While riding the subway in Seoul during a recent trip back to Korea, I was approached by a Korean ajosshi (middle-aged to elderly, assumedly married man) who asked me where I come from. “호주 사람입니다“ (I am Australian), I told him. “Oh, very nice” the man replied in English, “What is your age?”
I could see where this was going – the same place where conversations with a girl of my age always go with elderly Koreans. “I’m 27” I replied with a smile in anticipation of the question that would undoubtedly follow. “You are married?” the ajosshi asked expectantly. I considered lying and inventing myself a husband, knowing the response I’d get from a definitive ‘No’ answer, but in the end I decided to go with the sugar-coated truth of, “No” – quickly followed with a “Not yet” (often the perceived intention to marry in the future placates the situation somewhat… but not this time). “Oh, but 27? Soon, too old! Maybe 28, 29, 30 – No man will want you!”
I’ve heard all this before during my travels in Asia – yet I can’t help but inwardly-giggle at the genuine concern in the eyes of my (usually elderly) interlocutor when they hear that I am 27 years old and not yet married. No matter how many assurances I make that this is perfectly acceptable and normal in my culture, they just can’t seem to shake their worry for me and my un-wed status (and most likely even more so for my poor parents who will have to provide for me in my ageing spinster years). Despite the fact that these days it seems to be increasingly common for Korean women to marry in their late 20’s – early 30’s, in the eyes of some of the older generation, this is leaving things far, far too late.
As I sat there on the subway next my ajosshi, who was now staring off into space (or back to the good old days – take your pick), I wondered what he must be thinking about… Why wasn’t I married? Was there something wrong with me? Why hadn’t my parents tried to set me up with a nice husband already? Then, after a long minute of concentrated pondering, a light-bulb went off in his head, his eyes sparked to life again and he presented me with his solution. “You want to marry my son? He is handsome. Small business owner. He live in the America!”