A pretty decent article on the subject from the NYT. I was glad to hear people reporting on how other brown people avoid the buses and subways. I also wonder whether certain white folks can stop the implied victim blaming when they puzzledly point out, "Well, I never had a problem."
Well, that's YOU, white man. Good ON ya.
Just this past weekend, when a friend of mine who is the global HR director for an international firm was here visiting the Korea branch, along with her younger sister, a lawyer from LA, in tow, I was joking about how I always avoid the subway, and try not to violate my own rules from "Tips to Avoid Being Assaulted in Korea" post. The two sisters happen to be Korean American, by the way.
Lo and behold, we were sneered at by most of the passengers and yelled at by the bus driver for speaking English in a perfectly normal tone of voice. Such derision isn't given to the irritatingly loud students or irritating ajumma yelling into the phone; basically, English "sounds" louder and more irritating. Sure, I'm no saint -- when people speak Cantonese or Thai in the Midwest, people stare. But we've had enough training in tolerance -- and use a bit more common sense -- to not constantly attack them for it.
Which is what happened when we got on for literally 2 stops, as we traveled from Kangnam to Samsung Station. The Korean American two sisters and their two Korean cousins and I are literally discussing which exit to use and other directions-related stuff when an ajussi yells for us to "shut up!" My older friend looks at him like he's crazy, but I calm her down. From her perspective, she's an American-educated corporate executive, not used to being pushed around or swallowing a public insult, especially for doing something no worse than anyone else in the extremely noisy subway car was doing -- talking in a normal tone of voice.
From the middle-aged man's perspective -- and these incidents are almost always caused by middle-aged men with an overblown sense of entitlement -- she was this overly-proud, expressive Korean woman who didn't know her place. And that place was where most Korean women are expected to be: quiet, submissive to male authority, and definitely covering her mouth when she laughed, which my friend never does.
Well, we simply ignored the ajussi, as we were going to get off in a single stop, anyway. Of course, because such is my luck, as we were getting off, as the car was literally slowing to a halt, the dude comes over, grab and then pushes my friend, admonishing her "When someone tells you to be quiet, BE QUIET!
Of course, having been raised in LA and not being prone to taking shit, my friend went at him, as did her sister. The cousins and I held them back and we got off the train while the old man brigade stood and pointed their fingers at us, cursing the entire way. I wanted to report the guy -- he's guilty of assault -- but that would've ruined the dinner. After all, who has time to spend 12 hours in a Korean police station and probably falsely accused of a crime by the offender himself?
Ahh, welcome to Korea.
And for those folks completely unaware of their white privilege in generally not being as prone to these constant attacks (not that white folks don't get assaulted for this very same shit, too) in saying, "Duh, *I* haven't had any problems," dot dot dot...
...which naturally implies that I am either making this shit up, exude some "come verbally or physically assault me" hormone to ajussis, or that I am going around looking niggerishly angry and trying to start shit all the time.
No, I am just brown in a society that only really barely tolerates even good white folk, has an increasingly racist media environment (something I wish the NYT talked about), and has no formal mental infrastructure for being tolerant.
I'm glad this article came out. Koreans are going to be shocked that "it's so bad." They're going to say it's exaggerated -- just like EVERY SINGLE KOREAN I'VE EVER TALKED TO when I describe why I don't take the subway. EVER. Or speak English in tight spaces.
"Are you sure you didn't do something to cause it? Maybe it was a misunderstanding."
I think the misunderstanding is that I EXIST. Like THAT kind of misunderstanding? The mistake I made MUST have been in my choosing to be standing up in a subway car and being BROWN. Because that obviously is an offense to Korean sensibilities.
That NYT article is ON POINT -- exaggeration? Because it's LIKE that.
And for those who think we were being "culturally insensitive" and brought it on ourselves, or we should have been more accommodating of these abusive, domineering old men -- it is precisely because of overly-forgiving, blame-the-victim kind of attitudes that these men behave like this IN THE FIRST PLACE.
They know they won't be arrested for being publicly drunk, verbally accosting people, physically harassing them, or even for raping them. This society treats men as kings, rewards them for being old, and they learn that they can act a fool and get away with it.
Until someone draws the line and refuses to take it, which really cheeses them off. Well, NO -- I'm not the problem. My friends weren't the problem. THEY are. And since they're usually drunk and belligerent to BEGIN with, the question of fault is moot from jump.
We're not talking venerable old men politely suggesting that we are being too loud, or that perhaps my clothes aren't appropriate, or that I am committing some cultural faux pas and won't I please be more accommodating to my host culture? No -- we're talking angry, drunk, old men who come at you yelling, grabbing, and pushing complete strangers around. Or just hit them outright.
They're criminals. They're public drunks. And the "culture" is just that of being too pussified to do anything about it, too full of 19th-century "jeong" to prosecute these repeat offenders and shut them the fuck up. Well, if no one's gonna do anything about it, I'm gonna take a picture. Fuck the Korean legal concept of "privacy." You already invaded MINE, motherfuckers.
Whoo. Now I feel much better.