When I was reading Rob’s About Pip blog, I read something quite striking about entering history.

He talks about having the feeling of entering history when he sees people interacting with his child, and though it’s a brief moment, it’s a striking on. He mentions, also, a book that I also recently read, loved, but failed to produce a review of: Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt. In that book there are many threads about ideas and concepts and meaning in history that are woven together, and right now I cannot be bothered to dig through and find which character I am quoting, but the notion is raised that perhaps, using the dichotomy of Greek drama, history tends to be comedy on the scale of civilizations, and inevitably tragedy on the scale of individual lives: all of us shall be dust someday, in other words, but whatever role we play in our civilization will be inherited by those who come after us… thought, ideas, philosophy, writing, science, art, those things are what we bequeath the world, and things that matter more than we ever imagine. Personally, we want and fight for things like love and freedom, and those are of course important… but limited. We all pass away into the bardo, to use Robinson’s metaphysics, and the only thing that survives is the binding connection between all beings, which in this world we see most clearly in civilizations.

I have a lot more to say about this, but anyway, on a more personal note, I had a blush of this experience, just a tiny brush with it, this feeling of having passed into history. One day at the swimming pool, I was doing laps, and some kids started goofing off in the lane beside mine. They ended up chasing a boy into my lane, and I stopped swimming when I nearly ran into him. I told him, in rather sharp Korean, that he must stay in his lane, not come into our lane where we adults were swimming.

The reaction was not just the kind of thing you see because you’re a foreigner; I know the xenophobic fear look, and that wasn’t what they were giving me. They were giving me the “I’m sorry Mr. Ajeoshi Sir” look that they might if any adult male told them off. Ajeoshi is kind of a catchall term for men of marrying age, all the way to grandpa. I’m not technically an ajeoshi but a jonggak (a bachelor/male-spinster) but anyway, everyone assumes you’re an ajeoshi.

Another day, at my favorite tea shop in Iksan, a little kid, the daughter of the owner, started talking to me in Korean. We had a long conversation, and during the course of it, she quite naturally referred to me as “Ajeoshi”, which is normal: it’s a term of address as well as a term of reference. (For example, in a cab, you can address the cab driver as “Ajeoshi,” as in, “Ajeoshi, yeogiyo.” [Sir, here please.])

In any case, maybe it’s just the rigid age hierarchy and age-consciousness in Korea that forced me to finally stop feeling like a young man (read: teenager) and realize, damn, I’m a grown-up man. It’s amazing to me that it should happen at age 28, especially with all I’ve experienced in life, but it’s the truth.

Funny, the truth… it’s a funny thing.

One thought on “Ajeoshi!

  1. It’s Al Lanzhou I think, when discussing history with Widow Kang. Though if I remember correctly he’s actually quoting someone else, not a character in action. I finished the book last week and it’s settling slowly but surely. The entire time I was reading it, very much so towards the end with the last B (Bao) incarnation and his thoughts on the individual history, the unseen history, I felt that the millions of souls dropping their lives bit by bit (no pun intended) onto the internet are producing the kind of history that Rice and Salt envisions. We browse blogs, find something that resonates with us, link it and browse on, or not. Daily history is available to us, you’re wintering in India intent on finishing your novel, Adam’s son has turned onto his stomach, Marvin’s dreaming about flying Ritu’s daughter is trying to get her to stop writing an essay and play and so on. The lives that flow by in history are now being recorded, by themselves, often for themselves (though who doesn’t love a hit and a comment!) and often very open.
    I’ve yet to find a blog or journal by a youngster that has caught my eye and that I would like to read as that youngster matures, lives their life and enters history themself, but it would be very cool to find one.
    It would probably take a quite self conscious kid to pull it off ;-)
    Rice and Salt, good book.

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