The Aroma of Forgiveness

I returned to the Aroma spa today, and I was late. You know when you are in LA and you are just trying to go to Koreatown, like 10 minutes from my house, but in LA Friday Traffic Time, which are like the DOG YEARS of drivetime, it can take you – well, a lot longer.

My incident last week there, which I wrote about here caused quite an uproar.

Lots of people were angry about things, mostly proud of me for speaking up, angry that I had been mistreated (while naked no less), but some mad because they felt I was being ‘full of myself’. I might be full of myself, but I would much rather be full of YOU baby – that’s my misguided attempt at responding to hatred with flirting.

Anyway, anyone who criticized my body last week just hear this – you who are without stretch marks, cast the first stone.

Sometimes I want to respond to people who say, “I read what you wrote and you are disgusting.”

Me: First of all, congratulations! I didn’t know you could read! Well, read this – FUCK YOU

But I don’t do that, at least I try not to.

People who hate my body don’t realize how much I love them, as they are in pain, and direct it at me because they don’t what else to do with their pain, so they want me to feel it. If you hate me, please continue to, and maybe the hate will come out of you enough where you will one day be happy. I will take your misery and turn it into poetry. I am like the Soymilkman of Human Kindness, like my hero Billy Bragg, but I am lactose intolerant.

I bowed so much when I finally arrived at Aroma Spa and Sport, and the whole staff came out to greet me. The sweet manager who had to deal with the tough job of negotiating with some irate Korean women who were terrified of my body and then who had to come to ME and talk to me about it – a bad situation for her and everyone involved – was there to help me. She apologized again, and thanked me profusely for returning to the spa, without hard feelings, without anger, but with lots of clogged pores that needed extractions.

Everyone was so nice to me in the spa, women even coming up and complimenting my tattoos and smiling and friendly. I wondered for a moment if they had closed the spa for the day and hired a bunch of actors to play the parts of Korean women bathers, but I actually recognized some of the faces – some of the same women who had judged me so harshly the previous week, those mean ladies, came up to me, with kindness and curiosity in their eyes. I sat in the sauna and watched golf and wept.

The treatments were remarkable, and although they tried to stop me from giving them any money, but I forced about $50 on them, as I am so Korean, and I can fight over a check until the police and ambulance are called and the golf clubs are out and swinging at heads. Sometimes the fight over the check at Asian restaurants is so intense, one family will leave in the squad car, one will leave in the ambulance, but I know whichever emergency vehicle I wind up in, I am going to be the one to pay. That is the winner. Winners pay.

I thanked them up and down, bowed like 100 times, and we took pictures together to post on the Aroma Facebook and my Twitter. I told them that it’s hard to be a Korean American comedian sometimes, because for me, as I work in an industry where there are not many who look like me and do what I do, and I grew up in this showbiz world, feeling alternately hated then invisible for my inability to fit in, and then I go to a place, where everyone is like me – looks like me that is (ok just in the face, not in the tattooed body) and they seem to hate me, I feel so lonely, as if there is no place for me in the world at all.

Also, the jimjilbang, Aroma Spa in particular, reminds me of the women in my family, especially my beloved Kun Immo (my mom’s Unee, i.e. Big Sis, i.e. The Notorious KIM, RIP  Kun Immo – I am pouring a 40 of makgeolli into the ground for her and all my mom’s dead homies) who would take me to their favorite ones in Korea. They would wash my back and braid my hair and hold my face in their hands and ask me if I had any idea how beautiful I was, and how beautiful a woman I was going to grow up to be.

All I have of them now is their jewelry, willed to me in embarrassingly large amounts and stored in safety boxes all over the West Side, as they couldn’t give me any more days, because they only had so many, and had spent them all loving me and my mom, but in death, they could still give me jade and diamonds, to carry into my days, as the beautiful woman they all knew I would grow up to be. (my mom is slightly pissed off that I have it, but I totally let her borrow it! especially the emeralds. She works an emerald better than joan fucking Collins.)

The women at the Aroma Spa look like my family, who are all gone now, but are maybe watching me from heaven, where there’s probably an Aroma spa with a big screen tv  in the sauna showing what is happening on earth, and I feel like, they are proud of me, because I found some new ladies that might do the same things for me that they did, until I see them once more, in the great jimjilbang in the sky.





20 Comments. Add To The Mix…

  1. Margaret Cho, you’re an amazing and beautiful woman. Both stories provided and demonstrated your great insight and love of people. Kick their ass or hug them, whichever is needed or deserved.

  2. Margaret Cho, you have inspired since I was a teenager and have yet to let me down. You were one of the first people who I believed when you said it was ok for me to be myself, and I hope you know the positive effect you have on your fans. Please continue to your badass fabulous self (and make me laugh).

  3. You know what? You have every right to live your life however you see fit. You have a right to get tattooed. And people who make derogatory statements about your body or looks are mean-spirited fools. But you’re disrespectful. I don’t personally care whether someone has a tattoo, but I think you should respect others’ cultures, even if you are genetically from the same ethnicity, and even if they are “in America.” You don’t come off as an enlightened individual who is unafraid to stand up for yourself, which is clearly how you fancy yourself; you come off as an entitled, pig-headed American. The fact that you would say “do you know who I am? I’m Margaret Cho” is absolutely disgusting and shows an utter lack of class. The fact that you once had a sitcom does not make you better than anyone else.

  4. Ms Cho, I have enjoyed listening to your work and what I try to tell my psychiatric patients about self respect and self acceptance you say better and with a lot more humor. Sometimes the first thing out of our mouths is not the most respectful nor the funniest. So people like David-she’s HUMAN! We all “sing off key” from time to time such as your reply will seem to you tomorrow and perhaps mine will to me tomorrow as well. Cut yourself and others some slack. He who is always right is usually left. It’s happened to me many times for thinking I am always right.

  5. David-(the misguided individual who commented earlier) Apparently you read the previous posting without understanding. So let me help you to understand. Margaret did not disrespect anyone’s culture. SHE herself was disrespected. She was belittled for her own set of values (the value of her body in which she has chosen to adorn.) If we value culture over kindness and follow tradition when it is hurtful, then we are not progressing to a better future, we are foolishly walking backwards without a care for who we trample in the process.

    Margret- I love you and your refusal to be downtrodden.

  6. Margaret, you are AMAZING! I am so happy that you had such inner strength and that things are better now. It is so nice seeing the photo of you and the Aroma Spa manager posing and smiling together. Maybe you could have a future as Secretary of State and get the Koreas to put aside their differences and unite 🙂 Love you!

  7. I just read your original post about your visit to the spa, and I was so impressed by how eloquently you described your culture and how you proudly stood up for yourself. I loved this post even more. To show such forgiveness and respect, while still respecting yourself and acting with dignity, was very inspirational. You were able to take a bad situation and make it better, and I was impressed with how the spa handled it as well.

  8. I am happy that the Aroma Spa tried to make good on what happened to you. Your genius is in transmuting fear and anger and hatred into something transformative. Those women who were terrified of your tattoos now see you as a fellow Korean-American. People can be so afraid of what they don’t understand. You helped to assuage that fear.

  9. David on 4/2 is wrong, it’s not disrespectful to object to mistreatment; rather, to speak out shows the hope that they’ll hear and, at least at some point in the future, understand, which in fact they did.

    Beyond that, I think you’re very pretty and have a wonderful sexuality. And you have that kind of high-vibration thing going on, like the Beatles etc; Liberating.

    In my experience, those who can will reach for that, and those who can’t will as they age, increasingly say the most rotten things they can think of, as per their comments. It’s like in Lord of the Rings, where the nazgul hate the light that they can’t reach anymore.

  10. I’m glad you went back. I’m glad that your path is the high road. It pays off for everyone every time. And these days. we need all the high road we can get to keep the balance.

    I burst out in tears when you mentioned the jewelry. I have that box too.. Clunky things from the 50’s 60’s & 70’s now belonging to me in a world where I have no place to wear it, but holding a sentimental value of family loss that exceeds any tea-party/Glenn Beck Federal Reserve apocalypse gold price bubble. If I was pushing a shopping cart, that jewelry would be in it.
    The “Daughters of the American Revolution” types don’t know. It is the women who came to this country from other places and the daughters they raised that made America. Fuck the politics! If your Grandma cooked cabbage and root vegetables while wearing jewelry… She knew the score.
    My experience is East Coast & Eastern Europe. Not West Coast & Korea. But even the hint of you having a similar experience makes me feel less alone. Time to bust out those black and white photographs. Blessings.

  11. Margaret, you have long been an inspiration to me, and I loved your post about the first visit to Aroma when I read it on Jezebel. I’m so glad to hear how you were treated when you returned! And as for the person who thinks it was “disgusting” of you to say, “Do you know who I am?”–I can only imagine your meaning was that you are a sort of ambassador for Asian-Americans in general, and Korean-Americans in particular, and how could they discriminate against you for something so small, when you share the discrimination they receive from others every day?

    By the way, I just read your book, “I’m The One That I Want”. I was quite surprised at how much we have in common. I’m not Asian–I was teased and made fun of for being a redhead. I moved away from home at 16. At 17, I had a boyfriend who was 27, and who was definitely less mature than I was. I, too, felt unworthy and inferior, and that I needed to respond to and accept anyone who was attracted to me because of that. I, too, went through a period of drinking far too much, though books have been my main escape method throughout my life. Thank you for that brutally honest, refreshing, and insightful memoir.

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  13. I didn’t think I could love you anymore. As it turns out, I can.

    Your fore mothers were right, you are beautiful, fucking beautiful inside and out.

  14. I have watched all your films and I have them and your stories I have told to some many people – my straight friends love your videos too – you make sex and having fun so acceptable and you say the things that others are afraid to say – to me you are an inspiration and had a huge impact on me being half chinese Asian and black mixed – if the gays do not know you in britain, by the time I have finished they will xxxxxx

  15. Thank you so much Margaret! I am a Korean-American female with tattoos; one being a large backpiece. I completely understand how we can be treated sometimes by the OG ahjummas and by you speaking up, there may be a little more tolerance for us now. Well, hopefully for all of us even though we are not celebrities like you haha. I am actually going in within the next few weeks in hopes of a membership so we will see. Thanks again beautiful!

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