Wind of skirt still blowing in Korea

Contributor: Nam Sang-so

My father (1900~1995) used to smoke tobacco using a Korean pipe. It was made of a small bamboo stem, some 60 cm (2 feet) long.…

Topic: traditions
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My father (1900~1995) used to smoke tobacco using a Korean pipe. It was made of a small bamboo stem, some 60 cm (2 feet) long. At the far end was a small metal fire-mouth to fill tobacco in. On the other end was the mouthpiece.

He fills about a thumb sized grassed tobacco into the vertical fire-mouth and bites the mouth piece between his teeth and strikes a match to fire tobacco. It’s an awkward action as the lengths of the pipe and his extended arm were about the same.

My mother, when she sees he is about to smoke, quickly fire a match and lights the tobacco, while the man inhales the smoke sitting on the floor. I’ve seen these smoking scenes many times when I was a child. I felt sorry for mom.

One day a neighbor’s man and my father were having an argument about something in the yard, over a bush fence. The neighbor’s wife jumped out of her kitchen and started to raise her voice against my father saying her husband is always right because he is an honest man. My mother heard the noise and she hopped out of the house, and told my father to stay out. Then she started a proxy war against the neighbor’s wife who has been a good friend. Being women, they didn’t use clenched fists but it was a frightful verbal war. Women were brave in those days and it’s still been called “Wind of Skirt” in Korea.

For example, when you visit public restaurants in Korea, you’d notice that the servers are usually women, old or young.  Man, usually sits at a corner, reading paper or scolding at his wife or the female servers to work faster. The man doesn’t do such service because he is the pillar of the house.  Such minor chores are not his job as he was taught by his father or grandfather. Then look around street vendors in the city, they are mostly women.  One wonders where the men are and what are they doing while keeping their women busy on the sidewalk. Still wives do grocery shopping always thinking about the husband’s gusto.

Having heard and somewhat scared of the loud shattering noises of glass ceilings in the countries outside of Korea, some young non-Korean men find Korean women quite attractive, dreaming that they too can smoke tobacco sitting on the floor while Korean wives would do all the chores.

Since you are in the East Asia, however, just give a second thought and make a quick comparison with the young ladies in China and Japan before making a hasty proposal. Ladies in China wear a tight one-piece dress called ‘chipao” as formal dress which is tightly follows the boy lines. And Japanese women’s formal dress is “kimono” which is also securely adhered to women’s contour lines. So that the chipao and the kimono won’t produce “wind of skirt.”

On the other hand, the skirt of Korean women, which is so long starting from the bosoms line to cover the toes and loosely spreading out and in many different bright colors. When she turnaround wearing “chima” it produces a gentle wind, that’s is if she is being well looked after by man – like my father probably had been.   When she is being ignored or sees an injustice, her loosely fit chima would easily produce a wild wind and then would escalate it to a gale if she is really upset – my mother was like that.

By Nam Sang-so, a Korean War navy veteran who had served as an architect/engineer for Trans-Asia Engineers at U.S. Army Yongsan Garrison, K-6/Camp Humphreys and U.S. Navy Seabees in Saigon for a total of 25 years.