Wednesday, May 12: One day I was walking down the street near my apartment and an older Korean man caught my eye. He pointed to my hair and shook his head, then he made a gesture with his hands: he formed a cup with one hand and then he dipped his other fingers into the cup. Then he wiped his fingers on his hair. The gesture obviously meant he thought I needed to dye my hair black, like most Koreans do. He had a kind of disgusted look on his face; he was not at all happy that I was walking around his streets with my whitish hair so indecently exposed!
I refused to take this insult lightly. I shook my head vehemently and said “NO!” accompanied by the Korean style NO gesture, which is crossing my forearms in the shape of an “X.” I then said, “I LOVE (making the sign of a heart with my fingers) my hair (pointing to my hair)!” And then I promptly turned my back on him and walked away.
The attitude toward age in this country is infuriating. My experience has been that basically if you are over 25, you are considered old. I have two young Korean lady friends in their late 20s who truly believe they are old because they are no longer in university. And, heaven forbid, they are not married! I find this attitude really irritating.
One day I was in the carpool, sitting in my designated backseat, with Mr. O in front. He said, “Mrs. Cathy (as he always says), do you find that you have problems with memory at your age?” I said, “No, Mr. O, I don’t have any problems with my memory. Besides, I am NOT old!” He said, “I have seen your papers and I know your age.” I said, “Mr. O, I am NOT old!”
Another day, Mr. O said, “Mrs. Cathy (keep in mind, Mr. O is older than me in body and MUCH older than me in spirit!), do you color your hair?” I said, “No, Mr. O. I don’t believe in coloring my hair.” He said, “Well we Koreans people, we color our hair because we think it makes us look younger.” I said, “No, Mr. O, coloring your hair black does not make you look younger! It actually makes you look older. Because when you get older, your skin changes and black hair does not look good against aging skin.” This I truly believe, because up until 5 years ago, I myself colored my own hair dark brown. When I finally removed all the dye and went natural, people came out of nowhere to compliment me on how much younger I looked!
Another day I was hiking up to Gatbawi, the Buddha with the flat hat, and an older Korean man pointed to my hair and said something nasty to his wife in Korean. I could tell it was nasty because of the perturbed expression on his face. Again, I think he was really disturbed about my hair!
Then there are my students, some of whom are rude beyond belief. I have one student in particular in the 4th grade. Every day, she wears the same pair of knit pants with wide black and gray stripes. They look like jailbird pants. One day I wore a ribbed knit tank under a cardigan. She grabbed the bottom of my tank and asked in Korean if I was wearing my underwear. Coffee J laughed about this as he translated it for me. I actually found this rude of him — that he found it funny and translated it so lightly, without reprimanding the girl. I said, “No, this is a tank top, not underwear!” Of course, the girl couldn’t understand me. But what I really felt like saying was, “No, this is not underwear, but are those your jailbird pajamas that you wear every day?? Do you ever wash them?? Why are you here? Did you escape from prison today?”
I went on a field trip and sat beside another girl in the same 4th grade class. Funny thing is, this girl’s father is a pig farmer. She pointed at my nose and made a funny gesture on her own nose, touching her nose and then lifting her finger in an arch away from her nose. I wasn’t sure what she was trying to say, so I asked Coffee J what she meant. He said she thinks I have a big nose.
Later in this same day, Miss Jailbird Pajamas pointed at my nose and made the same type of gesture. Again, Coffee J translated this to mean she thinks I have a big nose. Do I have a big nose? Do I have a PIG nose?? How has this insult escaped me my entire life?? I have been insulted for things I know to be true before, but this? Maybe people have been dying to tell me this my whole life but have kept it all bottled up inside. Maybe this insult to my nose has been gnawing at people’s insides, churning and burning away!!
I’m not the only one who has gotten the big nose gesture. Anna Schuett said she was walking down the street one day and some kid came up to her, pointed at her nose, and started making pig noises.
Finally, Miss Jailbird also had a comment about my arms. Granted, my arms are my least favorite part of my body. I wish they were thin and graceful, but alas, I have the German body! So, the first day I wear a short sleeve shirt, little Miss Jailbird comes up to me, puts her hands around my arms and then expands them, showing me she thinks they are fat!! OMG! How can I shut this girl up???