Posted by quirksalight on April 27, 2008
This past Friday, several friends and I went to see a modern dance performance at Songjo Theater in Seoul. Going home, we took the DongIncheon Rapid transit subway line on our way back to Incheon as it cuts our transit time by 20-30 minutes. On the subway, which was pretty packed, the four of us were talking about the evening and our respective experiences in school when a middle-aged Korean man, dressed in a suit, yelled at us, “Shut up!” in English. We all turned to look at the man, who was looking very angry. As we were laughing prior to this outburst, we thought we were too loud. So we quieted down, and spoke softer to each other. But he started yelling again, telling us to shut up, and in Korean, started telling us loudly that if we are coming to Korea then we should speak in Korean.
I turned to him, saying in Korean, “I’m sorry, but my friends only speak in English, so to converse, we have to speak in English.” He then starting yelling that we shouldn’t talk in the subway and we were too loud. I replied that we were talking just as other people in the subway car were talking. When he refused to actually do anything but yell at us, I just told him that I’m sorry he felt that way, and ended the conversation.
Turning back to my friends, we started talking quietly once again, when the guy reaches over several people and punches me in the head! The entire subway car (who had been watching this exchange) gasped at this. It’s considered wrong to hit random people in most societies, but it’s definitely taboo for a guy to hit a girl in Korea.
We were completely stunned at this turn of events, and my cry of pain when he hit me broadcast that he hurt me to everyone in the car. For a couple moments, I was at a loss at what to do, as I’ve never been assaulted by a complete stranger, and totally didn’t expect it in Korea. (I guess I know better now) But after, I just thought to myself, “screw it, I’ve already been hit. I’m going to continue my conversation with my friends,” and we started up our conversation once again. The assaulter didn’t say anything for 5-10 minutes, and we thought it may have blown over. But then he started yelling at us to shut up and not speak English again.
In a new turn of events, it was became quite apparent that he had pissed off the entire subway car. When the assaulter began ranting again, another Korean man spoke to him (in Korean), “Hey, why don’t you keep it down? We’re all starting to get bothered by your yelling.”
This just turned the assaulter’s attention to the second man, to whom he yelled, “why are you telling me to be quiet?! I’m not the one speaking in English. They should shut up!”
The second man, who spoke up for us, said “I don’t understand what you are yelling in English because I don’t understand it. I care that you are bothering the other passengers and are shaming us (Koreans). Why don’t you step off the train, so you don’t bother us?”
This just continued to escalate as the subway move on, with the two men exchanging more and more comments with increasing heat and vigor. We had planned to just continue on to Bupyeong Station, to not get forced off the train because of this guy, but it was getting apparent that we were a catalyst to a burgeoning conflict. So the four of us decided to step off the subway one stop before Bupyeong.
When we got off, two people, a male and female, got off and stopped by to talk to us. They wanted to apologize for the behavior of the assaulter, because they were embarrassed that a Korean would and can act in such boorish manner. The woman looked stricken when I told her my head was ok, and that the pain had gone away by this time, as she hadn’t realized that he had actually struck me. The guy, Tony, wanted to make sure that we were alright and wanted to reassure us that the assaulter was the exception, not the rule.
Being the focus of random violence is so disturbing, as the question of WTF??? reverberated in my head, and I admit being in a funk for the rest of Friday night. But what really helped was the random people who stood up for us, and the people who came to talk/apologize to us after. I’ll definitely put this behind me, but I am still warier now then I had been a couple days ago.
This entry was posted on April 27, 2008 at 6:44 am and is filed under ancedotes, Asian-Americans, Bizarre, english, Korea, Korean, pain, People, Politics, Social commentary, stereotypes, teaching english, travel. Tagged: assault, bigotry, dance, Incheon, Korea, Seoul, teaching english. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.