"Yoegi Anjuseyo!"

* I have a short reflection in today's Korea Times about an encounter with an unfriendly looking Korean man on the subway. It was a reminder not to be too quick in judging people in Korea.

09-13-2011 16:47

'Yeogi Anjeuseyo!'
By Casey Lartigue Jr.

The recent incident in which an American English teacher bullied an elderly Korean man and other passengers on the bus reminded me of a more pleasing incident from years ago.

I was on the subway, taking the train outside of Seoul for a work assignment. I have the habit of standing on the subway to strategically position myself near the doors in case my stop magically appears.

On that particular day, there was a Korean man STARING at me. Not just looking at me, but intensely staring at me.

He had an incredible frown on his face. Not just for one stop, but for several stops the guy just kept staring at me. If I had known more Korean then I would have been able to curse him out or to tell him he had 10 seconds to start looking at something else ― and that I would start counting at nine.

If I had to guess, I would say that he was a farmer, probably in his late 40s or early 50s. He was poorly dressed. He seemed to be headed for a Hollywood casting call for the role of a Korean farmer eking out a living during the Korean War.

Then, the person next to him stood up to get off the train.

An incredible thing happened.

The frowning farmer began to point at the seat next to him, and was almost shouting at me...

``Yeogi Anjeuseyo! Yeogi Anjeuseyo!"

Even if I had not understood ``sit down” in Korean, his body language made it clear that I had to sit in that seat right then!

No one was trying to claim the seat. I was stunned for a moment but quickly sat. He then had a huge grin on his face, as if he had accomplished something by securing that seat for me. He turned to face me, just looking at me, grinning. Had he saved me from a burning building? Helped me cheat on my taxes? No. He was pointing to a seat that had just been vacated. Perhaps he feared that an ajumma would bump me out of the way and claim the seat.

Sitting there, I was embarrassed that I had been so wrong, and frustrated I could not explain it to him. So there we were sitting, unable to communicate, but with enough good feelings that we could have brought peace to the Korean peninsula all by ourselves.

Then, when it was time for his stop, he stood up, forcefully shook my hand, and said good-bye in Korean. I stood up, not knowing the proper protocol for such a situation, said goodbye to him as we bowed to each other on the subway.

After that day, ``yeogi anjeuseyo" joined ``nunchi," ``ajumma," ``han," ``skinship” and a few other phrases in my lexicon of favorite Korean and Konglish words and phrases. But when I tell Koreans ``yeogi anjeuseyo," I don't just say ``yeogi anjeuseyo." It is more of a command, the type I heard on the subway that day:

``Yeogi Anjeuseyo! Yeogi Anjeuseyo!"

Of course, Koreans advise me not to say it so forcefully. I agree with them, promising not to do so again. But I do.

* * *

Other announcements:

* I will be hosting a roundtable discussion on September 28 with Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University about North Korea.

* I will be attending a discussion on K-pop featuring Fulbright Researcher Emilie Chu this Friday night (Sept 16, from 6-8 p.m., at the KAEC Mapo-gu building). You may email them directly at executive.assistant (at)fulbright.or.kr to register and may :cc or :bcc me cjartigue(at)yahoo.com. Emilie will be speaking from 6-7, then Grace Ha will be speaking on Haenyo, Jeju, and the Future of Marine Conservation. RSVP ASAP.