Stroke Me, Stroke Me

Last weekend I went out with a couple English speakers, and as typically occurs over dinner and drinks, we got to telling stories about our experiences in Gwangju. One person would start off with “Hey, you know when X happens?” And then the rest of us would be like, “Oh man, X! That shit is cra-zay!” And we would empathize, and then the next person in line would offer up a shared experience and we would repeat the  chorus of foreigner recognition.

We landed on the topic of ajummas.

Note the ajumma’s unquenchable lust for perms and visors.

Feeling that I had something to contribute to the conversation at this point, I was all “Oh man, guys, ajummas! Isn’t it weird when they pet you?”

The laughter accompanying our conversation sort of petered out.

“Wait, what?”

“Pet you? Like, pet you? Like a dog?”

“This doesn’t happen to anyone else?”



What the hell dudes? What the hell. Ajummas pet me all the time. My first experience with a Korean in the wild (by which I mean, a person that was in no way involved with EPIK orientation) was a miniature ajumma strolling over to me at a park and giving my arm a few strokes. It just seemed nice at the time, but I should have realized it was significant. I was, after all, standing in a crowd of westerners, yet was the only one receiving curious yet gentle caresses from an old woman.

And just last Friday (this experience still fresh in my mind, hence the dinner talk) I was on the bus, standing over an ajumma. She’d taken a keen interest in me since I’d boarded. Out of the corner of my eye, a tentative hand rose. The hand was so close to my face that I couldn’t act like I didn’t see it. Ajumma’s hand stopped just shy of brushing my cheek in a way that would be weird even for a Korean. She fondled the scarf around my neck a moment, then let her hand slide down my coat (which, to be fair, is a magnificent specimen of 70’s suede. Who doesn’t want to get their hands on a well-worn cowhide?). She began at my shoulder and slid slowly down, down (Ajumma! That’s my BOOB!), down, down, down to where my coat ended at mid-thigh.Then she looked up at me with a peaceful, grateful smile and turned back to the window.

Now, I’m one of those people that gets visibly uncomfortable when a stranger touches me- I stiffen up like a total weirdo. The only conclusion I can come to is that, in spite of this, I look docile, like a petting zoo goat or a seeing-eye dog. But there must be more to it. Why me? Why am I the ajummas chosen American for tactile satisfaction? There must be an answer…but what? Until I find out, Korea:

U Can't Touch This.


9 responses to “Stroke Me, Stroke Me

  1. I like how you imply that most people react more naturally when strangers get handsy, looking at them as though they were nothing more than a stiff breeze. I usually recoil and look for a switchblade.

    Have you don a jjimjilbang yet? The ajummas are pretty intense about giving The Scrub to remove all the dead skin from one another. One of my friends received one, only to have the woman become rather industrious around her buttocks and, at one point, a hand sneaked to the front. She will not be accepting Ajumma scrubs anymore.

  2. And here I thought I was all Howard Hughes-ian with my “stop touching me, stranger” business. No? Not just me?

    I haven’t been jjimjilbang-ing yet. I want to, but I’ve heard some ugly stories ranging from what you described to people waking up from their naps to discover they’re being spooned and groped by some old man they’ve never seen before. Sooo…..yeah….

    also, if I’m getting this much ajumma action with my clothes ON, what in God’s name will occur when I take them off?! (That part of Pulp Fiction with The Gimp just popped in to my head. Shudder.)

  3. Not just you. I’m tolerant with friends and students at this point (students wondering, with their hands, why my hair is curly, and male friends especially being so grabby), but I recoil when strangers touch me. What do they want? Do they think I am made of candy?

    Groping? Sweet! See, that’s where the “I’m going to stay overnight in the bathhouse” thing just seems even weirder to me. Then again, I’m not one for being naked with a big group of strangers in the first place, ajumma scrubs and ajosshi stares alone, so I have a hard time imagining why I’d want to sleep next door to the naked rooms voluntarily.

  4. And as a sidenote, you two are going for some reaaaaal interesting google traffic with these post titles.

  5. I’m not going to lie – the titles have been calculated to draw the creepers. Mama just wants some clicks.”Ass Play” has thus far been a serious disappointment though. I mean, come on, deviants of the world, where the hell are you?!

    “fat kim jong il” has been our biggest search hit. it could be worse, but i expected more from the internet.

  6. Sadly (or possibly happily, as it means my word-of-mouth blitzkrieg works), my biggest google search is actually “Stupid ugly foreigner.” I also get a lot of sideways hits from “foreigners are ugly” “koreans are ugly” “ugly korean students” and every other variation there you can think of. Also this: “how to do iv buterfly”

    Really? Assplay got you guys nothin’? I thought for sure. Speaking of hits, as you can probably see from your own bay of wordpress stats, I seemed to be leeching a lot of hits from you guys without a lot of reciprocatin’, people coming to my blog and not clicking any of the handy links. I got on the front page, and thus sent a decent flood your way. I felt like my debt was repaid in that instant, as though you care.

    • But I DO care! (congrats on the front page fame, ps!) I’m a spaz about watching my stats – particularly in this week of not having anything to do after 1 pm.

      • Oh, do I care as well. (The front page was both a boon and a curse. I just about shat myself over the uptick in hits (it has happened once before, and it was even more surprising then) but I felt duty-bound to reply to eeeeevery comment. I think I went blind at one point. Also, now my “Here are your hits!” charts are hilariously skewed, and every other day looks like a pittance of people.)

        Ah, are you also in the Camp then Deskwarming fleet? Today is my last day of camp and, as you can see by this reply, I am obvs inundated with productive things to do with my remaining time.

  7. lol, you gave me a few chuckles before lunch

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