10.03.2010

An even closer call.

Well, good morning kiddies. Or, rather, afternoon. Unfortunately today's post is not going to be an entirely happy, glowy one. Although yesterday was, save for about a twenty minute period, absolutely lovely.

I woke up early and did indeed get over to the department stores in Bucheon, where I spent far too much money and found out that ZARA does not size small, no matter what the internet may lead you to believe. In fact, in comparison to Korean sizes, theirs are positively generous. Their shoes, however many there may be available in your size (up to 41 European, allegedly, but I only saw up to size 40), could break your bank though. If you're used to being a cheap bastard when it comes to footwear, as I am. Grabbed another coffee from the same place as last week, hoping for a recreation of The Best Cup of Coffee Ever, but it fell sadly short, although still pretty good. Had about a twenty minute conversation with the ajumma selling tights, in which she explained the advantages and disadvantages, stretchiness rating scale, and various other aspects of her products, a whole lot of which I completely missed because she was speaking breakneck paced Korean and I'm not really well-versed in tights vocabulary. But it was nice of her anyway.

Went outside to find, to my astonishment, that it was raining. I know. After having been grey and cloudy all morning, it actually started to rain. I was shocked. No, I actually was. Because apparently I left my flat in a coma and forgot what country I was in for a minute. So I caught a cab to the station and rushed home, after settling a few plans for the evening with Hot Yellow Fellows and Dating in Korea. It was my second time to meet HYF, but my first with DIK, so I was a little nervous. Wanted to get myself together a bit. First impressions and that.

After crawling -- crawling -- through Seoul traffic, I finally arrived at the meeting point about 30 minutes late. Which was fine. Because they were both running stupidly late as well. Seoul was a cesspit of slick roads, accidents and too many damn people last night. But we did all eventually make it, and had a fantastic dinner, followed by hoffing and the tiniest bit of clubbing, too late for anything good to come of it. And I mean that literally. Around 5:30, we got the boot out of the last of the clubs, and the girls headed for galbi, while I decided to call it a "night" and catch the bus home.

This is where things get a little sketch. I hopped off the bus just as the sun was beginning to come up. I grabbed a coffee drink at the local Buy the Way and slowly started meandering home. Remember those shoes I mentioned? Well I was wearing a pair of them, with about three inch heels. For about fifteen hours. My feet hurt, and my neighborhood is a bit of a dump. I may have been a bit swervy, which someone just walking behind me might have fairly interpreted as drunk as hell. Thank fuck I actually wasn't intoxicated in the least.

As I rounded one of the corners on a backstreet near my apartment building, I heard footsteps coming up from behind. No worries. The old folk in my neighborhood like to get out early on weekend mornings and climb the mountain. The footsteps passed to my left and came up in front of me. Oh. That's a man's bare ass. That man is walking in front of me with his pants pulled down to his thighs.

Now. I don't know. Maybe you're different from me, smarter than me. Maybe I was just too tired. But it took me a fucking minute to crack on to what the fuck was going on. As the man continued to walk a few paces ahead, pulling up his pants to round any corners, and then pulling them back down when he saw there was no one on the next street, I realized that this was not just absentminded drunken pants shenanigans -- this was intended for me, especially.

I didn't know what to do. This was a first for me, honestly, even after five years in New York City. Sure, I've walked past men exposing themselves before, and seen a bit of it on the subway, but a personal show was a bit much. I started to worry at that point, and thought about shouting at him, but decided that, as men such as that generally get off on a reaction, it was best just to walk past him when he pulled off to the side up ahead and turned to face me, with my eyes looking straight ahead and a relaxed demeanor, as though I hadn't even noticed anything at all. Hopefully dude would get the point, experience a bit of disappointment, and head home to his poor, poor wife. After I passed him, he walked on the opposite side of the street just adjacent to me for a while, and I dropped back to be just slightly behind him. He passed my street and continued on a ways, before I turned to walk up it.

I know. I know I shouldn't have done that. I could have told you that myself. I knew it in the moment that I decided to do it. But I was exhausted. And my feet really hurt. And I couldn't bear the idea of wandering around for another 20 minutes trying to lose this creep. Good excuses? No. But I made the choice that I made. At that point, I still wasn't taking the situation as seriously as I should have been. I'm not easily shaken up, and a drunk man pulling a bit of peekaboo on the street doesn't really send me into a panic. The following wasn't necessarily established at that point -- I had been walking behind him most of the way. My guard was up, but not as high as it should have been.

I waited until I saw the man go a good way's down the street and there were two other people walking up the hill behind me to turn and start to go up. Now, after that, I don't understand what happened. Every few feet I turned around to make sure he wasn't following me. It's a long ass, steep ass hill with good 20 feet stretches where it would be impossible to hide. But, even as I checked behind me all the way up and saw nothing, I got to the top of the hill at the entrance of my apartment building and the man suddenly materialized out of fucking nowhere, with his pants back down to his thighs, this time fully exposed and touching himself. Worse still, the other two people were nowhere to be seen. And neither was anyone else, for that matter. Now, we are literally feet away from the entrance to my building, with not another soul in sight. There was no way I was walking into an enclosed space with him behind me, or leading him straight to my apartment door. I had no choice, at that point. I reeled around and shouted in the deepest, most aggressive voice I could muster, "HEY! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" I repeated it again in Korean. "GO AWAY!" I told him to "fuck off" in Korean, just to drive the point home. He stopped for just a split second and thought about it, and then he charged at me.

At that point, instinct took over. Did I turn and run? No. I charged directly back at him, fists raised. Here would be a good place to point out that I am not a small woman -- I am 5'7 1/2 even without three inch heels, and hardly a waif. This man was standard issue ajeosshi size -- about my height with a smallish frame. I'm not suggesting that charging at an attacker is the right solution for every woman. Had he been 6'3 and 200 lbs, I would have done well to consider other options. As it was, I don't accept the premise that just because I am a woman, and he was a man, I should have backed down. There was no question in my mind who was going to best who in the situation, especially considering the amount of rage I had just been filled with.

And sure enough, he saw it all over my face that this was not a situation that was going to end well for him, one way or another. He threw his hands up in surrender and backed up several paces. "GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME! NOW!" He turned and began milling about as though he was just walking to his own apartment on the other side. I chased after him, keeping a few paces between us. "HEY! NO! GO! GO OUT! GO AWAY FROM HERE NOW!" I pointed back down the hill to make my point clear, as at this point, any prospect of making myself clear in Korean had completely disappeared. I was furious.

The bastard then actually tried to tell me to calm down and lower my voice, as though I was making some kind of inappropriate scene. I continued to shout and point down the hill, moving aggressively toward him anytime he attempted to move in closer to 'calm me down'. He stood looking stunned for a moment, and then realized he had no choice but to turn and head down the hill. He started slowly moving in that direction, with me walking a bit behind him and continuing to shout everytime he turned to look back. At this point, a middle school student walked out from behind a building, on his way down the adjacent hill to hagwon, or some such. The student walked about halfway down, and then heard my shouting, and turned to assess the situation. He looked as though he had no idea what to do, but knew he should do something, so he just walked back up to the top of the hill and stood there beside me, until the man disappeared down the hill. He then turned and gave me an awkward look, bowed slightly, and headed back on his way.

At this point, a few other people had come out and were around sort of watching me watching the man walk away, and trying to piece together what was happening. I stood there and watched him go all the way down the hill, turning around to see if I was still there all the way, until he went around the corner and receded into the distance. Even if he had run full-force all the way back up, he still wouldn't have made it back up in time to see which building I went into.

That was too close. This time it was too much. I called my aunt when I got in, and she said simply, "You have to call the police!" And although I know she's probably right, and I would definitely be telling myself that in this situation, I didn't do it. I didn't know what I could say, other than to give a vague description of the man's clothing. I couldn't have picked him out of a lineup -- there was nothing distinctive about him. If they could have even found him, by the time I managed to figure out a way to make myself clear to anyone local in English or Korean. And although I know where all my local police stations are, there was no way I was going back outside once I got safely locked into my apartment.

So. That makes twice now that I've been followed home. This time, I have no doubt that it was supposed to get a lot worse than it did. And very easily could have. Really, I feel like I have only my stature and strength to thank for getting away this time. Like I said, had the man been significantly bigger than me and legitimately capable of overpowering me, physically, I'm not sure I would have ended up so lucky.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. You need to be careful. You need to be even more careful than you have been taught to be. It's not paranoia -- it does happen. I've never worried about this kind of thing, ever in my life. I've always had the mentalitly that I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself. And this time, I was. But only by chance. It makes me suddenly understand a lot of things I've heard other women say. Think maybe I should get mace, some big ass vicious dog, or -- god forbid -- live-in boyfriend. And I hate that. I hate feeling like it might be possible that I can't protect myself in every situation. I made it through five years in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the world, and I thought I had it all figured out. That I was somehow immune. And now, in two years in Korea, I've had that security yanked right out from under me.

I'm not blaming Korea. I'm not blaming Korean men. This shit happens everywhere -- we all know that. But, as I've said before, I am an easy target here. Apparently even easier than I was as a young white female in Bedstuy, because nobody ever fucked with me there. I don't know what to tell you, women. I don't know what the solution is. But you've got to be careful and keep your wits about you. This shit is not a joke.

18 comments:

MikejGrey said...

Jesus Christ Liz. Well, at least you're all right. Fucking hell.

Mr Nameless said...

I'm glad you're safe, Liz, but you really should alert the police to this guy. This probably isn't the first time he's done something like that, and he may be wanted. However, I can imagine that it would be difficult to report something in great detail where language is a barrier. God, do take care out there, young lady!

Kel said...

HOLY SHIT. Do you think he already knew where you lived, like maybe he'd seen you around the neighborhood, and that's how he materialized after you going up the hill and checking and not seeing him?

Wow. Thank goodness your instincts were the right ones, and that it ended the way it did.

Thinking of you.

Tiffani said...

Oh my goooddd what a horrifying story! And what a sad, sick little man. I'm so sorry you had to go through that. :( Shit like that...being followed/harassed is bad enough, but it's compounded by knowing that they're targeting you because of your ethnicity and gender. I would be furious too. I'm super proud of the way you handled it. As much as you might worry, it shows you can take care of yourself a hell of a lot more than some other people might be able to. And you should be proud of that.

Just out of curiosity, have you ever taken a martial art? Not only does it teach you some practical skills in dealing with creepers, but I think the biggest benefit is the confidence it gives you. Obviously I'd have to personally recommend jiu-jitsu; knowing that I could easily choke a guy out or break one of his limbs (even if he were way bigger/stronger than me) gives me a lot of peace of mind. And there are some really great gyms in Seoul! Let me know if you'd ever like more information on the subject.

Glad you're okay, Liz <3

gwern said...

And people wonder why I think http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifelogging is the best idea since sliced cheese.

Would you be so reluctant to to go the police if you had a few decent pictures of him? Or better yet, video of the entire experience? I don't think so.

Burndog said...

Fuck. I hope you're alright cobber. This sort of shit can really fuck up the old brain box. Glad you're a tough bitch though...I respect the way that you handled the situation...and you shouldn't beat yourself up about how it all went down...I mean...you can only do what you do.

John from Daejeon said...

Get a camera/camera phone for just these types of situations.

Hell, if you would have attacked him, you might be the one in jail according to the South Korean legal system, but having documentation that you can share with the rest of the world could actually cause those who give family-member rapists of young disabled girls nothing more than suspended sentences a good dose of "loss of face" and maybe help to shed some light on the poor state of legal affairs for those who just happen not to be drunken South Korean men.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot said...

seriously kiddo, you need to let me teach you some stick fighting. those average size umbrellas they sell here are perfect sized, totally legal to carry and fit in any reasonably sized bag. and if you brick it across someone's face it only cost you 10000 won.

Korean-American said...

I definitely recommend mace. A clean spray to the face will stop any man from doing anything but clawing at his eyes and nose for as long as it would take for you to kick him in his nuts and subsequently find help.

I am sorry this happened to you.

Anonymous said...

Re: whiskey tango's comment
Dude, I don't know where you're buying your umbrellas/weapon of choice but anything more than 5000 won for an umbrella is a ripoff.

INP,
Glad you are okay.

Roboseyo said...

holy crap! I'm glad you're OK physically, and I hope you feel alright, too. That's a messed up situation, and I'm glad you got out of it in one piece.

gordsellar said...

I've said it before, I'll say it again:

Pepperspray is (apparently) legal and easy to carry. And will neutralize a sack of shit like this. I agree a camera phone is a good idea, too, but the pics will likely be blurry and so on, and someone can pummel you after you've taken a picture. Usually if you pepperspray them, they end up being unable to do much within a few seconds:

http://search.gmarket.co.kr/challenge/neo_search/search_total.asp?selecturl=total&SearchClassFormWord=goodsSearch&keywordOrg=pepper+spr&keywordCVT=&keywordCVTi=0&keyword=pepper+spray

Of course, if they know where you live, you end up needing to be extra careful. And I'm told that in any neighborhood outside, say, Gangnam or maybe Jungdong, perverts and assholes actually pay close attention to the comings and goings of women, to figure out who lives alone.

I should note, I haven't heard about the technical legality of pepperspray in use. I'd assume you couldn't buy it on Gmarket if it were illegal to use it. I will also caveat that a foreigner using it might have to demonstrate it was self-defensive. (Hence a video camera might be of use if you were alone, especially if you don't have a Korean to confirm your story.)

Anonymous said...

Feeling so much. Can think of nothing to say. I love you.

mom

saharial said...

glad to hear you are ok and that you have some kick ass instincts xx

I'm no Picasso said...

You guys are awesome. Thanks for all the kind comments. To answer a few...

I've thought about the cell phone photo thing and I just don't know. Honestly, I wanted to give him the idea that the best idea, no matter what, was to get the fuck away from me. If I had a photo of him on my phone, and he knew that, I'd be afraid he'd feel inclined to try to get my phone off me and things would get worse. The last thing I actually want is any kind of physical altercation, unless it's unavoidable.

Re: Martial arts. I've been thinking about that lately anyway, and it definitely came to mind when all of this went down. In a square go, I feel pretty confident of my ability to defend myself, but it might be nice to know I could do alright coming up against a bigger opponent. I'll look into it.

The pepper spray thing is also an option, but honestly in that situation, even if I'd had it on me, I don't think I would've thought to grab it. The only thing I could think to do as soon as it crossed that line was raise my fist. I also don't feel comfortable carrying something like that around, especially considering how often I'm around students. At school, my bag is locked away, but at the center or at various families' houses, it's not uncommon for me to just set my bag down, and while my students are all old enough to know to not fuck around with something like that, I'm around really small children really often and I think I'd be too paranoid about that. Not to mention I'm kind of a clumsy dunce myself.

Breda said...

Chilling description! Actually a very similar thing happened to me my first week in Korea, but I kind of blocked it from my memory until now. You were brave to face him--I just ran.

The Sanity Inspector said...

What gordsellar said about pepper spray. Glad you're safe!

gordsellar said...

I'm behind, but...

You can get pepperspray in a cannister that looks like a pen. Of course... you'd need to keep it on you then even MORE!

And I understand not being sure you'll have the presence of mind to grab it in time. Of course, I'd suggest having it in hand as soon as things look even a little weird. Which sucks. I wish people didn't have to be on their guard so much, but in a society that can't even be bothered to scrape up a decent mental health care establishment (though it could afford one easily) I think there is little other choice.

Hang in there!