Friday, September 09, 2005

a rare moment

In a land full of "me first," where old ladies will run right into you and keep going, rather than yellow cabs, a miracle occurred.

I am willing to accept that in a big city it is common that people will mistakenly bump into you. I'm willing to accept that each culture has it's own sense of how much personal space a person requires to feel comfortable. However, I'm not so pleased, and neither are many Koreans, that here people push you or completely body check you in the street.

The real kicker is that they keep going without the slightest pause or moment of polite remorse. There's no "excuse me," no "pardon me," and unfortunately, no "I'm sorry" that follows these unpleasant experiences. There's not even a glance to acknowledge the presence of another human being. Though I won't go as far to say that I'm now used to this, but I've become somewhat more accustomed to it. I've stopped giving dirty looks, because they are wasted, and I've stopped cursing under my breath, because starting a fight with an old Korean lady is silly, unwise, probably not safe and besides it's rare that you'll find one that can truly grasp the meaning of "bitchass cuntrag" anyway.

As I walked out of the subway station yesterday I was swiped by some lady. Between my headphones I silently made the typical nasty comments. Then the whole situation started to play in slow motion. She turned around and showed me her palms making the international sign for I-hold-no-weapons-I-come-in-peace. I'm listening to Air (le soliel est pres de moi) and I watched as her mouth formed the words, which I'm 90% positive were choesong hamnida (I'm sorry; I apologize; excuse me), and then she shot me an angelic friendly smile. One that will glow in my collection of memories of this place.

4 comments:

Kushibo said...

It's all a matter of time-management: if you the freight train running through the crowd doesn't stop and apologize, he or she will get to where they're going on time. If they stop and apologize or say "Excuse me" to every person they bump, they will be fifteen minutes late.

Sadly, there's not much that can be done about it. Younger Koreans are much more apt to apologize, but the ajummas who grew up in times of deprivation in Seoul (1950s, even 1960s) may have lived or died by pushing themselves through.

misskoco said...

I disagree with the time management bit. As I mentioned before, I've lived in big cities my entire life. Running to catch the subway has been characteristic of this procrastinator's lifestyle. However, never, until I came to Seoul, did I experience this kind of behavior on the subway. And by the way, it's not just on the subway. This happens on "sidewalks" where there is more than enough room for people to walk.

Just because you are in a hurry doesn't mean you should shove other people or stop being polite to people you don't even know. I understand that it is a part of Korean culture to treat strangers differently than people you know. There are many things I've had to accept and embrace living here. However, there is culture and then there is human decency. And I do believe there is somethign that can be done about it. Everyone can either stop pushing, or if you can't help pushing someone, just make notice of other people and say you're sorry.

Here's a good example: In Korea, when you are on the escalader people stand on the right and let people walk past on the left. This is something that makes a lot of sense. Lots of other countries seem to follow this unspoken rule as well. Americans, however, often can't get this one. They just stand next to each other and even stand at the top of the escalader trying to figure out where to go next like idiots, then creating complete pedestrain choas. I do my part, by not being one of those people.

PS. I have yet to be shoved by one of the ajummas who died in the 1950s or 1960s.

Kushibo said...

I was being somewhat facetious about the time management thing.

I think it's a combination of, as you mention, not showing the same regard for 모르는 사람 (people you don't know) as you would for 아는 사람 (people you do know), plus the idea that bumping is just so unavoidable it's not worth the mention.

But the ajummas really do take it too far, and even most Koreans really don't like it. It's one reason recently married women hate being called ajumma. :)

PS. I have yet to be shoved by one of the ajummas who died in the 1950s or 1960s.

They're not around because they didn't push hard enough. Some of the ones who are living are still stuck in North Korea.

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