Fuck sake. So I get off the bus, right? The bus I get off every Monday night at 8:30-8:40 pm. I have my earphones in and I start walking toward my apartment (about ten minutes away). All of the sudden I feel someone touch my shoulder. I turn and take my headphones out. There's a completely ordinary, nondescript well-dressed Korean man around my age standing in front of me. He doesn't start when I turn around and he sees that I'm a foreigner, like most people do when they grab me from behind. He starts speaking Korean -- not one word in English. He explains that he has locked his keys in his car, but his wallet is also in the car, and he's really sorry and embarrassed, but could he have the bus fare to get home? Sure. No problem, bud. Not a likely story, but it could happen to anyone, and I'd rather be out ten thousand won and labeled a fool than see any kindness in this world go all to hell because people are just too damn cynical. Have a nice night. Good luck and all that.
I turn and start walking toward my apartment again, but something tells me not to put my earphones back in. I get to the median in the middle of the road and I can hear footsteps very close directly behind me. Whoever it is, when I stop to wait for the light, doesn't step up beside me like any normal person would, but stands directly behind me. Great. That's pretty fucking bold, bucko. I duck into a small shop once I get across the street and hang around the back until the owner starts to give me strange looks. I explain, in stammering Korean, that there is a strange man following me, and I need to just wait a minute. The owner says that, of course, that's fine, and pokes his head outside to look around. He says there is no one out there. I buy some ramyeon just to make up for his kindness, thank him and step outside. As I'm picking up my umbrella, I do a quick scan around and see the man standing in the shadows under an awning a few shops down. Fantastic. I grab my phone out of my bag and ring Smalltown before I start walking again.
I explain very loudly to Smalltown that there is a man following me RIGHT NOW. He's behind me right now, following me, and I need to meet you at the coffee shop up the road. "What? I'm... right now I'm at work...."
As I'm walking and talking, I get to a place where there are about a dozen people milling around and pull off to the side of the road, turn around and face the man.
"Yeah. I know. So I'll meet you at the coffee shop in ten minutes, okay? There's a strange man behind me and I don't want to go home alone. Will you come home with me tonight?"
The man walks past with his head ducked down.
The fucking light goes on. "Oh Jesus I get it okay yeah. Listen. Do not go toward your apartment at all. Go back to the public area, sit in a fucking restaurant and wait for me to finish work. I'll grab a cab and be right over and we'll go back to your place together. There's no sense taking a risk with something like this."
"No it's alright. He's gone on now."
"What's to stop him going up the road ten meters, pulling off in the shadows and getting back behind you?"
"Yeah I know. I'm not a fucking idiot. I'll turn off at the main road up here, go to the coffee shop 2o minutes in the other direction, get a coffee and sit around for a bit, then head back toward mine going a completely different route."
"Just wait for me to get there."
"No. Look I appreciate that, but I'm fucking tired and this guy is not gonna run me out of my own house. I've got my wits about me -- you don't need to worry about that. If I see him again at any point, I'll stay there and phone you back."
"Alright. Just be safe."
I did exactly that, stopping along the way to chat with every damn shop ajumma and ajeoshi I know, as well as half a dozen former and current students, and their parents.
Fuck you, whoever you are. I'm not as fucking invisible as you think I am. This neighborhood is my home. It has been for a year and a half. People know me. People watch out for me.
Now. I don't know what the fuck that was. I don't know if that guy just saw me walk off the bus and saw an opportunity, or if he knows that I get off that bus at that spot and time every week. I don't know if he knows where my apartment is or not. I do know that he wasn't on the bus with me, and I also know that he didn't seem real fucking scared of me knowing that he was following me, given that he saw me look up and see him when I came out of the shop, and continued on right behind me anyway. And thank God for his stupidity and/or his assumption that I am just as stupid.
Maybe it was just some really, really misguided attempt at trying to start a conversation or something. But I really doubt it.
Girls. Just be careful. I've heard literally dozens of stories of things like this happening to foreign women in Korea, some that get to quite a gruesome point. I've said it here before, and I'll say it again: we are highly visible, people know that foreigners generally live alone, and we are assumed to be quite vunerable and helpless. I'm not entirely sure that whole exercise with the wallet locked in the car, in fact, wasn't an attempt to size up my Korean ability. God knows he certainly would've gotten a lot further not drawing that kind of attention to himself, and simply walking along a few paces away from me as though we lived in the same building. I don't know what would've happened then. Surely he must've known I would think it was odd when he turned to come into the same building as me. Fucking idiot.