These days at taekwondo an older man has joined the 9 p.m. class. I'm not sure, but I think he's close in age to me, maybe a couple years older or younger. His uniform reads R.O.T.C., which in the US is the reserve officers' training corps, kind of like a college association for people who intend to become career military officers. Could mean the same here, but I don't know. He's spoken to me a few times, after figuring out from the other kids and teachers that I can understand some Korean, although I haven't asked him many questions yet. It's nice to have another adult in the class since the two uni students who sometimes join have been super busy with their exams.
I feel a bit bad because one day after practice the girls and I were in the changing room and he came in without knocking. Since then the girls' nickname for him is 변태아저씨 (byeontae ajosshi... meaning something like "perverted man").
Speaking of the girls... as they are the ones I've gotten to know the best... there are four who come regularly. I'll call them Navy, Tomboy, Cutie, and Toughgirl. I know their Korean names, but not that well. It's easier just to give them nicknames.
The oldest was the one who spoke to me first in that class and took the most initial responsibility to make sure the other girls spoke to me. She has an orange belt (meaning she has only been training a few months before I joined the studio) and is finishing her last year of high school, so she's older than most of the kids in the studio (which I had guessed before I asked her as they all call her 언니 or 누나, meaning "older sister). She plans to go to Keimyung University (just up the road) and major in military studies because she wants to join the Navy. Navy's really kind and funny, though she was stressed out a lot just before the big test. I'm glad she seems to have relaxed a bit now. I hope she continues next year. She's a great girl.
I believe then next oldest (who is the tallest and highest belt rank--taller than me with a black belt marking her 3 dan) is in second grade high school, but she may be as young as third grade middle school. It's hard to tell. This girl is built like a tank and her personality is kind of obnoxious. I actually didn't like her that much at first. She says stuff like, after I decline some fried pork (tang su yuk) and explain that I'm a vegetarian, "then why are you so fat?" And when I showed pictures of my boyfriend on the internet to the other girls, she kept talking about how ugly he is and how I should date a tall western guy. She also asked me about what western guys would think of her (she is so not the typical "Asian woman" that white guys into Asians would like... but I told her she's pretty...). I've come to realize that this is just her way. It's teasing that borders on meanness, but she does it in the same spirit the boys beat the crap out of each other. And her laughter is infectious and her heart is big, so I like her now.
The shy second grade middle school girl with shorter hair is unbearably adorable at times, hence her nickname. Cutie has a boyfriend I sometimes see her chatting with when I'm walking to the studio. She is by far the most "girlie" of the girls in the studio, and she's also the lowest ranking student with a very newly obtained orange belt. I've had to remind her a few times to take off a necklace or earrings before we start practice. When we play games, she hovers around the edge of the studio, avoiding confrontation as much as possible. However, before and after class, she is always happy to see and chat with me about all kinds of things.
Toughgirl is in the same grade as Cutie, but she wears a 1 poom (the red/black belt for young kids equivalent to black belt), so I guess she must have earned it a long time ago and then re-joined the studio more recently. She seems to do poomsae on about the same level as the only boy who has a color belt (his is a purple belt), though she does sort of know all the 8 color forms. She is as tomboyish as Tomboy, but much kinder about it. Toughgirl tries to keep up with the boys when we go running and always does her best at practice. She's funny and smart. Her cousin also does practice with us (he's a middle school boy the others have nicknamed 돼지, or pig--as you may have noticed, Korea is not a place for the slightly tubby can afford to be faint of heart), and she lives in the same small neighborhood as I do, so sometimes we walk home together.
For a month, there were three second grade high school girls who joined (two brand new, one with a black belt), but they haven't been back since December started. They didn't really talk to me much, so I didn't get to know them at all.
I skipped tonight because yesterday I hurt my ankle at practice, but I missed them all, so I thought I'd introduce them to you. I feel very grateful to them for helping me get along better at the studio.