Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ajussis ruin everything


February 12, 2008
"Ajussis Ruin Everything"

Oh, get ready for a rant.

After my arrest for being verbally assaulted by a drunken ajussi, and after exchanging similar stories of drunk older men with anger issues ruining other people's fun, me and the friends made this running punchline: "Ajussis ruin everything."

As much as it irritated me at the time, I just chalked up my experience in the police station, and the fact that the police were even listening to this soused asshole's story, as merely another sign of 1) how society bends over backward to apologize and make room for the behavior of older drunk men, and 2) how refusing to punish them actually emboldens them and harms society.

People usually talk about "jeong" and understanding people's situations in the same breath, which usually results in drunk men's actions being excused "because he was drunk" or "he had a tough life" or some other such excuse.

A friend of mine described a drunk ajussi on the #1 line (which my readers know that I, as a rule, avoid like the plague because of the high number of drunken male idiots who take it) who pulled the emergency cable lever on the subway, bringing the entire train to a screeching halt. When the engineer and police came to the train, his answer for why he pulled it: "궁금해서." He was "just curious."

That's actually pretty funny, if you're used to life here. "궁금해서." And I'd bet you anything that he was taken into the station, scolded, and let go with a warning. No harm done, right? Well, that poor old guy's got a hard life and hey – he was drunk, anyway. Not his fault.


I feel the same way about the walking waste of flesh who torched a national treasure because of some gripes about his hard life or whatever debts or what-have-you; can you believe he had tried to set fire to another national treasure just last year? They let him off with a suspended sentence so he could go off and torch Namdaemun!

No harm done, right? He apologized, after all:

"국민에게 미안하고 가족들에게 미안하다" ("I apologize to both my family and the Korean people.")
So the judge should let him off easy, huh?

Don't even get me started on the cases of teachers caught molesting/raping students over the years who are given administrative leave because firing him would "hurt his family." Ahhh, I get it. Feel sorry for him because he has a family, but keep him in the system so he can be a public example of society saying that even if you get caught raping your middle school students in a noraebang (that was back in 1995-96, I believe), nothing will happen to you.

Don't even get me started on how women are vilified in the workplace if they dare report sexual harrassment and get someone fired ("She ruined his life!")

Or the case back in 2004 or 2005 or so of the two middle school girls who were serially raped for more than a year by dozens of boys after one of the initial boys secretly taped them having sex, blackmailed her into having sex with his friends, and then started charging other boys for the privilege. The result? When the girls finally reported it, they were accused of being "prostitutes" by the local police and the girls received curses and death threats by many of the boys' parents who said they had "ruined their sons' lives."

Yeah – not that the parents were at all embarrassed about having raised immoral little rapists – after all, boys will be boys?

No harm done, right?

I just got an email this WEEK from a friend I meant to email back, but kinda put off because I didn't know quite how to respond (perhaps I even shut it out a bit since I didn't want to deal over the vacation?) – she got assaulted by some ajussi (hey, nothing new, since I had several female friends assaulted by random ajussis last year!) and was arrested just like me!

Or, when I saw a man slapping the living shit out of his girlfriend within ear and eyeshot of a police station (!), when I went in to call the cop out to look at them, he begudgingly peeked out the door and said, "It's OK. They know each other."

In a nutshell, here's what pisses me off about this, since I see a pattern here and not just some random crazy guy: there's a huge sense of male entitlement that starts from when mamas rub their sons' gochus while peeing, continues unabated with the implicit knowledge that you can feel up, push, or even hit women with minimal social consequences, and that public drunkenness and rudeness – which are crimes in many other countries – is par for the course here.

I'm a foreigner, so I'm like an ajussi antenna; a night, I literally try to avoid certain spaces entirely – the #1 line, the Jongno area, or anywhere where large numbers of working-class men gather for drinks, for example – in order to not attract the ire of some drunk asshole who has a chip on his shoulder about foreigners.

If one is another kind of social magnate for drunk ajussis – say, like an attractive women click-clacking past a group of them, or someone else whom ajussis might tend to find and interest in – I'm sure that person treads equally carefully in such spaces and areas.

I'm just sick and tired of the deep-seated sense of older male entitlement to take out one's own bullshit on others. It's so common, that I think this particularly Korean kind of gendered social malaise goes unquestioned, in the same way that the fish doesn't notice the water around it.

It reminds me of why America refused/s to think about what it is about a particular kind of social malaise that caused mostly middle-to-upper class white males from the suburbs to commit so many mass shootings in the 90's – the possibility to raise the question of "What's gone awry in suburbia?" is a legitimate one, but that question might raise too many uncomfortable followup questions.

And I think this is triply true for Korean society: why do it 봐줘 the ajussi so much? What are the costs of so much entitlement as a man here? Why are these angry ajussis staggering around, starting fights, lighting subways on fire, or national monuments?

And perhaps is Korean society crippled by the "jeong?" I mean, damn. Nobody's really punished here – people are always telling each other to "consider his situation" and "let him off, just this once" or believe that exceptions should be made because we "feel sorry to him."

This isn't the sort of thing that can be talked about academically, with evidence and whatnot, but is a pattern that to me, is clearly there.

I guess, as am American, I draw the line, even when I have "jeong" for someone. People are responsible for their actions, drunk or not. If you can't be, then one shouldn't drink. And it's only in cases where someone gets run over by the idiot drunk, or one of them burns down National Treasure No. 1 that many realized that "봐줘"ing and overlooking things because of "jeong" just makes things worse, not better.

Our little in-joke goes on – "Ajussis ruin everything."

I wouldn't be surprised if, upon being asked, "Why on earth did you want to burn down our country's most sacred and valued cultural treasure?!" the guy answered:


In this society, that would almost make a sick sort of sense. What they need to do is lock that fucker under the jail until he dies of natural causes.

Namdaemun! WTF?!

Sad. Lock that walking piece of human trash up until he leaves

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