From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."

An Unnerving Encounter with a Drunk Man


Last night, on my way home from work, a VERY DRUNK and LOUD ajossi (old man) got on the bus, pulled me out of my seat, and shouted at me for whatever reason I couldn’t understand. I was so afraid and startled that I couldn’t say a word when he grabbed my arm. I just stood up and let him take my seat as he continuously barked.

There were many other passengers younger than me (mostly students who were coming home from academies), so I wondered why of all people on the bus I was the one he chose to harass. Perhaps I was the easiest target because I was seated near the bus entrance, or maybe it was just my unlucky day.

I was standing a few inches away from the drunk man and though I wanted to move to the back of the bus to shun him, I couldn’t, because the bus was crowded and the seats were all taken. He kept calling me agassi (a Korean term used in addressing a young woman) and tapped my elbow a few times. That time, I was more angry than scared. I let out a heavy sigh of resentment and moved as far away from him as possible. He tried to get out of his seat but because he was so drunk and could barely stand (and DERANGED, if I may add), he fell back to his chair. As if that was my fault, he hollered at me saying, “Ya!” (“Hey”! or “You!” in Korean).  While that was happening, the other passengers were merely watching or ignoring him. I was waiting for somebody to tell him to stop, but no one dared to stop him… not even the driver!

Although my husband couldn’t help me, I called and asked him if I should get off at the next stop. He said, “MOVE AND IGNORE HIM.”

Finally, some passengers got off at the next stop, so some seats at the back were vacant. I moved and sat near the exit. The bacchanalian stopped shouting for a while but kept mumbling to himself. At times he would yell or pick on someone getting on the bus. I don’t know why the driver let that happen. Wasn’t he supposed to do anything? Isn’t it the driver’s responsibility to protect his passengers?

I asked my husband the reason for this apathy. He said that most Koreans would rather IGNORE “what’s happening” because they don’t want to get into trouble.

The truth is, this isn’t the first time I have seen an intoxicated ajossi making a scene on a public transport. A couple of times I’ve seen THEM on the train on my way to work, on the bus going home… even in public places like the subway station or in the street, lying down, throwing up, shouting, cursing. People just IGNORE them. There are those who look at them with disgust, but that’s all they can do… STARE.  It’s all right “not to do anything”  if they’re not causing trouble. If they’re passed out, who cares? If they’re vomiting all over the place, why would you even get near them? But what if they’re badgering someone, would you just stare and keep quiet?

Koreans are usually helpful people, but when it comes to standing up for others, they’d rather forget they have this quality and keep to themselves.


12 thoughts on “An Unnerving Encounter with a Drunk Man

  1. What a story! I wouldve punched that drunk if this happened to me!


  2. Pingback: Korea’s Drinking Culture | From Korea with Love

  3. I like reading your posts. Keep up the great work!


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  5. There are very similar scenes in Japan. In the Japanese (and Korean probably) culture, it’s OK to get drunk in public. Some people become berserk, like the one you met. It seems Koreans get more drunk in public than Japanese do (?). And it’s also the Japanese culture that people think it’s the best to ignore and stay away. They are afraid that if they interfere, they may get injured, too. But what about the victim being harassed!? It’s an unattractive side of the Japanese culture (and that seems to be Korean culture, too) that when somebody is harassed, nobody tries to save you…


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  7. Thanks for the suggestion, Ate Nhing. I guess it’s safer to avoid the seats in front, since they’re intended for the elders.


  8. Chris,next time, sit after the second door,i mean the exit door,i advised by my student before(because the same thing happened to me ) that i should take the seats after the exit door…there are those older people who would refuse to take the seat when we offer them, but still there are those who are rude enough to irritate us…



  9. Thanks, Brook. No one is responsible for somebody else’s welfare… but at times, when you see injustice being done, your humanitarian instincts work, and you know you just have to do something to help. I suppose I wasn’t lucky enough to have someone help me that day.


  10. It’s difficult to stand up for others and sometimes a person can get into trouble that way. Have you ever stood up for someone or some cause because you saw an injustice…but then got blamed for being the messenger? This hurts.

    But now when I see an old drunk man, I will say, Ajossi! Behave!

    Wonderful post about drunken man….good you have a protective husband:)


  11. That’s what my husband advised me to do. Thanks. Be careful, too. ^^


  12. I have encountered the same thing a few times drunk man sleeping, cursing and harassing somebody. The best thing to do is just to ignore them like what the driver of the bus did. In the usual cases bus drivers gets beaten many drunk passengers without any reason at all that’s why there is a protective wall in the drivers place.
    Just be careful next time 🙂


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