Gabe Hudson, a creative writing instructor at Yonsei University, had a difficult experience with his girlfriend at an Insa-dong restaurant… and wrote about it in NYT Magazine:
About a month ago, Ja-Won and I sat down at a restaurant in this neighborhood — a traditional place with mandu dumplings the size of tennis balls. The food came, and our chopsticks began to fly with joy. I’m always the only Western person in the joint, and this may sound ridiculous, but it feels good when Ja-Won beams across the table and tells me that I “eat Korean food better than a Korean man.” At any rate, we were getting lost in the food. Then a loud Korean voice cut through it all. I looked up and saw a middle-aged Korean man in a suit leering over our table. He said something very rude-sounding to Ja-Won. I could only make out the word “American.” He wagged his finger at my girlfriend, stepping in closer.
That’s the downside to these Korean meals. Sometimes this kind of thing happens. My girlfriend says the Korean men don’t want to lose one of “their” women to an American guy. In the beginning, before I understood precisely what was going on, I was exceedingly patient with these men. But that night I stood up and, even though the man didn’t speak English, quickly communicated to him that I’d break his face if he came any closer. Seeing that I meant business, the man then allowed himself to be dragged away by his wife.
I should say that if I were in New York City and I saw a fellow American accosting a Korean man and his date this way, I’d want to break the American man’s face too. But that night in Seoul I had to admit to myself that it has been hard adjusting to life there these past several months. Other nights, Ja-Won and I will be at a restaurant and things will be much different. Our chopsticks will be flying. I won’t understand the language going on around me, and I won’t be able to fathom the simple miracle of how I came to be sitting there, but I will feel as if I belong.
Tough night out, eh?
Frankly, if I had a chance to contribute an article about Seoul to NYT Magazine, this probably wouldn’t be the topic I’d discuss, especially if I’d only been in country for a couple of months and knew nothing about the place, but hey, to each his own. After all, I didn’t teach at Princeton.
I came to Korea in 1997, and I can count the number of times something like this has happened to me on one hand. More specifically, it happened three times… and one of those was probably my fault. And I spent most of my time in places much less cosmopolitan than Insa-dong.
Anyway, I only hope this kind of thing isn’t happening to Mr. Hudson with regularity. Especially after only a few months in country. Wouldn’t want anyone to get their face broken, after all.
(HT to readers)
UPDATE: Writer’s website here.