I Sat in the Elderly Section ‘Unintentionally’

So Kim Yong-ha has published a piece in the New York Times criticizing the elderly subway riders for territorializing those end-of-car seats.  You know where they are as clearly as you would know where the front and back seat of a car are.  What I can’t understand is this:

About two years ago, I had unintentionally sat in one of the elderly-designated seats on the subway and was checking my email when I looked up to meet the eyes of a scowling elderly man. I got up right away. He didn’t thank me, but continued to stare at me from across the train. There had been other free seats for him to use, but he pressured me to get up just to make the point that I shouldn’t have been sitting there.

How do you unintentionally sit in one of those seats?  Really?  I rode the subway countless times, sometimes under the influence, and there was never a time when I mistook those seats for something else.  Sure, sometimes the elderly can exploit their privileges to take a seat–like when ajummas shoulder and hip their way into a spot with nary a care–but the concept that the elderly deserve a seat more than those younger makes sense.  Pregnant women also.

Kim ends his piece with a more political assertion that seems to call out the elderly as if their conservative leanings should preclude their seats at the end of the subway car.

The fighting over seats mirrors a vast political gap outside the subway. A majority of older Koreans support President Park Geun-hye and the governing party, but the younger generation is strongly opposed to her leadership. Many older people feel nostalgia for the days of Park Chung-hee, the current president’s father, when they were more prosperous and the country was in the throes of exciting development.

Are the “conservative” elderly out of hand on the subway?

  • wangkon936

    When it comes to quality articles about Koreans and Korean Americans, the NYTs is excellent. It puts my town’s paper, the L.A. Times, to utter shame. The LAT has devolved into an overt propaganda mouth piece for the extreme left wing of the Democratic National Committee.

  • wangkon936

    Jane Han over at Korea Times also criticized the old folks:


  • Kevin Kim

    Mr. Rodgers hits on the two aspects of Kim Young-ha’s article that bothered me as well: (1) “unintentionally” sitting in the special seats (is this like “unintentionally” boarding the short bus?), and (2) that strange and incongruous paragraph about politics, which felt as if it had leaped out of nowhere. Mr. Kim is an accomplished and much-lauded writer; I expect better from him. In his defense, I’ll charitably assume he phoned this article in because he’s been busy with other projects.


    Yes, really? How do you unintentionally do anything? He sat in the wrong seat by accident. Is that unimaginable?

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    Can I just bring up a very very important and obvious point – one of those “Emperor’s got no clothes on, is everybody blind?” which happens A LOT in Korea.
    Why must it be left empty? i.e. I can totally understand having designated seats where one has to ‘give up’ should there be an elderly or sick people around, but I have been in these instances where one gets told off for just sitting in them even when there is nobody needing it around.

    WHY!!!!!!!!!!!!! What a bloody waste! Again, I don’t think it was like that before when I was young…but at some point some div started doing it (not necessarily an old person but some young over-zealous type) and all the other divs followed like it’s been going on for years.

    And also, having designated seats should be just an extension of social manners which one has with normal seats, i.e. non-enforceable by some God-given age-right.

  • brier

    That line bothered me too. But I was on the look out for crap though, after I noticed a past piece of his: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/07/opinion/kim-south-koreas-hot-button-medium.html?_r=0 He seems to place his political opinion as fact into his writing. That stuff about the striking rail workers showed his true color.

  • MikeinGyeonggi

    Can’t believe the NYT wasted paper and ink on this article. The writer could have delved into real issues such as why are young people less deferential to old people or why are so many elderly Koreans living in poverty. But instead he complains about getting kicked out of an elderly seat and he partially blames this on political differences?

  • Sumo294

    John Rodgers and Yuna–both are important people–writing about important subjects. Both of them call attention to relevant and intrinsically compelling modern stories that create the new narrative that represent the changes brought on by modernity.

  • djson1

    Just leave the elderly alone…come on…their time is limited here and the younger folks have more time to enjoy life. They paid their dues and grew up in a Confucian society where they took a lot of crap from their elders. I feel like there is a lot less respect among youngsters these days. Plus, if I was old and saw all of this sexiness going on with Korean girls grinding and moving sexy on TV and what not, I would be jealous and grumpy too!

  • http://www.globalasianculture.com Liz

    First the spam gift set article, now this. Although these unremarkable pieces may be part of a larger news organization algorithm: crank out half baked ideas, drive traffic to the website. DONE.

  • chooNryusk

    I intentionally sit in the handicapped seats on the subway now and then. Since I’m white skinned and handsome rarely does anyone give me “scowling” looks. I’m prepared for when I am encountered with scowls or drunken remarks…I’ll just say and point to myself and head “Jang-aye-in,” then slouch lower. I do get up if/when an elderly person appears to want my seat. Unsurprisingly, Koreans aren’t quick to sit next to me if I sit anywhere else so it’s a zero sum game.

  • DC Musicfreak

    In this case, this half-baked idea issues from the pen of a supposedly admired Korean novelist. I frankly don’t see much literary talent or analytical power there — at least in translation.

  • 8675309

    Yong-ha is an effin’ pussy for complaining about not getting the choicest seats on the subway for Pete’s sake. People like him, who are nothing more than self-centered egotistical adjeosshi-on-the-make, are the real problem — not the actual old adjeosshis or pushy ajummas, for whom these seats were made for.

    That said, Yong-ha is weasel who probably never did his military service or never had to break a sweat to make a living, unlike yours truly who served as an 11B grunt in the U.S. Army among other things.
    And unlike this whiney Yong-ha — his pitiful excuse duly noted and recorded alleging implausibly that it was “unintentional” to have stolen a senior seat (how can you “unintentionally” steal a seat?) — I don’t mind standing on the subway or bus, and actually, I love to stand simply b/c I can.

    The reason why I always stand — even if there are seats available — is not only b/c I’d rather let those who can’t stand sit, but also b/c I’m rather proud of myself that I can as it is nothing less than a testament and proof positive of having being on my feet, doing the jobs that your average Korean would look down on.

    For example, when I was 16, I worked at a large grocery store in Tulsa, OK for minimum wage. I had a racist Mexican supervisor who was always giving me a hard time. One day on a very hot and muggy summer’s day, he took me away from my regular duties to the back of the store where the loading dock is, where there were about half-a-dozen loading bays for the numerous semi-trailers that off-loaded tons of palletized goods by the hour, every hour.

    And off to the side of the loading bays was a parking-lot sized enclosed yard where thousands upon thousands of scattered wooden pallets had been cast aside by warehouse guys scattered about in messy jumbles under the hot sun.

    My beady-eyed, Mexican supervisor who had some ridiculously stereotypical Latino name like “Marty Martinez” points to the roughly two acres worth of scattered pallets, loading equipment, empty boxes, etc., and says: “Clean up all this crap and make it look good. And do it all before lunch,” — as if I had made the mess!
    Shrugging it off and chalking it up to another fine example of bigotry in the godforsaken State of Oklahoma, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work under that blazing summer’s sun. Turning on my OCD, I not only had the yard ship shape and swept clean from end to end six hours later, I had made over one hundred geometrically perfect stacks of pallets, organized by shape, size, color and type, in columns and rows, each equidistant from each other to make for perfect corridors to move to and fro without any obstruction.
    I also cleaned up all the trash, flattened the boxes and tied them up in neat stacks ready for removal and recycling. By the time I was finished, I was so frothy and soaked in my own sweat, even the tips of my shoelaces were dripping. Undeterred, I sought “Marty” out, who came by to take a look at my work. After standing at the edge of the loading dock with his hands on his hips, squinting out of his beady eyes, he took in my work of art and said in a scowling face to get back to work inside the store. Did Marty ever thank me in the way that Yong-ha expected the senior citizen to thank him for having done what he’s supposed to do? Nope. But then again, I’m not some kind of pussy like he is.

  • will.i.aint

    From Kim Young-ha’s article:

    For years, “pushmen” were employed at busy stations to stuff hundreds of extra passengers into each train.

    I’ve ridden the Seoul subway hundreds and hundreds of times since the 1980s … and never once saw one of these “pushmen.” Maybe I just wasn’t riding the right line at the right time?

  • Aja Aja

    Wow you are just one bitter white man, reading all your posts after posts. I think the best thing for you to help your psychological well being is to just leave the country and stop going mental on all of us. Jerk.

  • Koreandumbdumb

    yuna_at_marmotshole , Do you park at a handicap spot? By accident? Or, since it is empty? The elderly people are handicapped. Their knees are weak and reaction time is slow. They often confused. This writer had bad parents obviously. So, he is telling everyone to ditch parents. So, his kids, if he has any, will ditch him. 싸가지 없는 아가들.

  • cactusmcharris

    I’ve seen them in Japan but not in Korea, but I haven’t traveled in Seoul for more than 20 years. The #3 is probably a lot different than it used to be.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    I said it before, the elderly are like cockroaches. Same sort of entitlement plays out on the subway as it has been in the McDs in NYC.

  • cactusmcharris

    You plan on checking out sooner than usual?

  • Bob Bobbs

    I bow to your comic genius. Or I hope your rage therapy sessions are going well. Could go either way.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Therapy is going well. Doctor says I’m a natural fisherman.

  • JMR
  • dlbarch

    I just noticed that this post was presented by someone I THINK is a new guest commentator at MH. If John Rodgers has made his debut here before, then mea culpa. But if not, then I am very glad to (1) see new blood added to the proverbial MH masthead, and (2) see that Mr. Rodgers has commendably decided to use his real (one assumes) name in attribution to his posts.

    Why does this matter? Well, it certainly matters in my opinion because I have long been an advocate of full disclosure and a firm believer in the need for transparency as an uncompromising requirement for credibility. And as MH has matured over the years, so too, I think, has its own credibility, based at least in part on its host and guest contributors standing by their respective posts by refusing to hide behind anonymity and silly avatars.

    But for those who remain unconvinced, I refer to the latest charges coming out of Bridgegate, where Gov. Christie as decided to throw his (ahem) considerable weight behind a full-throated attack on David Wildstein, former Christie appointee to the Port Authority of NY and NJ.

    Among the charges against Wildstein’s credibility? That he “was an anonymous blogger known as Wally Edge.”

    So be forewarned. It’s now open-season on anonymous blogging. ‘Cause if it’s good enough for Gov. Christie, then it’s good enough for MH!


  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    Koreandumbdumb, are you dumb? It’s totally different to parking at a handicap spot. You cannot immediately move the car by remote control which is already parked when there is no other parking spot available. You can, however, immediately stand up if you see somebody who needs to sit down.

    There are seats which you are advised to give up to pregnant, handicapped or to the elderly *should there be any* on most public transport abroad too. The difference to how it is in common-sense-less Korea, is that people are not forced to be kind or to receive kindness at the cost of impolite lack of common sense and public manners, defeating the whole purpose.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Nope, it did not. It only tried to make excuses for entitled old jerks who should be arrested and charged and fined.

  • Sumo294

    dlbarch . . . I like you and I have some affection for Mr. Plumpness, but in all fairness the MH is not in the same league as the crap surrounding Christie.

  • dlbarch

    I, too, kinda sorta like Christie…just not for President.

    More to the point, I think it’s righteous that anonymous blogging, at least by the standards of Christie’s defenders, is now being presented as prima facie evidence of, how shall be say, a “sketchy” character?

    Which may or may not be true or fair, but I dig it that it’s now being presented as true.


  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Why shouldnt we sit in the elderly section? I pay for my ride, they get subsidized free rides; so as I see it not only am I paying for myself and for one of them. Old people can stand. I would yield to pregnant women and to the truly handicapped. Not old, entitled and all-too-often cranky and rude fogies.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Since you like Christie perhaps you can explain why he is dressing up as a Republican when he is clearly in the progressive camp.

  • cactusmcharris

    If that’s really your MO, ‘the old can stand’, you have poor manners, but you’ve not been hesitant about demonstrating that before.

  • cactusmcharris

    Unrelated to this discussion of angry mass-transiters, I fondly remember the custom of the sitting asking unbidden to hold bags / parcels of the standing.

  • cactusmcharris

    Ah, the ‘I fish, therefore I lie’ bit, then?

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    I never lie

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    What makes them special?

  • cactusmcharris

    They’re elderly and you’re not, but I suppose even that basic lesson escapes you.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    But being old doesn’t make them special. It makes them just different from me. Many people are different from me. Am I obligated to yield a seat to anyone of a different gender, race, ethnicity, occular ability, etc?