As my boyfriend occupied himself with being digitally water boarded, I followed an old woman through the exhibition hall. Every few paces she bent her stout frame in half and rested an elbow on her knee. With her wide and cushy bottom confidently positioned in the air, I quietly snuck about to photograph her like an ostrich in the wild. In her right hand she swiped a scraper against the floor and deposited her findings in a bag. While the museum covered a pivotal period in South Korean history (the colonization by Japan), this plucky woman easily distracted me from the repetitive English translations. In a national museum I would expect to see electric floor buffers or at least a scraper that extends so she wouldn’t have to bend over at her age.
However, the hearty older women trusted to keep Korea clean put the younger generation to shame with their physical stamina. Everyday I see the woman who cleans my school’s building traipsing up and down the elevator or stairs like a flood victim in her rubber boots. Only wielding a spray cleaner and a bucket, she leaves the bathrooms and halls of every floor spotless. She cleans the glass doors after the children have finished groping them, lays down cardboard when it rains, and she constantly buffs the hip-level snot off the elevator mirror. All the while her male counterpart, the security guard, sits in his office half-asleep alternating between camera footage and TV. After my boyfriend finished torturing himself (men) we moved on to the prisoner’s cells. The janitor had disappeared, but the image of her behind was freshly imprinted in my mind. I only hope to be that energetic in my old age.