How male hormones paid for two college educationsIf you’re a real man, you hate flowers. When you think of them, you think of hippies defiling firearms. You think of smells clashing with the smoke from your Marlboros. You think of tiptoeing through the tulips and whacking their tops off with a 9-iron.
And you hate it when you’re out on the town and that one flower ajumma accosts you. She sneaks up on you from behind, taps you on the shoulder and flashes that cloying smile. The one designed to extort 10,000 won ($8) from you.
You probably never cared who that ajumma was or where she came from. But like it or not, you’re about to find out.
Let’s meet Park Mi-young, the busiest flower ajumma in town. Ms. Park, 47 and from Gwangju, has been peddling her petals in Itaewon and harvesting cash from would-be Lotharios for about 10 years now. She works every night of the week, from about 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., hauling roses and daisies from one watering hole to the next. On a good night, she says, she’ll make 100,000 won or more; on a bad one, about 40,000.
Ms. Park, accosted herself recently in the juicy bar On y va for an interview, wilted when asked which kinds of Itaewonians were the most or least generous. “It depends ― most of them are very nice,” she said. She wheeled around and pointed out a particularly nice one, a Canadian businessman practicing tropism with a bar girl in a corner booth. “That guy is one of my best customers. He’ll buy 100,000 won worth of flowers at a time.” She has an American customer who hands over similar sums in one swoop, she added.
Hmmm. Anyway you nip it, 100,000 won would get them, and their targets, upwards of 20 tequila shots. Seems a terrible waste. On the bright side, the money does go to a good cause.
To wit, Ms. Park has two children in college, and she’s their sole source of support. Her 25-year-old son attends Daejeon University, and her 21-year-old daughter goes to Myongji University in Seoul. Both major in industrial design.
To keep the kids’ scholarly pursuits in bloom, Ms. Park heads over to the Express Bus Terminal and its big flower market every morning, and gets the pick of the posies. She gets her sleep in the daytime, as do many Itaewonians. Her free time, she says, is consumed by work around the house. By 9 she’s back on the streets, clusters in hand.
Asked what people in Itaewon do that makes her mad, the perennially positive Ms. Park demurred. A hostess, Seo Gi-na, chimed in: “She doesn’t like it when the men try to buy her a drink. She’s working, after all.”
Well, the belladonna Ms. Seo certainly isn’t averse to getting free drinks while she works. Of course, Ms. Seo doesn’t make money if she doesn’t drink. So it all depends.
Another thing that depends is that old saying about stopping to smell the roses. Ms. Park doesn’t seem to like it when people sniff, then stiff. So if you’re a real man, you’ll either buy a rose or two or keep your nose out of her business.
by Mike Ferrin