Happy Ajummas

by Gord Sellar

The wonderful thing about ajumas is that they know the world has its limits. They’ll wrestle you to the ground for a seat on the subway, and they’ll whup your ass if you try to hold your rightful place in line against their combined force. The terrible thing about ajumas is that the world has made them to be this way. The first will be last, and the last will be first, and I think the cryptic message is that the last will pound the shit out of the first with an iron bowl on the way past, if the first doesn’t watch his bloody step. And that’s kind of scary and magnificent at the same time, even though it’s just a fantasy… of mine, or of theirs, I don’t know.

So in my dream, they’re amassed into a crowd, the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen, and they’re walking along the Taehakno of some small city I don’t know the name of. Ajuma kal guk su shikdang, Shinpo uri mandu, McDonald’s, slide past me as I am borne up by the flow of them. They’re a river, noisy chattering counterpoint of these splendid contralto and tenor voices, laughing and arguing about what sounds like either gossip or strategy. Maybe they’re the same thing.

And they’re really quite happy, that’s the thing that shocks me. Or maybe not: the familiar waft of soju on the night air. They’re brutally resplendent, if I can crib a line off Milton or someone. I mean to say, they glow in the dark from this kind of insane happiness. It comes off them like liquid, drips into the gutters, and even the trash seems brighter. Their voices ring along the dark street with its somnophobic neon lighting, and not a single nubile agashi in sight, they chatter. I see in their animal pleasure in being a crowd, my own animal pleasure in seeing the crowd. All these women have voices inside their heads, like I do. They all laugh from the gut.

They don’t know I am among them. They can’t see me, most of them, and the few who can see me talk to me in their own language. I don’t understand a word, but the gist is something good. Or something to do with icicles. There are grandchildren in millions of beds all around us, and they are in these flickering temporary streets, walking without placards, not silent, not dancing against Pinochet, not rising up against the Taliban, just exchanging recipes and laughing at their husbands’ foibles. And that’s it; then I am awake.

— Iksan, South Korea, 2003

This is not so much a song as a piece of “spoken word” that I’d written to accompany an instrumental track, which never got used. I think it’s funny, though, and reminds me of life in Iksan. Oh, and the text really was inspired by a dream I had sometime after World Cup Soccer tournament happened was cohosted by Korea and Japan in 2002, and I saw a sleepy little town go (happily) insane for a month.

February 10, 2012

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