Friday, May 21, 2004

my K'eun Adjoshi is a control freak

Yes, my K'eun Adjoshi's a control freak.

It's my understanding that this level of control-freakishness isn't common among older Korean men, so I won't make generalizations based on his behavior, but damn, the man loves to micromanage.

Have you read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? One of the strangest characters in the book is Kreacher the House Elf, an old, wrinkled thing about the size of Yoda who does menial work around the mansion of Sirius Black, muttering fierce (and easily audible) insults about those around him, apparently unconcerned that they can hear every word he's saying. One of the questions in the book is whether wily old Kreacher is mentally unstable.

My K'eun Adjoshi seems to exhibit a cognitive dissonance similar to Kreacher's, though it's the other way around. He's constantly apologizing for how little he's been able to do for me, but every time he visits, he digs around my place and starts rearranging things. When my mother came to visit me last summer, along with my brother Sean and three relatives from Texas (Koreans and half-Koreans), the Texas relatives complained about how much of a control freak Adjoshi was. Me, I generally take his neurosis in stride, but there are times when it can grate. Now that I'm faced with moving out in the next 10 days, one of the things I won't miss is shit like what happened yesterday and today.

I got home from class yesterday and saw a note had been left on my ironing board. It said (in Korean):


*Remove all your cardboard boxes from the boiler room. (Danger of fire.)

*When you leave every day, turn off your fans-- danger of fire.

*I hope you'll call me.

This fan/fire issue has been a running problem between us, as has the cardboard box issue. Adjoshi doesn't like the piled boxes, but I know I won't be in one place forever, so I prefer to keep the boxes because they're perfectly good and therefore reusable. Why waste 'em? Also: where, in my tiny place, am I going to store them? The obvious answer is the boiler room. They're out of sight, and the boiler room is relatively pest- and moisture-free (dust is a different story). In this way, I don't crowd my living space.

Adjoshi came over today, obviously not satisfied with having prowled around my place while I was out yesterday. I'm sure that, if I hadn't been right behind him (I was coming back from my morning interview at Ehwa), he'd have gone in and started throwing out my boxes willy-nilly. Good save on my part.

Adjoshi is fixated on the possibility that my dwelling is going to be the site of a miniature inferno. He's absolutely convinced that Korean electric fans are crap, and that any day now my fans are going to start emitting showers of sparks. He keeps telling me that fan motors can overheat-- this despite the fact that, last summer, my fans were on continuously for weeks with no problem at all. Maybe my engineer buddy can explain this better, but it seems to me that a small electric fan motor can't really get that hot because (1) it's small, and (2) a fan's job is to move air. This would seem to cool the fan down.

Today, Adjoshi once again declared that I had to make sure the fans were off whenever I go out, and that I needed to get rid of my boxes. I didn't debate the fan thing, but I wouldn't budge about the boxes, some of which are specially-molded boxes for my computer and peripherals. We compromised by moving the boxes out of the boiler room and into a tiny storage room outside.

"Call me when you're ready to move," Adjoshi said as he was leaving. "I'll get the movers to come over. And throw that second fan out. It's old. I'll buy you a new one."


The situation's actually not as bad as it sounds. My K'eun Adjoshi's a good man, and he is concerned for me. I'm also more or less used to the invasions of privacy, because this is fairly normal behavior for older Koreans, and truth be told, Adjoshi doesn't visit me that often. Yes, such invasions annoy me when they happen, but I'm not going to blow my stack. The basic fact is that Adjoshi gave me a place to live in downtown Seoul, at a very cheap rent. I'm grateful for that... even if I think the man's a control freak.

[NB: K'eun Adjoshi might translate roughly as "big uncle." It's how I refer to the eldest of Mom's four cousins (all brothers). The youngest cousin, who's over 50, would be my "Ja-geun Adjoshi," or "little uncle." The other brothers, Cousins #2 and #3, are my "Dul-jjae Adjoshi" and "Saet-jjae Adjoshi" respectively-- "second uncle" and "third uncle." I also refer to them by name when talking about them to other people. I call them "Geun Shik Adjoshi" and "Geun Seong Adjoshi."

Adjoshi might refer to uncles, but it's also a generic term for older guys (even guys in their 30s can be adjoshis), just as Adjumma can be used to refer to women Of a Certain Age. In relaxed speech, you can call the taxi driver a "taek-shi adjoshi," for example; "taxi uncle" would be a silly translation for that term.]


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