There are a lot of situations in life where you just think “well, there’s nothing I can do.” Well this week, I finally did something about one of them. It took remarkably little effort, and made me feel like Batman. Here is the story.
I don’t often get angry about things. There are so many other people out there who get emotional over any given situation, that I can just go along assume they exhume enough anger for the both of us. But there’s one thing that has gotten under my skin for years, only because I couldn’t get anyone else upset about it.
There’s this cell phone store in Seomyeon, South Korea. I’ve passed by it many times over the multiple years I’ve lived in Korea. Like other cell phone stores in the area, they’re very pushy about getting people into their store. But this store goes further. When attractive young women walk by, a group of about five or six men will physically grab her, and drag her literally kicking and screaming into the shop. They laugh maniacally, the girls’ friends will try to pull her back.
Each time I see it, I intervene and say in English “No, man. No. Don’t be a dick, man.” They don’t understand, but since I’m about 2 feet taller than them, they let her go and apologize profusely. But since I was only ever in Seomyeon a few times in a year, they would go right back to it.
I’ve tried to explain this to other people. Tried to get people to come to Seomyeon to translate for me. But without them seeing the genuine fear in each girls’ eyes, it just sounds like pushy salesmen. But this isn’t about selling phones, there’s no way one of those girls is going to buy a phone. It’s about a large group of men trying to feel tough by physically intimidating and restraining someone they perceive to be smaller and weaker than them. It’s an assault.
I couldn’t explain my concerns myself, no one would translate, and it was so regular that the managers must have already known about it. “There’s nothing I can do,” I thought.
But now, I live one neighborhood away from Seomyeon. I pass by that shop all the time. And last week, I saw it again. Once again, I jumped in, just as I always did. I passed by the same shop later, one of them saw me, and even though he wasn’t doing it, said “sorry, sorry!” simply out of habit.
I turned to my girlfriend and said “haha, he think’s I’m checking up on him.”
He did think I was checking up on him. And I decided to keep it that way. I had a plan.
Day 1: I stood a few stores down, inside a bus shelter. It was open enough that they could find me, but that they could reasonably assume I had been there longer than I had been. I stood perfectly still with a neutral expression on my face. They noticed me and nervously stopped bothering customers for a while. When they weren’t looking, I used the underground shopping center to go underneath their store and pop up the other side. I leaned against a post. They had just gotten back into their groove after noticing I was gone, when one looked the other way, and saw me there. Once again, I didn’t react. This took a total of two minutes. I then ate lunch and did the same thing on my way home.
Day 2: I went at a totally different time of day. This time, I was on the opposite side of the street. I stood in a pretty obvious spot, just to make sure they would find me. But I kept the same motionless pose and neutral expression. Once they noticed me, a large bus passed by with the perfect timing so that I could disappear behind the bus like in a movie. I’m sure from their end it looked really slick and ninja-like, but really and just involved running really fast into a noodle restaurant and hiding for a few seconds.
Day 3: Just before their closing time, I poked my head into a coffee shop, on the 3rd floor across the street, pretending to look at the menu. I stopped and stood in the window for a bit. I don’t think they saw me, butI could tell that they weren’t looking for customers anymore. They were looking for me. I walked very slowly out the door when I left so that they would catch me coming out. They did, and hopefully assumed I was concluding a long stake out. Like I was always somewhere, watching. (instead of the super dorky reality, which is that I was on my way to the arcade to play Mario Kart and sing Sir Mixalot in the karaoke booth.)
Day 4: On the way to dinner, I found a spot where they genuinely couldn’t see me and watched for a bit. They didn’t harass one woman the entire time. I walked by just so that they would see me. I made eye contact with the same neutral expression as I passed. Each one reacted, even one guy I’d never seen before. He must have been told about me. There are legends about me.
It’s been days since I’ve seen them harass a woman. And all it took was a few icy glares in a place where I was going to walk anyway. I’ll keep an eye on them. And I’ll remember from now on... even if it seems like there’s nothing you can do..... there probably is.