old folks

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I think in any society, the older people are the most eccentric, but this is definitely true in Korea. A lot of older people here really show their age. When you consider how far South Korea has come since the devastation of Japanese occupation and then civil war, this country really has been built on the backs of the older generation. This is literally evident in the stooped backs of some of the older women. I suppose I notice it particularly in the older women because there don't seem to be as many older men. I'm assuming that the average lifespan is longer for women than for men, as it is in most of the world. Soju (AKA "Korean vodka" probably helps those odds.)

Here are some of the more interesting encounters and observations I've had:

I often see a rather frail-looking older man getting his daily exercise. He is the slowest power-walked I have ever seen. It's as if someone shot a video of a normal person power-walking, arms pumping away, etc, and then slowed it waaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyy ddddddddddoooooooooowwwwwwwwwwnnnnnnnnnn. But the point is, he's out there. More power to him.

In the traditional market, there is one aisle with particularly crazy old women. The craziest of the crazies has on more than one occasion, grabbed (or tried to grab) Liam by the wrists. I'm not 100% sure what she wants to do with him, as it turns into a power-struggle between my 30 pound son and the old woman. Matthew has had to intervene with a respectful, but forceful "ani-yo" (no). Liam is learning to stick close to me when we go through that area.

Old people get suited up in full hiking gear to hit Mt. Seorak or Mt. Cheongdae: matching hiking vest and pants, with the legs tucked into Nordic-style hiking socks, which in turn are tucked into expensive hiking boots, with high-tech backpacks and hiking sticks at hand.

Matthew came home somewhat alarmed and somewhat amused the other day. As he had been waiting for the elevator, a grandmother who lives on the first floor had fallen. He asked if she was okay, but felt he should tell someone, as there were no other adults around. Our building ajashi (doorman or security guard, roughly) wasn't in his little room, so Matthew ran over to the next building, found their ajashi, and pantomimed to him that a halmoni had fallen. They ran back, where the ajashi attended to the woman. The adolescent that rode up the elevator with Matthew informed him that halmoni had been hitting the soju. Aaaaahhhh...

This revelation shed some light on another incident that happened the previous week.

MinJeong and I had been watching the boys play outside my building. The ajashis have recently put up fences made of wooden stakes and heavy ropes, presumably to keep foot traffic off future plantings. An old woman shuffled by and asked MinJeong a question. She translated for me that the woman asked if Liam and JunMin are twins. (See the photo below for evidence that this was a ridiculous question.) Before I could ask if the woman was joking, she stumbled and fell to her knees, catching herself on the new rope fence. MinJeong helped her to her feet and made sure she was okay. As the woman shuffled off, I asked for clarification. "No," MinJeong said, "I don't think she was joking." I quipped that if they are twins, Liam must be an albino. It puzzled me at the time, but the weird question and fall all make more sense when soju is at work.

Another (more sober) grandmother from our building takes her grandson (two months older than Liam) to the playground. Since most toddlers aren't taken to the playground, I give her full credit for that. However, the first time I encountered her, she felt the need to lecture me (in Korean, of course) about everything that I should be doing differently. Now, my Korean isn't very good, but between her pantomiming and a little translation from some kids, this is what I understood. I should not put shorts on Liam, since he will scrape his knees when he falls. (Then she pointed out that he already had a scab on one knee.) This was a warm day, but her grandson was dressed in long sleeves and long pants. When the boys collided, Liam fell down, scraped his knee again, and of course proved her point. She continued to lecture me as I comforted my crying son and put a bandage on his knee. Liam also should not be wearing sandals, but instead should wear sneakers like her grandson. (I'm not sure of the reason on this one...possibly a tripping hazard.) He shouldn't play in the dirt. He shouldn't climb playground equipment. Either I should make him sit down or I should stop chasing him around so much. After trying to be gracious, I began replying "conten-eyo" (it's okay) and walking away.

This encounter really rubbed me the wrong way, but I should mention that it's an exception, rather than the norm. Most grandparents (and parents) at the playground are content to greet me and that's about it.


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hey Catherine! I love reading your blogs! hahaha...soooo true about the grandpa "power walkers" and the old folks hiking! I used to see it everywhere in Korea too!

You know, Koreans are like ragin' alcoholics! I didn't know grandma's in Korea were so hard core though! =)

I just read a news article about a SKrn tourist getting shot by a NK soldier and they took her to Sokcho! That's where you are right?!! didn't realize how close you were to the border!!!!

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