Girls, be careful.

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."

"You betcha."

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.


MikejGrey said...

Jesus. Time to buy some NY mace, huh?

I'm no Picasso said...

Mike I've never wished you were still in Korea as much as right then. Seriously.

The more I think about it, the more I wish I had just turned and confronted him in front of all those people, made a really big scene to scare him off from trying anything else, in the off chance that it is something more sinister than some idiot who saw a foreign girl get off the bus and thought he would get away with something.

Eve said...

Ahh I really wish I hadn't read this directly before going to sleep. Glad you're safe though!

I'm no Picasso said...

Eve -- this has been the first time something like this has happened to me in Korea, if that helps put your mind at ease at all. And it didn't get very far, thank God. Sleep well! Just lock your doors and windows first.^^

Roboseyo said...

Wow that's quite a story. I'm glad you came out ok. Do you mind if I link this story on my blog?

MikejGrey said...

I'll send you some mace. Or just mail myself over to Korea. Time to stock up on packing peanuts.

Anonymous said...

next time, call 119. or ask someone in your neighborhood to call 119 for you. the police will usually arrive within 10 minutes and that fucker will never bother you again.

Anonymous said...

ps. don't give money to strangers even if their story sounds genuine. just tell'em you don't have any money and they'll leave you alone. but if you flash your cash, then you're opening up a pandora's box.

saharial said...

man that is freakin scary. I'm so glad you are ok and did all the smart moves.

I'm no Picasso said...

Rob -- That's fine. Like I said, this is not the first story I've heard like this, so it might be good to warn as many women as possible.

Anon -- I'm not going to stop helping out strangers because I'm worried about my own safety. If anything, stopping to talk to and look directly at that man last night gave me a big upper hand in that situation.

Saharial -- thanks.

Diana said...

I had something like this happen in Busan. I wasn't on my home turf, so it was a little frightening to me. Especially since it happened in a McDonalds and I told the cashiers about it and they wouldn't kick the asshole out because he was fucking older than they were, even though he didn't order anything and looked fucking creepy.

I would NOT recommend direct confrontation. He could use it to his advantage to complain you are his foreign girlfriend and he just needs to get you home. Even police will not interfere in a "domestic" incident. And should it come to blows, in every single Korean vs. foreigner case I've heard about, the foreigner winds up having to pay some ridiculous amount of blood money no matter how at fault the Korean was in our view--it's their system and they know how to game it.

You handled this 100% perfectly.

Unknown said...

If you need help, you can speak english. Even the people around you can not speak English, they can figure out in what situation you are.

Important thing is to call for help and gather people around you. And nowadays young people can speak English.

Korean men are kind to women, and I don't want to agree but we Koreans are inclined to be kind to White people.

Korea is safe country even at night, but still we hear bad NEWS on TV. So be careful, but don't have to fear. You can buy Taser Gun or other stuffs to protect yourself. And Make many Korean friends.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

What the hell, Elizabeth.

Are you okay? Seriously and really okay?

Jesus, ignorance truly is blissfulness.

In all the time you have been out on your own I have never been seriously frightened for you, until now.

I just want everyone I love to live within a few mile radius so I can get to them quickly should they need help.

I love you. PLEASE, be careful.

I know you are smart. I know you have you wits about you, but what if that fucker hadn't made the mistake of talking to you and you went on with your music in your ear?

I can not even think about this.

stupid, stupid, stupid fucker messing with you and of all the times in the world, NOW!

Take care of yourself. Be extra vigilante just in case he is truly a nut case.

Take care of yourself, and please, do me a favor and just check in each day in some shape form or fashion.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you were able to shake him and get home, but I must say that I'm surprised that you would walk the streets while wearing earphones. Hearing is vital to our safety in public, not only for hearing footsteps but scooters, vehicles, and anything else that might get in our way. Listening to music is nice, helps pass the time, but safety is more important, to me anyway.

John from Daejeon said...

I hate that it came to this, but I now carry my camera with me 24/7 because someone wanted to scare me into leaving South Korea. Using the camera (and a large 16 GB card to record both video and sound--enough for several hours) scared them away from me and created a solid paper trail if I ever needed to take it to the police or use it in court.

I'm no Picasso said...

Diana -- You're probably right, but I have gone back and forth about it, because now, after the fact, I still feel nervous that I didn't handle the situation strongly enough, and this creepo could still be hanging around somewhere. Whereas if I had created a bit of a scene, just stopped and loudly asked him in front of those dozen or so people why he was following me, I doubt he would have balls enough to try anything else. I don't know.

Bruce -- Some good advice. I realized how lucky it was, last night, that I do know enough Korean to get the generally idea of what was happening across. I think I would have felt a lot more frightened if I wasn't able to understand what he had said to me, or felt like I wouldn't be able to account for the situation on my own, if the situation were to escalate.

Ma -- I'm alright. Don't worry about it. As you said, ignorance is bliss, and there are all kinds of things you don't know on a daily basis. All my coteachers are aware of the situation. My building ajeosshi is aware of the situation. The women at all of the shops that line the streets close to my house are aware of the situation. Plus, there are only 8 apartments in my entire building. And I know almost everyone living in every one of them. It's not like people are walking in behind me all the time. I'll notice if someone else is there. Please don't worry.

Also, ladies and gentlemen, my ma using the word 'fucker'. You're welcome.

Sonagi92 -- After five and a half years of living in Brooklyn, I'm not really squeamish about the city environment. I don't walk in the middle of the street, I'm aware of my surroundings, and I pay attention to shadows and lights. I don't really feel the need to go out of my way being paranoid about things. To me, walking down the sidewalk listening to music is quite a normal thing to do. Not a very high risk factor involved, in my opinion.

I'm no Picasso said...

John -- That was the one thing I regretted not doing last night that I didn't think of until later, and which seems to be quite an obvious method of handling the situation to all of the Korean females I've spoken to about it. Their first question has been, unanimously, "Did you take a picture of him with your phone?" I will definitely keep that in mind for next time. It may not have come out so great, considering how dark it was, but he would have to decide whether or not he wanted to take that risk.

Then again, I do worry that if the guy is a real whackjob, it could freak him out enough to feel that he had to pursue the situation at that point, to get rid of the photo on my phone. Which. You know. I think I might actually prefer to avoid that.

At any rate, no one is walking into my building behind me without my knowing, so unless he already knows where I live, which doesn't seem likely given that he felt the need to follow so closely last night, I don't think there's anything to worry about now.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing about this.

A similar thing happened to me towards the end of last summer and I ended up having to run for it.

Korea is generally a very safe place, but that made me remember that you have keep your wits about you at all times.

Unknown said...

Thank you for writing about this! I was attacked a few years ago a minute from my home (near Itaewon). I was coming home from church at 2:30 am (it was Easter and we have midnight service in the Orthodox church), and an Arab guy started walking behind me saying 'excuse me, excuse me.' I ignored him, and then he started hissing 'sexy' - so I started running. He grabbed me by the arm and tried to force me into an alleyway. I was able to fight him off and run to McDonalds - thank GOD for 24 hr. McDonalds. But it terrified me for months after - actually my heart still races when I walk up my hill. You are SO right about us being more visible (to Koreans or other expats), and we need to be reminded of this now and then.

Anonymous said...

Next time a (male) stranger singles out the only (female) foreigner in a crowd of people to ask for "help" (in Korean no less), first give him a quick look to make sure you don't know him. Then try to wave him off, then try the nonono, then if your fast-walking/ignoring doesn't work, stop, puff yourself up like an angry kitten, and look daggers dead into his eyes. Then stomp off. Don't take your headphones out at any point in this exchange.

He talked to you because he was testing the waters. Let him know they are ice cold and full of sharks.

The biggest bitch ever I guess

matt said...

It's unfortunate that experiences like yours aren't that uncommon. I'd imagine at least half of the foreign women I've been friends with in Korea have had bad experiences, ranging from being propositioned or being asked if they were 'Russian,' to being followed into their apartment buildings and even attempted rape.

I wrote a post awhile back looking at how foreign males and females (especially English teachers) have been portrayed in Korean movies and tv shows - it might be of interest.

I'm no Picasso said...

Matt -- Oh man. I feel like I'm fangirling out or something. I've read that post already, of course, because I absolutely love your stuff. As cheesy as it sounds, it's an honor to have you stop by and comment.

matt said...

Shucks. Thanks. I'm glad Roboseyo linked to your blog - I'm only scratching the surface but there are a lot of great posts here and I do have to say - I like reading what you write. I just started a public school position, and I think I'm fortunate - I lucked into a good school with great co-teachers and a good schedule. There's a lot of useful advice in the most recent posts of yours that I've read - keep it up!

Anonymous said...

It's not a matter of big city crowds or paranoia. I prefer to retain a full sense of hearing when I am outside, period. To each her own.


horrible horrible horrible! First- glad you made it safe. You handled the situation the best you could at the time. Please don't beat yrself up thinking of all the angles but trust you'll take a victorious approach should it happen again! You will.

I've heard stories about these things happening to foreigners & I feel like though it's safe most of the time, we should treat this like any other city and not completely drop our guards. When going down dark streets late at night, I carry a pen or some defense object and if there's someone sketchy on the street, I go butch & very street-able way & whip around like "You followin me?!". ha ha... It throws people. Also, bee-lining it to a group of women is another tactic. Thanks for the post- we all need to look out for each other.