Ajumma – an older Korean women, middle-aged to elderly. Usually small, crouched and grey in appearance, and regularly donning a sun-visor and hiking gear. Known to congregate at bus stops in larger packs, ajummas are usually of a friendly disposition though they may become physically aggressive in their attempts to board or dismount public transport. They possess a rarely-used burst of acceleration that is often employed when the bus arrives.

Narrow shadows stretched out across the sidewalk, offering just enough capacity to accommodate one lucky soul in the shade.   It was 3pm and the sun was high in the sky. With a dry tickle in his throat, the waygook eyed the refuge with lust. Glancing to his left, the open road showed no sign of the bus.   The sun continued to blaze down without mercy. He needed rest-bite, if only for a minute.

Focusing his gaze back upon the shadows, he locked eyes with a rival coming his way.

An elderly Korean woman with back trouble
Many ajummas suffer from severe back trouble

An ajumma, hunched over, laboriously pushing her shopping cart towards the bus shelter like an aging tortoise nudging a busted football through a cobblestone street.  Chances are she would need a seat after such a mission, but he couldn’t take the risk.   This was survival of the fittest. With feet as swift as the great Messi, he glided across the sidewalk into the shadowy Shangri-La and breathed easy where the air was cool and his eyes could open beyond a blinded squint.

The ajumma grumbled as she puffed her way past and continued down the street.  Feeling the sense of guilt leave him, he closed his eyes and savored the moment.

Opening them again, he caught his reflection in the shop window.   Standing there in dark trousers, a long-sleeved shirt and tie, he questioned his intentions to dress professional for the first few weeks, as it was certainly a challenge in the summer sun.

Furthermore, the long-sleeves, a painful necessity. It would have been a lot easier if those tattoos were on his back…

The sweat glistened on his forehead as he contemplated going inside the shop to re-hydrate.

“Chris!!”, came the call from his co-teacher.   Too late, the bus was here!  With a sigh, he picked up his bag and stepped back into the white light to join Ms. Jang.

Me wearing a shirt and tie in Korean summer
Not dressed for the hot weather

Stepping towards the bus, he watched it brake abruptly. Bus drivers in Korea always seemed to be in a hurry. 

He readied his wallet and prepared to step forward. All of a sudden, a figure shuffled in front of him, appearing under his elbow and nudging him aside with little more than a mumble. The ajumma didn’t turn back as she bundled onto the bus, leaving the waygook dumbfounded.

Taken aback, he turned to Ms. Jang. She smiled meekly, suppressing an embarrassed giggle. With a shake of the head, he boarded the bus and walked to the back of the bus.

This was to be expected. The older generation in Korea had a hard-earned sense of entitlement. New country, new culture. It may take a bit of getting used to.

The ajumma who had cut in line was sat just in front. He watched as she turned around a smiled a gummy grin towards him, her eyes glinting triumphantly.

With a polite nod, he smiled back.

You win this round grandma.


Have you encountered a pushy ajumma yet? Let me know in the comments below!