Between Yogurt and Milk

Propelled by caffeine and the type of high that only 5 days on the beach in Thailand during Chuseok can inspire, I shoot through the lobby to the elevator entrance area.  The elevator deposits me onto the 12th floor where I scan my finger print and then sign my name on the employee sign in sheet.  I then pass through the double doors leading to the main office area and proceed to my desk to login to the company time management system.  I have now jumped through all of the ridiculous hoops required to prove that I am in the office.  Time to fuck off to Starbucks.  Just kidding.

The espresso machine is warming up, and I’m sitting at my desk.  A tap on my shoulder.  A gloved hand.  I turn around to be greeted by the Yakult ajumma.  Everyone’s favorite middle-aged female yogurt peddler dressed in the iconic beige company colors from head to toe.  Strict uniform and grooming standards adhered to fully, betraying the company’s Japanese origins.  The Yakult ajumma is hustling for accounts in our office, but she has her work cut out for her.  No other yogurt drink peddlers have secured accounts with any of our famously penny pinching staff.  One of my co-workers is so stingy, he actually washes disposable paper cups and reuses them.

The yogurt drink racket is a tough one.  You either score accounts, or you starve.  It’s all about leads.  Gotta get those leads.  Someone on the inside, probably for a commission, has tipped off the Yakult ajumma to our office’s yogurt drink supply chain deficiency.  In a typical Korean office, the Yakult ajumma will have several clients to visit on her morning yogurt drink runs.  She’ll collect a daily or weekly fee, while supplying nutrition in the form of liquefied yogurt in a small plastic drinking container.  Korean-American colleague Lee never gets tired of telling the same lame yogurt joke every time he sees the Yakult ajumma.  “Hey Jake, what’s the difference between a K-pop boy group, and a yogurt?”  errrrr  “There’s less fruit in the yogurt!”  I’m pretty sure that when the boss forced everyone to go through a sexual harassment seminar, the woman from the bar association mentioned something about gay jokes, and how they could lead to lawsuits, or something.  I’m also fairly sure that Lee was too busy mentally undressing the presenter to actually hear anything she said.

Men in Korea live with their mothers until they get married, at which time they are handed off to wives who take over some of the nagging responsibilities, but none of the mothering responsibilities, leaving many an ajeossi with feelings of profound emptiness. The maternal teet is tucked back into the waist band, no longer available for suckling.  She doesn’t wash my clothes the way mommy did, and her rice doesn’t taste as good.  The other day she actually ordered delivery food instead of cooking me a hot meal.  Along comes a child, and suddenly an ajeossi is no longer even getting the proper nutrition he needs to survive his grueling office routine.  The kid gets all the attention; ajeossi is just there to smile stupidly and underwrite the purchase of designer goods and expensive after-school academies.  As the months pass by, bit by bit, he hardens into a brittle shell of a human being, but wait…..

This is where the Yakult ajumma comes in.  A touch of mothering, a bit of nutrition, and some friendly chit-chat.  She asks me how my day was, and worries about my health!  When was the last time my wife and kid even looked up at me when I sat down at the dinner table?  My wife sleeps 16 hours a day, and spends the other 8 hours glued to home shopping TV channels or her smartphone!   

The Yakult ajumma, heaven-sent, pops a little plastic straw through the foil top of a tiny yogurt drinking bottle, and with it she nurses a grown man back to life with 12 types of vitamins and minerals.  Mission accomplished, she mounts her motorized icebox and glides down the sidewalk out of sight, swallowed by the rolling steel and concrete metropolis until she reappears tomorrow at the same time to deliver nutrition and collect envelopes of cash.

The only question I have is how did this woman get past security, the front desk fingerprint scanner, and the employees-only locked double doors?  Is security so lax that they’ll let anyone into the office?  Just last June building security was read the riot act for letting a senile gentleman carrying pineapples and a giant machete into the building to sell pineapple slices.  His strategy was to stand next to employees and whack the pineapple with his machete until the terrified victim offered to buy a slice.  Safety first!  Did anyone do their job and ID the Yakult ajumma at the front desk?  Who decides which peddlers to let in, and which to turn away?  I suppose part of the Yakult master plan all along was to hire a female-only staff of yogurt peddlers precisely because they have the ability to breeze past building security.  No matter in our case though.  If the Yakult ajumma were a man carrying a large machete and talking to himself, the dumb-shit security guards on the first floor would probably wave him on up, and the front desk girls would then smile and buzz him in the front door.


In my eyes I done seen some crazy thangs in the streets. Gotta couple ‘joomaz workin’ on the track just for me. But I gotta keep my game tight like Kobe on game night.. Takin’ money from these bitches, yeah I know that ain’t right.

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12 Responses to Between Yogurt and Milk

  1. DongDuChoke says:

    You went to Thailand for Chuseok? I hope the pineapple man whacks your computer in half tomorrow.

    • The Expat says:

      Who spends Chuseok in Korea?

      • waygukyoh says:

        Exactly. Chuseok equals get of Korea time. I prefer the less touristy but equally beautiful Cambodian beaches myself. You rent a scooter and navigate a few miles of muddy trails, dodge a few cows, bribe a few policemen and hit the places local expats congregate. Pristine beach, no street kids hawking at you, no tuk tuk. Just excellent cocktails and a pristine stretch of sand.

  2. Lamont Cranston says:

    I do…!
    I go to enough exotic locales during my extensive twice-yearly uni vacations, so heading to my little island hideaway(s) in Korea (and avoiding all the bullshit of trying to get tickets to elsewhere if you haven’t booked them years [hyperbole…] in advance) works just fine for me.
    Apart from the cost of the ferry to get there, my total expenditure over 3 days this Chusok was about $60; and I got a great Chusok dinner with the family who run the yeogwan I stay at as well…!

  3. PK says:

    I got to drive almost 6 hours to go swirl a cup around a table full of food supposedly being devoured by dead ghosts and listen to big daddy (keun appa) ask my fiance why I don’t eat the kimchi (who the hell wants to eat fermented red-pepper and garlic pasted cabbage at 10am?) and harp over and over about how spicy Korean foods are. Oh, I can’t forget about all the woori nara (our country), woori ddang (our land) and woori saram (our people) talk. Luckily, I keep it a secret that I don’t speak or understand any Korean and they generally don’t bother me…. that much.

  4. Billy says:

    you had me at “mounts her motorized icebox”.

  5. Yakult-Adoring Passerby says:

    Am I lame to actually have giggled at this Lee guy’s joke?
    Enjoyed reading this post I accidentally came by.

    I LOVE yalkult. Not that you would care.

  6. JLR41 says:

    I just stumbled across your blog again after you resumed writing. So glad you are back! As I write this I am in Korea for a week (from the US) and am staying at the Hamilton in Itaewon. Unrelated to the above post (and I read all your new posts before writing this), a couple nights ago I went to the Goldfish bar to soak in the atmosphere there that I have come to enjoy on my bi-annual visits. I walked in the front door and – WTF! – it’s a damn wannabe faux-trendy cafe! I was crushed. The gentrification of Itaewon is crossing to the south side of the street like cancer. Anyway, I didn’t notice any mention of the Goldfish’s demise in your posts unless I missed it. With that, has Seoul Pub taken over as the best local expat hangout? Forgive my ignorance, but I don’t live here and just get a taste of this place occasionally. Anyway, again, so happy you are posting again.

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