Miss Ahn was a beautiful 23-year-old typist, somewhat skinny with the Audrey Hepburn hair style, always wearing expensive looking dress and a pair of red high-hills. She was also receptionist and telephone operator for the American architect and engineering firm named TAE at the Building 1510 in the Main Post, U.S. Army Garrison, Yongsan. It was in early 1960s.
It sounded like two drum sticks softly hitting on a snare drum when all of her fingers danced over the mechanical key board typing English technical specifications. Her desk was practically covered and surrounded by two typewriters, Smith Corona for English, “Gongbyungwoo” model for Hangeul, and 3 black phones, one for the U.S. Military line, a Seoul city line and interphone.
She often placed her small round mirror on the keyboard of her typewriter. She was the only person, besides admin and soils laboratory employees, who could sit in a swivel chair at the flat top desk. The architects, engineers, draftsmen were all on the stool. She spoke fluent English into the phone.
Miss Ahn always arrived at the office about a quarter of an hour late in the morning so that when she walked into the office all the boys in the drafting room raised their heads from the slanted large drafting boards. Actually, when she opened the entrance door her perfume had reached the muzzles of the boys before she was at her desk. It also made a fine tune like cuckoo’s when her hills hit the plywood floor when she walked around in the office. She of course knew of the boy’s gazes but she wasn’t shy or never showed a haughtily attitude. Everyone liked her. And she was kind to me, too, and I helped her change the typewriter ribbon. I was 27 years old.
One summer morning she opened the entrance door and walked toward her desk like a model walking on a runway. But this morning she wore something different – she was practically covered by a brown colored one piece dress looked like a rice bag made of hemp threads. It completely hid the whole contour lines of her bosoms, waist and hips. It was a cloth cylinder but two holes were cut open to expose the arms. The mysterious hemline was leveled at 10 cm above her knees.
The boys were stunned. But they have learned good manners by associating with the American soldiers and civilians who were called DAC, or Department of Army Civilians, not only inside the Yongsan Garrison but also working in the other U.S. Military bases in the country.
Everyone in the office made welcome smiles at lovely Miss Ahn. She came to my drafting table and said, “How do you think of my new dress? It’s the latest fashion introduced by Givenchy, you know.” I didn’t know who Givenchy was but said, “Well, it seems cool in the summer as warm air goes off through the open neck.” As I remember she came to the office in her sack dress only twice, however.
While boys at the drafting boards were busy in learning the U.S. standards in inch, foot and pound for the building and structural designs that included the ASTM (American Standards for Testing Materials) and the latest Building, Fire, Plumbing, Electric Codes and structural design criteria, the girls working inside the bases were copying rather rapidly of the avant-garde American culture and at the same time mastered English much faster than the boys could.
The Miss Ahn must be 80 years now, and when I pass by the main gate of the USAG Yongsan, I often dream that she and I might sit by chance next to each other in the elder’s seats of the subway car. Then I would suggest her to walk up the northern dragon hill where the old Building 1510 is still standing. Then the old lady, who was once lovely in her sack dress, would bashfully say, “Mister Nam, all my grandchildren are fluent in English and well grown and I’m happy and proud of them.” “So, mine are, Miss Ahn Young-sook,” I would answer.
The writer is a retired architect/specifications writer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org