Wednesday, November 23, 2011

random thoughts: Ahjumma(?)-hood Blues

Age seems to be a perpetual problem when it comes to women in kdrama fiction land. In fact, age comes as a BIG issue (yes, with the capital letters and all) when it comes to MANY an Asian drama fictionland rom-com. I only ever thought it was just me and my own same-age friends (you know, I've never used that term before kdrama) lamenting the fate of rushing head-long into our impending thirties. In one of my friends' case, it feels akin to racing straight at a semi reluctantly, but with no other choices.

Yes, we have wasted many hours pathetically sobbing about becoming another year older for the past couple birthdays. Sometimes, we get superficial like that... and yes, it kills me to admit it. There are so many other things in life that we should be more concerned about.

However for me and my friends, the idea of growing old and slipping out of those youthful adolescent years had become a big sob story. Of course, when faced with a lot of the women I work with in real life who have long since trudged through the years that I am currently complaining about, I DO shamefully cringe and apologize about my dramatic agony.

After all, there is always someone older, and aging really isn't that big of a deal. But to my friends and I, we had spent the past four or five years trying to avoid talking about the big three-oh.

Not long ago, after watching a couple kdramas with gusto, I finally talked myself into admitting that I am twenty-seven years old and it's not the end of my life. It took a while, but I finally got there and proudly proclaimed my hold on my true age without wincing or trying to pretend that I'm about three years younger or that I will only ever be twenty-five for the rest of my life.

For one thing, I blame television (even if I really should be blaming one particular same-age friend for her own dramatic woes of "pushing thirty"). Television, especially Asian media, has brought to us the fictional fantasies of excitement and entertainment while only ever showing us eternally young faces of those very people who are enjoying their drama series' lives. After all, it's a good market -- younger generations prefer to see younger faces on the screen -- and who is the entertainment industry not to cater to their most rabid fanbase?

But really, it ISN'T all just a "for the fans" thing. Nor is it really a marketing ploy. In the past couple years, Asian media HAS been quite socially defining as a young people's paradise, even IF we still get to see the older generation make their talents and their faces seen regularly. But for the most part, because of the young new generation of talents, society has begun to stress the ideals of getting your life on track while still young enough to enjoy it. And this is where that stubborn "life before thirty" deal gets blown out of proportion.

The first time that I ever even saw age as an issue was upon watching interaction between Taiwanese Idols. Whether men or women, age seemed to play a big role in both popularity as well as reputation and dignity. I guess it was my own fault for having even submerged into the Taiwanese Idol arena in the first place; after all, the defining characteristic of the Taiwanese Idol is their eternal youth. After a certain age, even those former idols choose to move onto bigger projects and distance themselves from the title of "Idol."

Case in point:

Taiwanese Idol, singer, dancer, actor and MC Show Luo, Luo Zhi Xiang, has been pretty popular during his reign -- and he still is. But there is a running joke about him cringing at every mention of his age because he's well over thirty years old. He looks rather young, but that's an advantage of being both Asian AND in the entertainment industry -- Asian people already look young, T.V. tricks can turn you five years back in time. Whenever people mention his true age, however, he does his display of pouting and unnecessary temper tantrums. At that time, I had always wondered: "Is age really THAT important to celebrities?"

Yea... that was definitely a redundant question.

Taiwanese cult fandom television program, Mo Fan Bang Bang Tang, which housed some of Taiwan's youngest talents at the time had also made multiple jokes about age. The eldest of the boys during the 2008 run had been pushing 26 years old, which really didn't make him just another little boy anymore. While to me, at the time, 26 didn't seem like a disastrously old number, the fact that he was about ten years older than their youngest member came as a big teasing point to run with. And so for the sake of comedy and entertainment, the guy's age was poked at regularly.

Because we often forget that for teenagers, often times being two years older to them is very much older. The age gap doesn't start to shrink until you're well into your late twenties and numbers just start running together in blurs. And so for a 16 year old boy on that television program, someone who was even 21 could have felt old to him.

Conclusion: Kids are cruel.

You can pretty much say that, for me, presently at the age of 27, as well as a woman, this poking fun of age was kind of grating on my nerves. After all, for men, joking about age is merely joking. But for women, joking about age is another matter all together -- it stands on par with joking about their weight, their physical appearance, as well as their marital status.

Of course, I'm glad that I've always been of the minority in women who really don't care about any of the latter stuff that gets thrown around. Unfortunately, the age issue has always been a matter of avoidance -- once again, I blame my friends because of all their negative exclamations about getting older. I also blame the little teenage girl who tried to bluntly and rudely point out that she was ten years younger than me and already getting married. "What? You're 27? That makes you ten years older than me?" "... The last time I checked, there are only 9 years between 18 and 27..." Not like my argument really mattered to her. Well, the joke's on you, honey; you're not even legal to drink at your own wedding. Not that THAT ever stops anyone.

But I had never truly had an issue with any type of image, attribute or the like. Age, however, began to hover around me like bad, spoiled meat and the so the next thing I know, I'm lamenting being anywhere too far away from 21. It's a depressing thought only because I had never really cared before and really SHOULDN'T be concerned with age.

Recently I started watching Lie To Me which is what brought up this "ahjumma-hood blues" article in the first place. For starters, the scene kind of came out of nowhere and pretty much beat me up senseless for about twenty minutes following. Yoon Eun Hye's character, Kong Ah Chung in episode one had just finished suffering a bad turn at work only to have it shown on the news. And so off she goes to get her hair done so that it can make her look different and unrecognizable (like that ever works). As she is leaving her home, a little kid points to her and tells his mom: "It's that ahjumma from yesterday!"

I was shocked really. Because in this connotation, the word ahjumma is typically used to refer to much older women who may or may not already be married and have kids. At least that's MY understanding of the Korean title. For a girl of Yoon Eun Hye's age, the more proper title would have been noona. But kids are so precious as to tell it as it is, that you often wonder what their cut-off age is for noonas and ahjummas. And so the only way that I ended up reacting was to very painfully utter, "Ahjumma....?" for the next ten to twenty minutes. Even after the scene had come and gone, I was still feeling the sting.

Yoon Eun Hye, if her profile is true to form, was born the same year that I was born, which pretty much makes me the same age as her. But Yoon Eun Hye also looks much younger than I do physically. And so the idea that (even in fiction land) the physical embodiment of Yoon Eun Hye could even be referred to as an ahjumma kind of raked on me.

Mind you, it wasn't really in a bad way... but it still stung.

As javabeans comments in her recap of Lie To Me's first episode: "Ouch, all noonas on the verge of ajummahood can probably feel her pain. (Unmarried = noona!)" And the "verge of ajummahood" is more correctly referred to as that age where women are ripe for marriage -- in ajummahood, you've passed that phase and, by societal standards, should really be married or seeing someone seriously. After reading that, I did a subconscious recall of the scene again and cringed. Because, yes, the idea was kind of painful. And this is after I had very proudly begun my settlement into being a young woman in her late twenties.

The show further escalated into "old age = doomed fate" territory when Kong Ah Jung runs into her old friend who very rudely emphasizes the advantages and the niceties of being married early. It was a jab at Ah Chung's currently single status since the two seem to harbor a very hostile friendship based on hitting each other where it hurts, but the underlying concept was still there:

A woman married young = good for her; a woman still not married at this age = something is seriously wrong. I do believe I wanted to hit someone, possibly Ah Jung's "stab me in the back" friend from old times?

This article had been intended to be a random, quick thought about the "ahjumma" comment from Lie To Me's first episode. But the idea kind of stuck and now I'm rambling on as I always do. And so while I'm at it, I might go ahead and throw in yet another example of age as a social issue in drama land.

Scent of a Woman starring Kim Sun Ah as a terminal cancer patient, Lee Yeon Jae, had started off the series with the big age problem. Before she even HAD her melodramatic story line thrown at her, all of her colleagues and even her mother were already beating her up verbally because she was over thirty and still unmarried.

In my first impression post for Scent of a Woman, I had written:

"Why on earth is 30 years old such a landmark age? To this day, it confounds me why it seems that, after you hit the age of thirty, a woman seems to have aged to a hundred. If we don't already have things accomplished by that age, then we've pretty much lived a life of regret. If things are going to happen, they should happen while we're young and apparently, young coincides with any age under thirty."

To add onto that, I've noticed that even the five years leading up to thirty is referred to negatively as "pushing thirty." It makes me cringe to hear that, because you can't just be in your "late twenties", but instead, you're "pushing thirty." Double ouch! For some reason, the words "pushing thirty" just sounds worse than simply saying "thirty years old" or "twenty seven." I don't know why, but it hurts.

It's like, by 25 years old, if one has not gotten married, found true love, held hands with a boy or the like, then that woman forfeits her life out for criticism by the public. It's a bit scary when you think about it; especially when you're not even a public persona.

I guess that's drama land for you. The sad part is that, the age thing isn't even JUST restricted to drama land. The rest of the world also cringes from the fact that a woman is "pushing thirty" and hasn't done much with her life. The social standards of our world really DO manage to find ways to hurt a woman's pride thoroughly and mercilessly. I have a lot of friends in this age range getting married and starting families. I have other friends who indirectly inquire about my own single-dom and why I haven't found anyone yet; following, I get the all too annoying, "It's okay, you'll find someone sometime. I know there's someone out there for you. Everyone finds someone."

Why does everyone who's dating or married feel that someone who is single is simply miserable and needs to "find someone" so that I don't go home and drink myself into a lonely stupor? I don't get it, but that small tidbit only really has part to do with an age ordeal and is best left for a random soapbox in another time, so we'll move along.

I'm not even sure whether to blame society itself, or the forever young of Asian media portraying life as a refreshing and exciting youth's dream. If not the real world, I think rom-com world would be an even more cruel place to live in since the concept is emphasized upon even more as a story line rather than our true life anecdotes. At least in real life, I can tune out the issue since I'm not a main female lead no matter where I go.

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