m a r k a n d e y a

Just wanting to be left alone…

Posted by Brian on June 18, 2007

I go to Itaewon occasionally for a cool kettle of soju and some private time at Polly’s Kettle House up on the hill. I enjoy sitting outside with a drink in my hand while observing the strangeness that goes on around there. It provides me with a much needed break from being surrounded by students and co-workers during the rest of the week. I was there last Saturday night at about 10 pm and had an unfortunate experience this time, though.

As usual, I was sitting outside quietly drinking a grape soju kettle and enjoying the solitude. It had been a long day because  I was roped into doing a double Saturday shift at work that day… I had spent 8 hours in classes with students. I really needed to unwind.

So  I was just sitting there minding my own business when an incredibly out-of-place-looking Korean guy asks if he could sit next to me. I acquiesce and scoot over a bit, making room for the guy, though I felt a slight twinge of worry about where this might go. A few moments after sitting down, the interrogation starts.

“I’m Korean. Is it OK if I go inside?” he asks me in low-level English. “Sure,”  I tell him, and go back to my drink.

“Can we go in together and drink beer,” he asks. “No thank you,”  I respond.

“This is my first time here, it is very strange,” he says. I smile politely.

“I live in Shinchon. Do you know Shinchon?” he asks me. “Yes I do,” I tell him, deciding it’s better to stop there rather than tell him that I too live in Shinchon.

“I want to meet a foreign girl,” he tells me. “There’s some over there,”  I say as I point in the direction of a couple of foreign girls.

“What do you think of Korean girls?” he asks me. Gritting my teeth at this point, I tell him I like Korean girls. I’m close to bailing at this point.

He hit me with a few more questions that I curtly, though politely, answered. Eventually, I guess he got the idea and said goodbye and left. Thankful to be left alone again, I smiled inside.

The problem with this sort of situation is that I really, really don’t want to be rude. But at the same time, I just wanted to be left alone and this guy wouldn’t allow me that pleasure. What to do? Keep in mind that I had just spent 8 hours of my Saturday being the dutiful English teacher who listened carefully and with great interest to all of my students; I really wanted my teaching time to be over.

I told a co-worker this story and he mentioned he might be a case of differing cultures. Koreans tend to dislike doing things on their own, so perhaps he saw me drinking by myself as an object of pity. Maybe in his view he was being polite by trying to provide me company.

I, on the other hand, see nothing wrong with being alone and find that sort of unwanted, intrusive questioning as a violation.

Would I have been out-of-line saying, “Look pal, I’m sure you’re a nice guy and I really don’t mean to be rude, but I just want to be alone”? Or would that be a tad rude directed at a person who was just trying to be friendly?

This is a serious question for me because, as the result of a difficult person I had to deal with a few years ago, I’ve learned that I need to be more assertive about my own feelings. 

Thoughts?

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7 Responses to “Just wanting to be left alone…”

  1. Jerry said

    If you’re polite, respectful, and firm I see no problem in asking to be left alone with your own thoughts; especially after already answering a few customary questions. You could perhaps add something like you have a lot on your mind. Most well-meaning people would respect that I think.
    I think most foreigners in Korea have had similar experiences to yours. Whether its being interrupted from your morning newspaper reading by an over eager ajoshe in Starbucks, or a smiling ajumma targeting you from across the subway car and barreling through to tell you all about her trip to LA.
    A few times, while walking to the nearest subway station after taking my girlfriend home, I was positively accosted by some crazy, super-aggressive Christian ajumma. The first time I was polite for about 5-10 minutes but she did NOT take any hints. After time, I had to pratically yell at her to stop blocking my passage with her arm. In some strange way I felt she had good intentions but she really made a pleasant evening walk into a tedious headache. I couldn’t get my thoughts back on track after that and for a while I resented that. She did the exact same thing a month later.
    Regarding Itaewon, about a week ago in class I was telling my students that I had went there over the weekend because I was a little homesick and I wanted to listen to some nostalgic music and perhaps strike up a conversation with an honest person or two. One of my students asked me if I recommended that he go there to practice his English. I told him I didn’t think that was a good idea, for percisely the same reason you discussed above. If he sincerely wanted to meet some interesting new people and was respectful and tactful, I told him it would be fine. But I cautioned him that most native English speakers go there to unwind and perhaps they wouldn’t take too kindly if they thought they were being solicited into a free lesson on their time off.
    Time to one’s self is very important and healthy!
    Anyway, Brian, I was delighted to stumble upon your new blog and I am happy to hear about your exciting future plans. I just arrived back in Korea from some graduate studies at IU and am back at Chungmoon taking some downtime to decide if I really want to jump full-on into a PhD or not. If you have some time before heading back to the states, perhaps we could meet up for a drink and I can interrogate you about whether you like Korean girls and how long you stay in Korea 😉
    Jerry Fisher

  2. angus said

    brian,

    you did the right thing, so don’t feel bad about blowing the guy off. he might have been harmless but all of us have had annoying to disturbing experiences of koreans who take it upon themselves to talk to whitey. plus, consider the location and the reasons why a solo korean would take it upon himself to go trolling for white girls on the hill. sounds like a freak to me and you probably dodged a bullet on that one.

  3. Brian said

    Jerry,

    Glad to hear from you. I heard from Simpson you were back in town so I’ve been meaning to drop bby CM some time and say “hi.” I heard you’re working with Sonober now, too.

    Angus, yea… that occured to me. HOw the hell does Joe Kim aka Average Korean dude end up on top of hooker hill on a Saturday night? It’s an odd place to troll for free English lessons or foreign girls.

  4. Jon Allen said

    Hi Brian,
    Thanks for dropping by my blog.
    This is a tricky situation.
    I can understand your position wanting to be left alone, I feel the same way myself sometimes.
    It is always best to be as polite as possible. Answering in monosyables is an excellant defence. Giving nothing away either, especially not your name.
    Avoiding eye contact and using negative body language will all help the person get the message that you don’t want them to speak to you.

    If all else fails getting up and leaving saying “goodbye nice to have met you” should do the trick, but if you’ve just settled in, that would have to be a last resort.

    The other approach is to say something in another language. How’s your French, German, Spanish etc? Or just make it up 🙂

    Directions to the bread shop would be most appreciated.
    Jon

  5. Brian said

    Jon,

    From the Shinchon subway station, walk towards Hongdae station on the same street of the street as Grand Mart. You’ll come to a Nonghyup Market and right after that will be a small alley leading off to the left. Go down that alley, passing a church, and you’ll come to a turn to the right. Make that turn and the bakery should be right there on your right. It’s a small, non-descript place but they usually have racks of bread out in front. Just go inside and ask for a loaf or two. You can buy it sliced or not. Like I said, it’s the best bread I’ve had in Korea.

  6. Jason said

    Hey, just wondering if you had, or knew how I could get a hold of the contact information for Polly’s Kettle House. I lost a camera there recently and want to give them a call, but their number is non-existent on the web (apparently)

  7. Brian said

    Jason, wish I could help you, but I can’t. Try asking some bloggers who live in Korea…

    Brian

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