11.25.2013

Turning it over and boys fighting girls.

What a gloomy day, here in Seoul. The way I'm feeling now is complicated. This is the week when it usually starts, the looming sense of lack and distance from home and family. Having been in the habit for five years of watching this week roll around and gathering foreign friends around who are all feeling the same things, making a makeshift version of the holidays with our makeshift families, and feeling a bit melodramatic at the dull ache that sets in as the days go by and the Koreans you know and love don't quite realize what these days really mean to you.

But I'll be home this time, and instead of all of that, I feel a bit sad that I won't be here to share the holidays with my people here. It's odd. You avoid even bringing it up, a thin layer of guilt covering over the conversation surrounding it, knowing it's not fair that you're the one who gets to go home. I've been on the other side of it. And also, feeling a bit like you're abandoning the people you love during the season when it's most important for you to be there for each other.

For some reason, I feel a bit nervous about going home this time around. I can't put my finger on it, but I think it has something to do with this apartment filled with furniture and pets and Busan, with weekly dates with friends that no longer take on a transitory tone. Something about this not just being the end of one year and the start of just one more, for now.

When I get back, it'll be go-time for a lot of things. Applications and interviews and exams and waiting periods. There's a lot of my life for the next few years that's resting in other people's hands, and the only thing I can do is do my best to earn a whole lot of different kinds of approval. It's been five years since my life was this up in the air.

And that's the other thing. Somewhere in all of the reading and studying and taking long bike rides with B through the autumn leaves, the shifting through submissions, the meeting up with friends for weeknight coffee dates at new cafes, the evening strolls with 붕어빵, the cooking, the writing, the endless phone calls that weren't rushed, for once, by time zones and work schedules that have made up this extended vacation, I realized that two five year anniversaries passed. Two, which put together, make up a decade of my life. The first was the ten year anniversary of leaving my hometown for NYC and the second, of course, was the five year of coming to Korea.

Without too much more prattling on, I guess the all of the thoughts and strange feelings I can't quite pin down come down to one main theme: It's time to start the next decade.

But in the meantime, would you like to hear a story? How about the story of the fight in the Secret Garden at Changdeokgung?

A while back I mentioned the fight(s) on boats at Hongdo, but I never got into the details. The first erupted between two middle aged men fighting over seats. The second involved a man who decided that in order to have a better view of something over the side of the boat, he needed to place both of his arms on the rails on either side of me and press his crotch against my ass. I guess I was expected to just accept that decision on his part without flinching, but suffice it to say, I reacted. Which was beyond all measure of good grace, as far as that man could figure. How dare I turn around in shock and give him a look when he, a complete stranger, pressed his dick against my body? What an insult to his pride! Words were exchanged, and he moved down to the other side of me where he decided the only way to right the wrong committed against him was to menacingly glare at me. I stared back, instead of looking down and acting afraid of him like I should have, at which point he attempted to start a fight with B instead. B remained calm, when the man demanded to know what my problem was, and just very matter-of-factly explained that I didn't like being touched by strange men.

At that point, I got really pissed, because I think if you start a fight with a woman, you should be man enough to own up to it and finish the fight with the woman, not go looking for the man responsible for her to start in with instead. What, are you tattling on me to my daddy? Having a word with my manager? So I went off in obscenity-laced English to B about how he was a loud mouth, had been gunning for a confrontation with people on the boat since before we even boarded, and to ignore him because garbage just wants to make other people smell dirty. B chuckled. The man realized I was not going to be managed, and moved -- grumbling, but at a good clip -- further down the boat.

The reason why I'm retelling this story now, all these months later, is because my perspective about what happened on Wednesday when B and I took a tour of the back garden at Changdeokgung is colored by how I personally feel when a man decides to take liberties with a woman's personal physical autonomy and then gets in a huff when she doesn't just lie down and take it.

I don't know how it started. Like so many of these situations, everything was fine until it wasn't. One minute we're listening to the lady explain about how the king had this building constructed so he could "experience life as a humble yangban", and the next, a younger woman and an older man are nose-to-nose, exchanging tense words. According to the woman, the man had been staring at her and making her uncomfortable, so she asked him what he was looking at. According to the man, she was an untrained crazy bitch from God knows where who needed to shut her fucking bitch mouth.

I don't know whether the man was staring or not. I don't know whether the woman was crazy or not. What I do know is that the woman was not shouting, but she was standing firmly in her place and refusing to take even half a step back as the man got in her face shouting obscenities. She spoke calmly, but firmly, and refused to look or move away. Which made the man even more furious, as all the older women around us began to click their tongues at him and wonder out loud how a man of such an age could use such language toward a woman in public. Which made him even more furious, to the point where he raised his fist and pulled back, as though prepared to strike. At that point, B let out a little sigh of resignation and rushed over to push the man back. A couple of the older women grabbed the woman and pulled her back to our side, and I positioned myself somewhere in between.

She stood quietly for a while, still staring across at the man,  but not moving or speaking, while he continued to push back against B's grasp and cuss and swear about how a woman like that could be a person. It got to the point where even I, being not involved at all, started to get aggravated by the things he was saying, and just as I turned away from the woman and back toward the man in shock to something he had said, the woman made a break for it and got right back in the man's face, calmly repeating again and again that he should apologize. We pulled her away again, and B got the man moved back toward the end of the trail with his wife, and with a big distance and every other person on the tour positioned between them, we rushed through what should have been the last twenty minutes in about five, and the tour guide and another woman saw the woman to the gate, while instructing the man and his wife to go walk around for a bit before leaving.

During this ordeal, B shocked me a bit by commenting that something was "wrong" with the woman, because she wouldn't just leave the situation alone. Hold up, B. First of all, Mr. Old Fucking Asshole back there is still running his mouth, swearing her up and down, but I guess that's just expected, because he's the man and his pride was injured? Meanwhile, she is very calmly and without a word against his character, repeating her request for an apology for him raising his fucking fist to strike her. Who is not letting what go? And who is the one who is acting crazy? Because let me tell you -- if it had been me he had raised his fist to, there would be no walking at a safe distance and finishing the tour. You would've had to haul me out by my collar. B said, but what if she gets hit? Isn't she afraid?

Fuck being afraid, B. How long are women supposed to walk around in public having our shit violated by entitled men because we are afraid? I'll get hit? Fuck it. Hit me. We'll go to the police station and I'll haunt your life for the next six months at least. Some things are worse than being hit, and on certain days in certain situations when you've just had enough, for women that can include backing meekly down to yet another fuckwit who tries to use his physical strength to make you understand that he gets to do or say whatever he wants, and there's nothing you can do about it.

For the most part, I think physical confrontation over pride is fucking stupid. There was a story a while back about someone getting killed on the subway in Busan because he was staring at someone else. There have been a flurry of similar, milder stories in Seoul in past months -- fist fights breaking out for the same reason. B himself has had it happen on multiple occasions that some alpha male has interpreted his quick glance as a challenging stare, and then some random man is up in his face asking him what the fuck he thinks he's looking at -- I've witnessed it myself more than once. And mostly, I just chuckle, because... well. As a foreigner, how would it go for me if I decided to get up in someone's face every time they gave me what I could interpret as a nasty stare?

But you know what? On some days, with the liberties some men take, looking me up and down and up again, moving from one seat to another to get a better look, I wish to God I could do what that woman did and just ask them what the fuck they think they're looking at, and why they think it's okay to stare at me like that, as if I'm public property. Because when women or children stare, it's whatever. But when a man does it to a woman, whether there's any malice behind it or not, it just feels different. It's threatening, and it makes your heart beat faster, as all the other times that stare has turned into something more serious come rushing back to you. And the indignity on the man's part that these kinds of things are met with, when women respond completely within reason to violations of their personhood that these same men would never tolerate without comment, make it all the more ridiculous.

So when I saw her, standing there at the gate with a determined look on her face, waiting calmly for the man to come out, part of me wanted to grab her hand and tell her it wasn't worth it. That there are a million more like him, and we'll never get anywhere if we try to take them all on. But the other part of me was cheering her on. Because there are too many people who will, without thinking, look at that situation and think, "What's wrong with her?" Her.

Just to finish this post, the last before home, on a bit of a brighter note, here are some photos of the last couple of months and what I've been up to.


B's pumpkin birthday cake with cream cheese frosting. 






Han River Park on early morning bike rides. 





Sunday afternoon hike up the mountain behind our apartment.  


Study buddies.  


The baby's obsession with food manifested on B's poor finger.


Saturday morning cinnamon rolls. 


Riding along the Hongjaecheon.


Pumpkin ale at Hopscotch. 





The infamous tour of the back garden of Changdeokgung, before things went south. 


The first snow. 

3 comments:

Burndog said...

The only reason that I understand B's reaction at all is because the man is clearly just a fucking nutcase...the kind of nutter who won't calm down in the face of reason. Your pervert on the boat may well have been a filthy, perverted pig, but he had enough self preservation to know that he was better off just leaving it.

The Secret Garden fella is a nutter. His behaviour (whether he stared or not) is deplorable, and made worse by the fact that his wife was there (what must she think???). The only reason why I think that the younger woman would be best not seeking satisfaction is because he's clearly a nutjob...and he will never change his mind, or apologise, or learn.

He's a Dave...an Eve...an unstoppable force of biterness, bile and rage. You can't reason with them.

She's not crazy though. She's just had enough, and has clearly decided to not have any more.

Have a safe trip home and all that guff.

TT Johns said...

Nobody stares at me anymore because I'm old. Actually to the male population I'm pretty much invisible these days. But there was a time when I got stares and cat calls due to my ample rack. I also used to experience quite a bit of male attention if I was out with another male. Go figure. Anyway I can remember at least once being stared at by some old lech waiting for a movie to let out. He was even licking his lips and grinning at me. Creepy. So I started picking my nose. I mean girlfriend I pretended I was digging for gold. My date looked at me horrified. But once I explained he laughed. We looked up and the creepy old fuck got up a walked away. My friend's child had cancer and refused to wear a wig or a hat. She would go out in public with her mother and people would stare. She would stick her tongue out at them. It worked every time.

cici nomaden said...

I'm so appalled at the stories of those men…I can't even. Is it really that often in Korea? In the years that I lived in Indonesia, not even once I've experienced nor seen something like that. If there was, the man would just literally be dead beaten up by people around once the woman screams "pervert"! Literally. I don't know what this tells you about me…but my thought for that would be…"good riddance".