Not ordinary grandfather
|One of the most intriguing figures I got to learn during my research time in the Seoul neighborhood was a grandfather of about 70, who kept a small and shabby laundry with his son. He had been a military police in the 1950s ("we only needed to have a checkpoint in a good place and the money came in"), a taxi entrepreneur and a movie theater keeper in the 60s, a keeper of a big men's suit business in the 70s ("at the most there were 100 people getting their salary from me"), and a keeper of a small laundry in Sillim-dong in the 80s and 90s, after his wife "had put a stamp in a wrong place". |
As I was supposed to have been researching the keepers of small businesses in a residential neighborhood, I couldn't be but happy for the fact that he always welcomed me to sit down in his tiny shop, and I never needed to leave his company emptyhanded as far as notes are concerned, but it was a bit confusing that he so much preferred to talk about his erotic and romantic encounters with women other than his wife. Ok, I'm not there to push the topics I prefer down his throat, but how to use all these womanizing stories for my research thing.
Ok, there's the "life world" of an old laundry grandfather, and how he prefers to tell it; especially the changing times and him as a military police in the 50s, when having access to money and things was much more important than him being a member of one of those three Andong lineages (Kim, Kwôn, Chang), and being of yangban pedigree was not much compared to being an MP.
Womanizing as a natural prerogative of the elite, but in his case not of the traditional elite but the privileged military. Changes in the concept of family;
He was on his way to his maternal aunt's place (imo-ne chip), which was on a remoter mountain area, san'gol. He was on his way there walking a narrow mountain road. He was a military police at the time, so he was carrying a hand gun in his back pocket. There was a young bride who has just gotten married (don't know if he knew he beforehand or if she was from his aunt's village.) to a man who had to go to the military service right after the marriage. The young bride aged no more than 16 was on her way somewhere from the village, and they met on the road, and they both were very surprised, kamtchak nollagu. He asked if she is a young bring, Yes, I am. They stayed at the roadside to talk. He became attracted to the girl, chŏngi tŭrŏssŏ… while they were sitting and talking a pheasant sprang away and she got startled and took hold if him. He got a desire, yoksimi saengyŏsŏ (and he apparently took advantage of the situation)… pŏlssŏ iri pŏrŏjyŏssŏ...
How long does he think he will do this job? About 4-5 years, if the eyes do not get too bad. He starts talking about the time he finished with the army (was discharged) he started the taxi business. He had ben able to develop good connections during the military time. The Military Police Headquarters (Hŏnbyŏng saryŏngbu) was nothing like it's today, it was very important, like FBI in the USA. He was able to acquire vehicles and take care of the formalities in an easy way since he had ppaek. He was able to get province plates (register the cars in the province) which was (as I understand) cheaper than in Seoul. He had the taxi business about 6 years. (Last time he said it was about 4,5-5 years.) About the cars: there were so few personal vehicles in Korea at the time. There came the Korean car Sibal, and there were vehicles which originated from the US military. Each bus was different, since they were mostly made by hand.
Now he tells about an American soldier, who was originally from Jamaica. His name was Johnny. He was 197 cm tall. At that time the segregation between races was quite strong in the (U.S.) army. Once he invited him to bath together, and his was really huge, at least this big (he shows with his arm, in the way Koreans show the size of a fish). He had a really good character (insim) and he was very sociable, puch'imsŏng aju chok'o… a rumor spread out among the yangsaeksis (girls who socialized with American soldiers) that his was so big that it hurt… there was a girl who was 27 and had not been pregnant yet, but got pregnant after being with him (Johnny), and they got married.
He starts to iron white shirts. Yes, laundry prices are too cheap nowadays, one cannot make a living, saenggyega an twae. – Why, because of the big companies? Yes, because of big companies. – So nowadays no new laundries appear? Yes, the old ones just try (to cope). A young man picks up a coat and a pair of pants. The price combined is 5000 won. Earlier it would have been 9000 won. He also says that the income has decreased to half of what it used to be.This is the man I'm currently writing about for my dissertation. Every question, every topic turns into a talk about relations with women...
Here are even some pics of his place, which was closed in 2000.
Categories at del.icio.us/hunjang: businesskeepers ∙ neighborhood ∙ contemp.history ∙ academic