After school snack.

“Teacher! In front of elementary school, you buy candy!” She waves her lollipop at me. In front of the elementary school, a man with a jalopy of a cotton candy machine is winding whispy white sugar around wooden chopsticks for 500 won. (After the initial shock of seeing white cotton candy, though why shouldn’t it be, I have come to prefer its simple purity.)

Was the machine built onto a vehicle? I can’t remember, there were many distractions.

The wind tries to take the candy right off the stick and students want treating. Fortunately, I only have 1000 won. A little boy comes up behind me and says ‘Ajumma, who are you?’ I am slightly appalled. I am not an ajumma. My students explain for me, ‘she’s a foreigner’ and ‘you have to speak English.’ ‘What’s her name?’ he wants to know.


I wave goodbye to him and begin to walk home. He runs after me–“Ajumma!” I turn and say sharply “I am not an ajumma! I am not married.” Really for my own benefit.


I pause to control my candy and contemplate how to explain that I don’t want him to call me, effectively, ‘old lady,’ when I can’t even communicate the obvious fact that I don’t speak Korean. The whole time I am considering my options, he is standing in front of me saying ‘what?’ every five seconds, ‘What?’

My students say “Just go,” so I leave.



  1. That’s hilarious, I had little kids calling me “Aunty”. When you are younger, they are encouraged to call you elder sister but as the years go on , you find yourself being called aunty. I don’t bother correcting them since I am aging. Some of my ex students had friends who come over to make friends with me and they call me aunty. My students for some obscure reasons get offended and tell them to address me as teacher.

  2. In India the kids called me Aunty. Similarly, when some girls called me Didi, the Aunty girls strongly corrected them. For some reason, Aunty did not bother me. Maybe because it is familial. I was told by my Bengali professor that as a people they have a familiar relationship with strangers, which is the opposite from Korean culture. Here they are very focused on in- and out-groups. So while they also use aunt and older sister, it is only for close relationships between unrelated women.

  3. Well I hate the term ajumma. Since I am small, thin and petite with long golden hair down to my bum. I’m quite the fashionista too so I am
    Not an ugly ajumma. Don’t call me that EVER!!!

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