To the Ajeoshi Who Wanted to Fight With Me Near the Exit at Yongsan Station When I was Walking to Emart to Buy Sour Cream and Tinned Tomatoes, Or, How It Feels Sometimes Living Here

Dear drunken psychotic moron bastard,

I’m sorry I couldn’t beat the living crap out of you. The problem is, I suspect that you’d be let off scott-free, while I’d be spending a week in deportation jail before being sent unceremoniously to Canada.

I’m not sorry that I didn’t wave back at you. I do regret that you found it so offensive that I didn’t wave back at you when you waved at me with a snide look on your face and a plume of smoke searing from your mouth.

But you see, contrary to what you think, I am not a trained monkey. I am a human being, and whether I wave back at you or not is my choice. Perhaps you’re not accustomed to this idea. Perhaps your age and status as an apparent businessman — a manager, I’d guess, from your attire — allows you to push around the Koreans you deal with on a daily basis. Or maybe you’re just a raging bastard looking for a reason to start a fight. But if you think carefully, you’ll notice that my demeanour and behaviour was not at all unlike the dozens of Korean people who walked past you in the minutes preceding and following my passage in your vicinity. The only difference is, you saw a white face, and demanded it respond to you as if you were the Head of the Heavenly Bureaucracy. But you see, you’re just a drunken middle-aged man of no particular importance to me, and so I walked past you without response — as is my right. If you cannot handle a Westerner walking past you without giving you some kind of interactive, personalized response to your presence, I submit that you have a mental illness of some kind and that you need help. These kinds of illnesses tend to worsen, and with a more foolhardy Westerner, your skinny ass will end up busted into pieces, so I really think you’d better get some help and sort out the mess inside your numb skull.

I’m also not particularly sorry for the harsh language I used on you. You probably don’t recall, being that you’re a drunken psychotic moron bastard, but I only used words on you that you used on me. I’m sure you only remember me cursing at you — you’re older, so how can you do wrong? — but the exchange actually went like this [in Korean, so I’m translating as best I can]:

Drunken Psychotic Moron Bastard: (Waves with snide expression, blowing smoke my way)

Me: (Ignores drunk stranger waving his hand in a bizarre fashion, staring snidely, and blowing smoke; walks directly toward escalator)

Drunken Psychotic Moron Bastard: “HEY YOU!” (Loudly enough to make whole platform turn and stare.)

Me: What? (Called back over shoulder; continues walking away.)

Drunken Psychotic Moron Bastard: Fuck you! (Advances angrily, fists clenched.)

Me: Are you crazy? (Keeps walking hurriedly.)

Drunken Psychotic Moron Bastard: You son of a bitch! Fuck you!

Me: No, you’re a son of a bitch! (Hurries onto down escalator, to avoid being pounced from behind and forced to defend himself, and then being charged with the crime of defending oneself against a violent, drunken psychotic moron bastard who happens to be a Korean in a bad mood.)

Drunken Psychotic Moron Bastard: (Incoherent yelling.)

Me: (Continues down the escalator, looking over his shoulder to see if the Drunken Psychotic Moron Bastard is really bent on hitting a white person today. Sighs with relief because the Drunken Psychotic Moron Bastard seems to have been distracted by some other attraction, perhaps a teenaged girl in a miniskirt, or another innocent-looking Westerner, or perhaps he has begun to beat a woman who bore a passing resemblance to his wife..)

The thing I do regret is that the law is so lax. A Drunken Psychotic Moron Bastard like you can get liquored up, and do what he pleases, and anyone you decide is your enemy for the moment has only one recourse: to flee. If you hit me, what can I do? If you prick me, I bleed, but it’s not the same “pure” blood as yours, according to your ostensible education, so I suppose it barely counts as human blood to you.

Not that I want to hit you. Wait, no, I did want to hit you — just as badly as you wanted to hit me. Maybe more. If you were a drunken bastard in Canada who attacked me, I probably wouldn’t have fled as I did today. I probably would have hit you. I’ve never started a fight, never been in one since middle school, but I think I might just have beaten you up, just for being such a mannerless, uncivilized piece of crap. I’d probably have let you get in one punch, and then clubbed you flat to the ground in a minute or two and walked off, secure in the knowledge that I was defending myself as is my right… and in the knowledge that I have more options than just to flee any asshole who decides he wants to attack me. And don’t doubt that I could do it. You were small, and slow, and somewhat older than me. And I was mad. I was a big, mad guy at that moment. I could have hurt you badly, if you had forced me into it. Badly.

But you and I both know that here, I can’t. Which is why you shouted at me as you did, and threatened me, for no reason except I walked past you as if you were — no, because you are — insignificant.

The law as it is practiced here doesn’t assert my right to move freely — not if you decide to constrain it by assaulting me verbally or physically. That probably works well enough when you don’t have racist pathology in the mix — you’re unlikely to provoke fights with people you consider your “own kind.” But you’re the kind of Drunken Psychotic Moron Bastard who sees a face of another colour and gets his fists balled up quick. You wave, knowing that you’ll have an excuse to be furious if the non-Korean acts like a normal person, ie. doesn’t stop and give you his or her full attention.

If it makes you feel any more special, I couldn’t get you off my mind when I was looking for sour cream, or when I was in the lineup, waiting for you to drag your drunken, sorry ass up behind me at smash a soju bottle over my head. I thought of you all the way home, as I pondered on how often you behave this way, and for how long you’ve gotten away with it, and why I should have to hurry away from you instead of teaching you the manners your mother never got around to teaching you.

But you’re not that special. I won’t let you define my experience of today. I spent hours afterward speaking with bright, intelligent young people, and I think the best way I can respond is that your kind — the racist, old, ignorant frogs-in-a-well — are losing the war. The battle, for the moment, may be yours — by virtue (or vice?) of your age — but the earth is shifting massively beneath your feet. Your society is changing so fast you’re going to need a neckbrace just to watch it go. You’re already so damned future-shocked that you can only get drunk and rail… and it’s not going to get any easier, Mr. Drunken Psychotic Moron Bastard.

Have a nice ride into oblivion, irrelevance, and total cluelessness. Or, rather, even deeper into their depths. And Merry Christmas, you friendless sack of crap.

Sincerely,

Gord Sellar

PS: My marinara sauce and calzones (with homemade faux-ricotta) turned out lovely (thanks to various posts by Charles, like this one), but the cheesecake is going to have to wait a couple of more days. I won’t be thinking of you, dear Drunken Psychotic Moron Bastard, when we enjoy it.

20 thoughts on “To the Ajeoshi Who Wanted to Fight With Me Near the Exit at Yongsan Station When I was Walking to Emart to Buy Sour Cream and Tinned Tomatoes, Or, How It Feels Sometimes Living Here

  1. I think you did the right thing, more or less. Even better would have been completely ignoring him. I know that’s hard, but it’s the best thing to do–whether you’re in Korea or not.

    I’ve been accosted by a number of DPMBs over the years, and I’ve managed never to get into a fight. I did once almost get into a fight at a bar, when some guy actually physically attacked me, but luckily I had friends there to hold me back, and the DPMB had friends there to restrain him. In a small bit of justice, he was thrown out of the bar.

    Anyway, glad to hear that your calzones turned out good! Calzones beat DPMBs any day.

  2. Charles,

    Yeah, I know. Ignoring this kind of crap is getting harder and harder for me, as I feel a growing need to assert that this shit is unacceptable, juvenile, and an embarrassment to the society that lets it happen.

    I’ve never been in a fight with a DPMB either, though one did try to feel me up once. He was lucky: I was new in the country and just left. (He was a professor at the uni I was working at, and yes, he actually tried to stick his hand in my crotch.)

    Good calzones make up for a lot. But I never blog my food — it never looks good enough, and it’s not a time when I feel like photographing things.

  3. Great post. And it reminded me how pleasant it is to live in Japan.

    Can you (or can Lime help you) translate the post into Korean? That might increase the chances of getting the message across to people who actually need to hear it. (Probably not, but hope springs . . . .)

  4. Great story, Gord.

    I’ve rarely encountered such a thing. In fact, only once. No, make that twice — same guy, two different places but joined by the same mal-bus line and conjoined forever in memory by the DPMB encounter.

    I agree with you that those guys are lost in the past as Korea blasts off into the future. My undergrad students these days are often indistinguishable in their thinking from young students anywhere. They remind me of European youth — though not the ones burning cars in the banlieus of Paris, who are more like the DPMB.

    I hope that those young DPMBs aren’t the goodbye wave of Europe’s future…

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  5. “But I never blog my food — it never looks good enough, and it’s not a time when I feel like photographing things.”

    If I let that stop me from reporting on my culinary adventures, we would never have had all those calzone reports in the first place!

  6. David,

    I don’t know if Lime’s even read it, but I don’t think she’d want me to translate it. I rather suspect a translation of it would probably bring a negative reaction towards me as a know-nothing, whining, insulting, rude foreigner, rather than waking up a few people. Though a more measured description might get more moderate, sane people thinking that. hey, maybe we don’t need to let drunk bastards behave as they like just because of their age and relative status. That’s the social revolution Korea needs on the street-level, daily basis: to soften the benefits of hierarchy somewhat. I’m not saying throw it out the window — though that’d be cool too, maybe — but rather, stop pretending it’s the way one must live. But once someone can be called to task for stupidity, irresponsibility, or unacceptable behaviour — once “annoying everyone around him” sloshes over into being considered “unacceptable” and not just “annoying” — then a lot of other things will change around here, too. Sort of like how it became possible for non-whites to criticize whites in North America some time ago, and things began to change.

    In any case, I don’t think a translation will be forthcoming. Unless someone else is interested. Charles is probably too wise to touch it with a ten-foot pole. :)

    Jeffrey,

    Yeah, my (undergrad) students are quite different from Western people of the same age, but that is to be expected, I think, and as going abroad is becoming de rigeur I think even more of a groundswell will follow. There’s also bound to be a backlash, but in time, it will improve. The problem is, the vast majority of DMPBs have a good couple of decades before they’re too feeble to start fights, and there are always disaffected youth. More frightening to me, though is the DMPBs of the future — the most disaffected Koreans of all will be North Korean men, and to whatever degree they’re in contact with westerners, South Korean men and women, and even “their own” women in a reunified — but imbalanced — South Korea, the worse it will be… especially considering the lack of reluctance to become violent described by some refugees here. Brrrrr. But hey, they have a cameo in a story I’ve got forthcoming in Interzone. I’ll let you read it sometime, if you like.

    Charles,

    Heh, yours looks lovely compared to mine. Seriously! Also, I really never feel like snapping pictures while cooking. Too busy, uh, cooking. :)

  7. Hello Gordsellar,

    I was very sorry to hear about this story. This kind of stuff is always really stressful.

    However, I’m not too sure about all this having to do with “living here” (i.e. Korea).
    Having some asshole coming looking for a fight for no reason can (and unfortunately) does happen in almost every country I’ve been to.

    I’ve lived in the UK, and it did happen to me there.
    I’ve lived in the US and it did happen to me as well there.
    I’ve lived in Korea and it did not happen to me there (but I put it down as having one lucky year)
    I’m French, live in France, and it happened to me me here as well.

    So my take on all this is that odds are that, wherever you live, you are bound to cross the path of some crazy dude at one point or another. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with you having a different skin tone, or coming from a different culture. It can just be you being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

    It doesn’t make all this any better, or any less stressful though.

  8. Jerome,

    Thanks for the comment, always nice to have someone new around.

    I agree that this kind of thing does happen everywhere — after all, there are crazy morons everywhere.

    However, I have to contrast your experience with mine: I’ve lived in plenty of parts of Canada, and stayed (for a few months) in places like Seattle and India. The only place where I felt as unsafe as here, and where the potential for unprovoked violence was anywhere near as high, was in the poverty-stricken, alcohol-sodden communities in Northern Saskatchewan where I spent much of my childhood. (Being beaten up. And race was overtly, explicitly an issue there, too.)

    There are some Westerners who exude arrogance, and this stuff happens to them regularly. But I don’t exude arrogance — I try to be as invisible as possible — and I still have run-ins enough… and plenty of Westerners I know have the impression this kind of outburst is more common here in general. There are some sensible reasons:

    1. The drinking culture is quite extreme here. It’s not unusual for adult men to drink simply to get drunk, and to do it at high speed, so that they’re completely hammered by 8pm. It’s not universal, but it’s common: most Koreans will agree.

    2. Intervention when behaviour crosses the limits of acceptable norms is rare, a pattern I long ago notice, but which baffles me still. Why did Korea go crazy about Dog Poop Girl? Because people here take that kind of discourteous crap on a daily basis here, and rarely confront the jerk directly. When they got a chance to do so indirectly, hundreds of people vicariously vented their myriad, pent-up rage at other, similar indignities. All of which adds up to these drunk bastards acting with effective impunity. If you doubt me, go ask a cop what they do with drunks who’re disturbing the peace. The fact is, Korean people usually don’t even bother to call the cops to haul away a drunk troublemaker, since it’s pointless.

    3. Discussion of (let alone treatment of) mental illness is taboo. When Koreans start going on about how pop stars kill themselves over internet slander, this always comes to mind. The result, though, is that a lot of nutters wander around freely, and get drunk as they like, and while some — like the happy drunk in front of us in the taxi line tonight — are friendly and silly and not a problem, others are rightly unhappy over their lives, and unfortunately take it out on anyone they meet who might fit the bill as punching bag.

    Dismissing those points and noting that there’s violence everywhere, and pretending that Korea doesn’t have a race-obsessed streak that lines up well with the kinds of middle-class older men I’m describing, is just silly. It’s impolitic, perhaps, to note the reality, but the reality doesn’t disappear just because we pretend it isn;t there.

    I’ve lived in some pretty violent places, like I mentioned. The sad thing is, my experiences in Seoul sometimes make me feel just as on edge. It’s not so much that the place is full of violent drunks — though I think the drinking culture does make them more abundant than in places where people drink more moderately — as much as that there’s not really anything one can do when they get violent for no reason, nor is there a sense that anything should or needs to be done.

    And the general Korean response is to agree that it sucks, and sigh sadly because they seem to believe that there’s nothing to be done.

    (While I agree one can never totally eliminate this, why is it that so many other places have a less profound problem in this area than Seoul?)

  9. I don’t remember Koreans being all that violent or prone to fighting while I was in the ROK. I certainly felt safer in Seoul than I’ve ever felt in Winnipeg. On the other hand, I am six foot four my best friend was six foot six, and come to think of it, most of my acquaintances were either taller than average or played football in college…

  10. You’re six foot four? When did that happen? I remember you being, um, not anywhere like that big!

    As I say, I don’t think the majority of Koreans are — but there’s always a percentage of male drunks who get belligerent, and there are many more male drunks here on any given weeknight… and since mental health care is even more behind the times here than in Canada, there’s more violence than you perhaps noticed during that one year.

    I used to feel safe in Seoul, but I don’t anymore. Too many horror stories, and too many idiots getting in my face.

  11. Right, I remember your father being a big guy. But yes, seeing the difference in size between Asians and Asian-Canadians — or even the difference between the older and younger generation of Koreans — I think diet is crucial to how big we end up.

    Unfortunately, in the horizontal sense as well as the vertical.

  12. Hi, I just found this site and would like to read the content. But I gotta be a contributor, however I can get that status

    1. Well, at the time, it made sense for me to make it a login-to-read post. I was worried about Netizen reaction, probably a little unreasonably. If you’d like to read the post, it’s openly accessible now.

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