A Woman’s Purity
Before reading this story you might like to read
Introduction to Jorea.
It was without question the quietest factory floor Kengo Kawaguchi had ever been to. In a way he guessed that is to be expected as all the factory workers in the assembly line are women and in Jorea, women do not speak in public.
To be more accurate, they cannot speak in public!
Standing on a platform above the factory floor, Kengo watched as over 50 women silently make the components ordered by his company in Vippon. All the women were in their mutemask, a hard white mask that totally enveloped the women’s head leaving only their black hair visible. The mutemask physically prevent the women moving their mouth, making the factory a silent place outside the noise of the machinery.
To Kengo, it was eerie. The situation was made worse by the fact that in Vippon, women wore a face-veil that was black in color. Seeing over 50 white masks hard at work was discomforting to him. Kengo refused to admit that the fact that white is a color of mourning in Vippon had anything to do with it.
Kengo noticed that Jong Hyok had said something about the factory. He nodded approvingly even though he wasn’t really paying attention to what the factory manger was saying. It was the right thing to do as a big smile came on the factory manger’s face. In his halting Vipponese, Jong Hyok continued his explanation on the inner workings of the factory. The manger was one of the reasons why Kengo believed the factory will be a success.
A young Jorean man named Kim Nam Jin came to Rising Sun Inc a few months ago and proposed that an electronics components factory be set-up in Jorea. There was a lot of skepticism. Jorea did not have a reputation as a manufacturing hub and unlike Vippon, Jorea was a poor country with poor infrastructure. However the young man sold the idea with the location and cost of Jorea.
As Jorea was the northern neighbor of Vippon, the company could make use of the lower wages and costs in Jorea by making their component parts in Jorea. After which, the goods would be transported to Vippon where they would be used to make higher-end, more complex products. After much debate, the lower cost of Jorea won the argument and it wasn’t even a PR risk to the company as most of their component parts were manufactured outside Vippon anyway.
So far, it has been a good decision for Rising Moon Inc. The savings in cost had been expected but the quality of the products had been an unexpected bonus. Kengo could see a few male supervisors moving around the factory floor making sure all was in order and suspected that they were the reason why the components products were of such high quality.
However Kengo still could not get over the mutemask. White as snow, Kengo began to wonder how comfortable the women were in their mask. The face-veils of Vippon were mostly made of cloth, and even the silk-like hoods masks of the Sheep province with their strange face pictures looked more comfortable than the Jorean mutemasks which were made of hard fiberglass. The mutemask made it impossible for the women to speak or even turn their head. It must be tiring for them working with their masks on. Kengo would not have the women making mistakes on the factory floor because they were uncomfortable.
Kengo told Jong Hyok about his concerns but the factory manger assured him that’s not a problem. Again in his halting Vipponese, Jong Hyok tried to explain that the women were very comfortable in their mutemask and wearing it was almost second nature to the women.
Kengo was unconvinced but nodded his acceptance. The mutemask was a tradition of Jorea and something that he can’t change. When he left the factory that day, Kengo muse that outside the mutemask, it had been a good trip overall.
The next day saw Kengo leaving his hotel room early. Jong Hyok had called him last night and said that he had arranged a guide for Kengo. Very hospitable of Jong Hyok, but Kengo did wondered about the early time. Outside the mountains of the Sheep province, most of Vippon were flat plains and as he was never the fittest man to begin with, the high altitude of the Jorean mountains had been causing some problems for Kengo since he arrived in Pejun City.
In the lobby of the hotel, Kengo saw a young man carrying a sign with his name on it. Kengo approached the man who smiled at his approach.
“Mr. Kengo?” Once Kengo nodded, the man continued. “I am Cha Yong Ri. I have been hired to be your guide today.”
Kengo was immediately impressed by the man’s flawless Vipponese and quickly thanked Yong Ri for his services today. The two decided to have breakfast at the hotel first before heading to their first stop of the day. Over breakfast, Kengo discovered that Yong Ri was a student at the local university and studied Vipponese as students need to pick a second language to study in Jorean universities. Yong Ri commented that as there were many similarities between the Jorean and Vipponese language, it was a popular choice.
Most of the time on these business trips, people were careful with their words and actions as they wanted to make the best impression but Kengo found Yong Ri to be rather open and it was refreshing. Kengo suspect that Yong Ri’s youth had a lot to do with that.
After the breakfast, Yong Ri guided Kengo to the first stop of the day. Rather surprisingly for Kengo, he found that Yong Ri brought him to a fitness complex.
The complex was huge, far bigger than any sporting complex Kengo had been in Vippon. After Yong Ri had signed them in at the entrance, the duo entered the complex and Kengo immediately saw that the building was spilt in several sections. Yong Ri directed him to a particular section and Kengo followed.
It was a gym.
More than that, Yong Ri had guided him to a second floor balcony that oversaw a gym for women! Kengo looked down and saw about 10 women doing various exercises at the machines. He quickly understood why Yong Ri had brought him here. All the women were Jorean and they all had their mutemasks on while exercising.
Kengo looked around and saw that the women were all wearing a modified version of the traditional hanbok. Normal hanbok has a jeogori (which covers the arms and upper part of the wearer’s body) and a chima (which is like a long skirt). However the women’s attire does not have the chima, instead it was pants. Like the normal hanbok, they were sewn together. However it was their heads that caught Kengo’s attention.
Their hair were in a bun on top of their head and around their head was the stifling mutemask! Yet they were doing strenuous exercises in them! Two of the women were running hard on treadmills, while the others were doing various kinds of weights. After awhile, the women switched places and Kengo saw that the women were all doing a circuit.
Yong Ri explained that due to the fact that cities in Jorea were all on mountains, sporting complexes like the one they were in are very popular. The sporting complexes were split into men and female sections, and most women in Jorea do their exercises in the complexes. However as the sporting complexes are open to the public, the women were still required to wear their mutemask when exercising. He then went on to explain that this is something the women had been doing from young and all of them were used to the idea of working and exercising in their mutemask.
Kengo quickly decided that Yong Ri wasn’t as naive as he originally thought. He also wasn’t that surprised that there were no men in this gym as most things in Jorea were segregated by gender but he was surprised men, especially strange men, were allowed to look at the women while they were exercising. “Wouldn’t it be easier if men were just banned from looking at women while they were exercising? Then there’s no need for the women to wear their mutemask?”
“Most foreigners asked that,” Yong Ri said with a smile. “However most couples come to the sport complex together and some husbands, like myself, sometimes come and watch our wives exercising after we are done.”
“Oh, you are married?”
“Indeed I am. In fact that woman there is my wife.” Yong Ri pointed at a woman who was doing some bench presses. She was dressed in a yellow and blue hanbok and of course, in her mutemask.
“She seems to be doing well.” Kengo admitted. The mutemask seems to have no effect whatsoever.
“Yes, she is.” Yong Ri raised his hand and a woman on the gym floor spotted him. Soon the other women turned and looked at him. Most went back to their exercising after a look but his wife folded her hands in front of her body and bowed in their direction. She then walked out of the gym.
Yong Ri told Kengo that his wife will need some time to bath and clean up herself and invited Kengo to tour the rest of the complex with him. Kengo agreed and found that there were women in other parts of the complex as well doing several other sports. There was even a group of Jorean women playing a form of netball. The game was the same as in other countries but Kengo noticed that the women shot the ball further out as they were unable to move their head up. Still, it was netball and although he don’t know much of the game, the women seem to play the game well.
Yong Ri then turned Kengo back to the gym and when they arrived at the entrance, a woman was standing by the door like a statue. Yong Ri spoke a name, “Min.” The woman moved and looked at the duo. To Kengo, it looked like she had just come out of the trance and he suddenly remember the almost legendary “blank” state Jorean woman were able to maintain.
Yong Ri made some introduction and the woman, Min, bowed towards both of them. Kengo saw that she had changed to a more traditional hanbok but with the same colors. The group left the sports complex and went to their next location. Kengo was surprised when he discovered that they were going to the factory again.
“Of course,” Yong Ri said. “Min’s shift at the factory is starting soon.”
“She worked at the factory?”
“Yes, that’s how manger Jong contacted me. He knew that I know Vipponese and asked if I was interested to show you around. He also wanted to show that the mutemask is normal…attire in Jorea.”
“You were going to say something else?”
“No, it is nothing.” Said Yong Ri. “Think nothing of it.”
“No,” Kengo insisted. “Please feel free to say what’s on your mind.”
“Sir, you must understand the idea behind the mutemask.” Yong Ri started. “In Jorea, the mutemask isn’t just a…device to prevent the woman from speaking, it is a symbol!”
“Yes, it is.” Yong Ri said. “The mutemask is symbol of the woman’s purity and the women of Jorea would never consider dishonoring their family by taking off their purity while in public. Purity is not something you can put on and take off. In fact, in some more traditional villages and towns further down the mountain, women wear their mutemasks at all times expect for baths and sleep. That’s how important it is for us.”
At the words of Yong Ri, Kengo found that he was impressed by the passion the young man had displayed. Joreans were not known for showing emotions in public so he could just guessed the depth of feeling the mutemask has on the Jorean psyche.
At the factory, Yong Ri’s wife went through the employee door while the duo went up to the platform he was at yesterday. As he had expected, the factory manager, Jong Hyok, was there to greet him. This time the meeting was much better as Yong Ri took the role of interpreter for the two.
Their talk was interrupted at the ring of the factory bell. Kengo watched as the women silently made their way to their work stations. All was silent and it was as eerie as yesterday as the women in their white mutemask walk, sat and then started their work. However this time Kengo could see understand that this was the way Jorea is.
In their show of purity, the women of Jorea would do anything in their mutemask and whether in the gym or in the factory, the mutemask were not coming off. In the face of such conviction, Kengo could do nothing but bow to the determination of the women of Jorea.