Saturday, November 14, 2009
An 아저씨 War
Something interesting happened on the subway the other day. While on my way to meet-up with a couple of friends for lunch in Myeong-Dong, I hopped on the subway at Ssangmun Station as I do a couple of times a week and I noticed that nearly everyone, on this moderately crowded subway car, was silent.
That's a fairly normal state of being on the Seoul Metro. People here tend to behave not unlike how they do in Calgary - stare straight ahead, ignore the face of the person in front of you, and just exist in your own little 2' x 2' space and hope that there will be no need to interact with another human being. Some might argue that Calgary transit riders at least respect others' personal space a bit more than they do here, but there seems to be more offering of seats to elders here in Korea - even on a crowded subway, more people seem to be generally aware of older folk who board looking for a place to rest while they ride. Watching or taking part in this ritual makes that elbow in your side a tad more bearable.
Last Thursday, I saw something completely new on the subway - well, new to me anyway. As I took my seat, I heard two voices raised in anger: one coming from the far end of the car, and the other coming from the closer end of my car - about 20 feet to my left. From the very little that I could glean from my very limited understanding of the Korean language, well... actually, about all I could understand was that the two older men from whom these angry voices were coming were severely pissed off at each other.
It went on for about 10 minutes, which, on a silent subway ride, is a fairly long time. For those in the know, it lasted without pause from Ssangmun until somewhere around Hyehwa. I glanced down to both ends of the car from time to time to see what, if anything, was progressing as the voices seemed to be getting louder and more fierce. Others around me were exchanging awkward glances - some rolling their eyes and some chuckling quietly to themselves. Both men seemed to be attempting to drum-up support from others sitting around them - some nodding in understanding, others seemingly trying to calm the men down.
The whole thing was just bizarre - why these two men were sitting at opposite ends of the car and engaging in a long-distance shouting match was quite literally ,considering the language barrier, beyond me. I wish a Korean friend had been there to translate. All went quiet somewhere around Dongdaemun Stadium, when suddenly, the older man to my left got to his feet. He was no taller than my grandmother on my mom's side - like a little jedi master - well-dressed in a three piece wool suit complete with matching cap.
I know that it's politically incorrect to refer to older folk as being "cute", but dammit, he was... at least until he reached down and grabbed an orange peel that was uncharacteristically left on the subway floor, balled it into an angry fist and began a speedy charge to the other end of the car where another angry old man was presumably about to get a face full of citrus zest.
The little old dude let out a battle cry as he charged down the aisle, until he was interrupted by an ajuma who was clearly up to the task. Nobody wanting to see a pair of old men bloody each other in a public place, this woman grabbed both of his arms at the wrist and announced "Ajushi! Hajima!" (Sir! Stop!). He struggled with her until a couple of university-aged students joined in the fray and turned the charging beast back from whence he came. The man from the other end of the car got off at the next stop, and the man from my end of the car, still armed with orange peel, came and calmly stood at the door beside my seat, looking out the window from behind his giant glasses and slowing his breath. He was a pretty frail old dude in a brown tweed suit. I sat their puzzling over what could have possibly angered this man so much to behave in the way that he did.
I wish I had known what was being said. It's fascinating to me. Riding the C-train in Calgary, I have seen, and at times been involved in, more than my fair share of weird encounters with other riders. Most of the time however, these C-train loonies are high on something. This old man didn't seem to be. I wish I had known what was going on. I wish I could have taken a photo of both combatants just to show on this blog how incongruous the whole thing seemed. But I didn't want to get involved, and, as intrusive as their behavior was, I didn't want to become intrusive in return. Besides, ajumas can handle such things in a far more effective way, and I wasn't about to begin my day with a Christmas orange facial.