About 1 year ago, I’ve got the chance to visit Korea. And so I went there. It was the end of fall, and winter was following. We transited in Vietnam twice, first was in Ho Chi Minh City, while the second one was in Hanoi.
I could still recall the first time ever stepping my feet on a foreign land in a very different weather. Our breath were all condensed into mist as soon as touching the cold air. I was nothing less than mesmerised.
All of that folded well in my memories, and a memory I recalled suddenly these days is the memory of Ajuma. I am so sorry if I misspell her name since I never learnt Korean PinYin, but what I know Ajuma is a name we give to older women, the same meaning as ‘Mak Cik’ in Malay.
This Ajuma that I remembered well was the one in the cold winter nights, whom the cold Korean wind slapped the plastic walls of her small stall whilst she was busy cooking her Deokbukki (sorry if I misspell again but I think this is the correct way of spelling Tok-pu-ki in alphabets), a delicacy made of sticky rice flour and cooked in a gravy made from pepper and some ingredients I could not name; cooked on a hot plate. And together with Deokbukki, she sold some fishcake-like seafood, boiled a la carte with some dried jalapeno and herbs and served on a stick like sate.
There she was alone in her stall; waiting for customers to come and have a seat on the small bench, fleeing into a sanctuary of heat in the middle of a freezing desert. I was one of a traveler. together with a friend, we stopped by and she would quickly served us with hot soup in a paper cup, even before we greeted happily “Annyeong Haseyo!”. We would then buy some 'fish sate’ which costs us 500 won (+- RM1.75) a stick; and stayed for a while. It was a shame that we could just speak basic Korean, and no conversation was extended beyond simple smiles of shyness and timidity. Sometimes I asked my friend; why would Ajuma work like this in the winter? Doesn’t she have any children to take care of her and let her stay at home? Ajuma didn’t understand what I asked, so she simply smiled. And my friend also smiled and said ‘Entah!’ to answer my question. It is such a wonderment that smile could be a universal language to bridge two human beings of different lives and tongue. No words needed to spark the intimacy besides smile.
Soon we left Ajuma alone, while she still waited for customers in her winter coat and old leather gloves. Before left, she would thanked us, saying “Kamsahamnida!” in a cheerful tone. Few encounters with Ajuma made me missed my own mother more, and making me questioning the good-being of my mother in her golden age.
In the day, Ajuma didn’t operate her stall. She just worked in the night, as if being a lighthouse to accompany the ships in the sea during the dark hours. Few nights before we left, Ajuma was not there in her stall. Her stall was closed. I was longing to meet her again; to tell her to be strong for winter and that I was leaving for my homeland, even though she would not understand, and she didn’t need that. But she just wasn’t there. There was no her to smile back at me the same way she would every time I passed by. Soon afterwards, we left Korea for Malaysia.
Until now, sometimes I recalled her lovely face and grin she gave when we met. I remembered of an image of mother one could see in some other foreign people. And even sometimes, I missed her deep in my heart even though we never talked technically.There was no pictures of her taken; no words of her recorded. Just a memory I kept of her in my mind. And even now, I wish she would be strong for the winter; and to tell her that somebody from a land faraway does still remember her.