I often end up just taking the stairs because it’s too annoying. I get more exercise this way though, so I guess it’s not too bad.

People do tend to stare here, especially ajussis and ajummas, but I get stared at all the time in Europe too, so I wouldn’t say that’s anything unusual.

Ajummas are all-powerful here. You listen to them, and obey them. They’ll shove you out of the way to get that seat, or to get on first. Luckily I was told about this beforehand, so I knew what to expect. I’m quite sure this has to do with respecting your elders, which is a very important part of Korean culture.

I’m not sure if it’s because I have traveled before or because I’ve known many Korean people, but while I noticed many things that were very different, nothing really came as a shock. Either that or I’m still numb and it hasn’t sunk in yet.