There are good Koreans, too!

There have been a few incidences lately which have caused Busan to be "ashamed" of Koreans in front of me, or to beg me not to "hate" Korea. Which is ridiculous, given that I have the ability to contextualize. I've been around the block here once or twice, eh? A lot of them have to do with the way that men can sometimes respond to me in public, which I would like to think at times would be just the way they are in general, but is probably sometimes motivated by the ideas that a foreign woman is somehow more freely approached in this manner. Anyway, it usually ends up being me who steps up and provides the evidence that the vast majority of the treatment I receive in Korea is at least neutral and respectful, if not kind. Then, he usually swings his finger around in my face and says, "SEE? THERE ARE GOOD KOREANS, TOO!" As if I was the one who didn't know.

Tonight, it happened again. We said goodbye near his place after dinner, and I headed back to the bus station by taxi on my own. As soon as I got in the cab, the taxi driver started carrying on, which was fine. I've rarely had a taxi driver make me feel actually threatened -- more times than not, even if they are being a bit randy, it stays within the bounds of respectful distance and good nature. I texted Busan about it, jokingly.

About ten minutes later, he got another text, which was not so funny. Almost as soon as I got to the bus stop, a slightly older business man decided to step uncomfortably close to me and peer over my shoulder at my phone. I was gazing at the electronic subway map, simply trying to work out if there wasn't a cheaper, faster route to get from Busan's neighborhood to my bus. Nothing immediately important. When he saw what I was looking at, he asked me, in Korean, where I was trying to go. Obviously, I assumed he was just a kind soul who spotted a foreigner who looked like she was trying to work out a transit route and was offering to help. I informed him that I was already taking the XXXX bus, and was just looking at the subway map incidentally.

"The XXXX bus? You'll have to wait a long time for that one. The subway will get you there faster."

I pointed up at the sign, which said the bus would be by in 20 minutes, but it was worth the wait, because the subway would take me an hour and a half to get home, but the bus would take only 40 minutes. And that, besides, the bus had empty seats, whereas the subway was crowded. Obviously, it wasn't quite that eloquent, given that I was doing my best to patch all of that together in Korean, but he was still impressed that I'd managed to get all of that across. He complimented my Korean and I said thank you, and then started to get a bit uncomfortable, as he lingered at my side a bit closer than I would have liked for him to have been in the first place. Still not a tangible threat, however. And he didn't appear to have been drinking, which is the nonsense you really have to look out for.

However. He then slowly raised his index finger up to the tattoo on my bicep and began to trace the outline. Who the fuck just touches a stranger like that? I took a massive step away and put my earphones back in to make it clear that we were finished. He moved closer again and began to shout, to be sure that I could hear him. He said that 20 minutes was a long time to wait, and that it was just enough time to grab a quick drink together.

I pulled out my earphones and employed a technique that has worked in diffusing these kinds of situations before, which was to inform him that I was a teacher, using the word 교사 instead of 선생님, which usually gets across the point that I'm a public school teacher, rather than hagwon. For some reason, that sometimes has the effect of seeming more respectable. I've had taxi drivers start in on me before about coming to Korea to make money and whatnot, but once they realize I work at a public school, rather than a hagwon, they usually come out with, "아~! 교사!" Obviously, it doesn't actually make a difference, but in the majority Korean mind, it seems to, in perception. Usually, when I mention this to a man who is behaving out of turn, he seems to suddenly get a bit embarrassed. Not the case, tonight.

I informed him that I was a teacher, and so I had to be up early in the morning to go to school, and could not drink alcohol anyway, and then stepped several paces away again. Again, he followed. I pulled out my phone and started to send another text to Busan. He peered over my shoulder at the screen. I wrote, in Korean, that there was a strange ajeosshi talking to me and that he had touched me and was trying to make me go drink alcohol with him. He asked me what I was doing. I told him I was sending a text to my boyfriend. His response, although he had plainly seen exactly what I was writing? "Ah! I'm envious!"

At this point, I stepped away once again. The man made to follow me, when suddenly, another ajeosshi who had been standing behind us watching this entire exchange stepped in between us. He didn't say a word, or even make eye contact with either of us, but just stood like a silent barrier between myself and the man. The man tried to move around the second ajeosshi, and the second ajeosshi again adjusted himself so that he stayed between us.

I don't know what bus he was waiting for, if he let one go by in the meantime or not. But the man stood there for the rest of the time I was waiting, and watched as I climbed safely onto my bus, without further incident.


John from Dajeon said...

There are good hagwons (and hagwon teachers) as well. My four years here in one trumps my near decade back teaching in public school in the states. Yeah, there was some adjustment of course. However, when I have my kids (many for four straight years) begging me not to try the public school system here (or anywhere else for that matter), I have a hard time thinking that I will make more of an impact with the "actual teaching" of students I may see once every couple of weeks or month compared to those I "teach" on both a daily and weekly basis.

I'm no Picasso said...

Most of my friends here are hagwon teachers and I know the work that they do.... I was in no way implying that *I* think differently of hagwon teachers. What I'm saying is, Koreans tend to categorize the two kinds of teachers differently. 교사 seems to cause the older generation to recoil a little, perhaps remembering what being a teacher meant when they were in school. It can be handy when a man is basically approaching me like I'm a prostitute.

karisuma gyaru said...

it's kinda the same in japanese. if you just say "eigo no sensei" people think you teach conversation school, but if you say "kyoushi", it means school teacher. it usually impresses japanese people when you say that too.

nice of that man to interpose himself between you and the creep! some people just cannot take a hint...

Rob-o-SE-yo said...

I like that second guy's style. And by saying nothing, there was no chance it could have escalated into a confrontation, which can happen when a clearly nunchi-deficient creepazoind gets called on their creepery.

It's nice to have you back blogging, or at least blogspotting, INP.

I'm no Picasso said...

Rob -- That's exactly right. He didn't give the chance for real confrontation or escalation, but he made it clear, indirectly, that what the man was doing was inappropriate. And I would have hugged him, had that not been equally inappropriate. It's interesting, though, because a similar thing happened when that crazy jerk followed me home one morning, only it was a middle school/younger high school student who simply stood next to me until the guy got lost.

And thank you. It's nice to be back. I think! ㅋㅋ

Sidney said...

I've never honestly had any issues like someone touching me when I didn't want to or really even speaking to me, but the few times I've been in an awkward/almost awkward situation there's always been another Korean who helps me/interferes in the same manner the 2nd man did. I.E., a drunk man gets on the subway and keep wobbling closer and closer to me or another young female and someone else will move in between without really saying or doing anything. Or even just the act of obviously moving over to make more room for me to be able to scoot away.

ethkim said...

These things happen everywhere - imagine you're a minority in NYC and taking the subway thru Bronx. You might not even find someone who'd step in like that (possibly cuz there he/she could get into real danger but that's beside the point).

I like to believe Koreans are no less righteous than most other people, but no more so either. It's more to do with how safe the city is so that how ridiculous these things are perceived by the general public. Mayyyyybe the fact that Koreans tend to be a bit nosy has to do with people intervening, but that's just me. :)

(no I'm not bashing Koreans at all; I'm one myself and I know exactly how these things happen in Seoul so frequently. )