I still don’t quite know what it is about the Koreans and staring at foreigners.
It doesn’t happen quite as much in the big cities, but here in my little corner of a relatively small city, I get stared at on a daily basis. I know you could try to excuse this with “Aw, they don’t see foreigners often, they can’t help it”, but that’s just nonsense. Korea is full of Westerners teaching English, serving in the army, working in electronics companies, backpacking, and so on. I’m pretty sure almost every parent in the country must try their best to ensure that their children have places in schools with native English-speaking teachers. So why, Korea, are you so surprised to see us?
My own home town in NI is vastly smaller than Daejeon, and yet no one stares at ‘foreigners’. At least, I hope they don’t. And if they do, I hope they get told off for it by their friends. I have no recollection of ever feeing curious enough to gaze unashamedly at an Asian, for example. There weren’t many of them in my mostly white town, but there they were, generally running restaurants. And here we are, in a much bigger city, teaching English. And yet the Chinese population of my tiny town weren’t given a second glance, while I’m still gazed at as if I’m a circus animal or something. It’s really, truly bizarre. Why?!! Why are we so strange to you?!
This issue happens to be on my mind today because on my way to work this morning a woman walked into a car while staring at me. The car was parked at the time, but still. There I was, minding my own business, walking to work along the same road that I have walked along on a daily basis for two years, and this woman came out of her house and caught sight of me while crossing the yard. I kept walking, trying to ignore the gaze (which they make no attempt to hide, by the way), but I couldn’t help but see her out of the corner of my eye. Stare, stare, stare: you can practically hear the staring. And then, BAM! She walked straight into a parked car just outside her gate. She sort of doubled up, swore at herself, clutched various parts of her body, and then tried to pretend everything was fine and she’d intended to do that.
And I laughed. I didn’t even try to hide it: I laughed and laughed and laughed. If I knew how to say “Serves you right for staring!” in Korean, then that’s what I would’ve done, but I don’t, so I just laughed. I don’t think she was as amused as I was, but quite frankly I don’t care. It was frickin’ hilarious.
Not as dramatic, mind you, as the day a guy crashed his car because he was staring at me instead of, I dunno, paying attention to his driving. I was walking down the hill towards my apartment, and naturally stepped in close to the side of the road when a car approached me. They are small, narrow, back-street roads with only room for one car and not a lot else when you take into account all the parked vehicles at the side. So this guy was driving towards me, gaping incredulously at the -SHOCK, HORROR! – foreigner walking along the street, and I noticed to my consternation that he appeared to be using kangaroo petrol. Rrrr-rrr-rrr! went his car as it bounced up the hill in a series of mad bounds. You could tell at a glance that he’d totally forgotten he was driving, and was simply proceeding uphill by the happy accident that was his foot resting on the accelerator and occasionally leaning a little more heavily than before.
This was not a huge problem for me until I realised that he had also forgotten about the whole steering wheel part of the driving process, and was in fact drifting casually sideways, towards me. Rrr-rrr-rrr! he bounced in my direction as I edged closer and closer to the wall, with nowhere else to go. I could see him gaping at me through the windshield, and then all of a sudden my alarmed expression seemed to register with him and he remembered he was driving a car.
In his panic, he simultaneously yanked the steering wheel in the opposite direction and pressed down more firmly on the accelerator, resulting in a spectacularly hilarious slow motion crash into a parked car on the other side of the street. I managed to contain my laughter until I’d hurried down to the bottom of the hill, but I still go into fits of giggles when I think about it. The last time I saw him, he was outside his car calling the number on the parking card of the car he’d smashed up. You can only imagine what he was saying.
Yeah, sorry about this, but I just wrecked the entire passenger side of your car… well, there was this white person walking down the road… yeah, you understand…