From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."

Unspeakable Neighbor


A police car approached two loud, inebriated men just outside our apartment. I was awakened by the police car loudspeaker. I could't get a good shot because I was in my room. Right after the police left, they were noisy again.

A police car approached two loud, inebriated men just outside our apartment. I was awakened by the police car loudspeaker. I could’t get a good shot because I was in my room. Right after the police left, they were noisy again.

I’m supposed to be talking about how my family’s Chuseok celebration was, but I just can’t let the incident that took place tonight pass. In fact, I’m still shaken at the moment.

My husband and I were in the computer room. He was reading a comic book and I was typing. My parents-in-law were in their room, sound asleep. The neighborhood was quiet, except for the occasional giggling, guffawing and swearing of the teenagers smoking in the parking lot, which can be heard from our window. Someone was singing hysterically while his friends were laughing. My husband and I thought the singing was hilarious, so we also laughed. Soon, our candid singer left with his friends, and it was quiet again. After a while, we heard someone saying “sh*bal” (the F-word in Korean). It isn’t unusual to hear Koreans say that word. We hear that a lot from teenagers hanging out in the parking lot outside our apartment. It’s sort of a friendly expression to them. Some drunk ajossis and ajummas (middle-aged men and women in Korea) like to say that word, too.

We didn’t pay attention to the cursing until it got louder and louder. I could no longer concentrate on what I was doing, so I muttered, “시끄러!” (Noisy!) The noise became more disturbing when a woman screamed and another one was crying for help. My husband jumped from his seat and went out of the house to see what was going on. The noise was coming from the entrance of our apartment. We live on the first floor, a few feet away from the entrance, so we could hear everything. The noise woke up my parents-in-law. Omonim (mother-in-law) went out of their bedroom and told us not to go out, but my husband barely heard her. I followed my husband outside.

At the entrance, a woman was lying on the floor. I suppose she was hurt. Another woman was screaming at a young man. It was obvious that the man was drunk. He kept shouting and cursing at the women. When we saw him kick the woman who was lying on the floor and attempting to kick the other woman who was trying to stop him, we called his attention. My husband said, “야!” (Hey!) I think that he was about to confront the man, but the woman who was trying to stop the intoxicated young man was telling my husband it’s all right, they’re okay. When the man realized that we were attempting to intervene, he stared fiercely at us and bawled, “왜?” (Why?) I told him I was going to call the police. The woman who was trying to stop him said that won’t be necessary, but the man would not stop shouting and he was attacking the woman who was defending him. “That’s it! I’m calling the police now!” As I was saying this in English, I was making the phone gesture. The woman was yelling at me, “하지마!” (I don’t know why she was defending that scum.) I was already raising my voice, so my husband took me inside the house before getting myself into trouble. My husband called the police and told them to hurry up. We didn’t go out anymore, but we watched through the window. The cursing and shouting continued until the police arrived.

My husband waited for the police to come before he went out. He told me that the woman who was trying to stop me from calling the police is the man’s aunt. The other woman is also a relative. We don’t know what really happened. We don’t actually care about their family problem, but as neighbors who witnessed the commotion, somehow we felt responsible for the welfare of the two women who were being physically assaulted by a man whose brain had shrank from too much alcohol.

My husband and I have seen Koreans quarrel in public many times, but we have never seen a man physically assault a woman until tonight. It was inexcusable. I am sure that some of our neighbors heard the cursing, screams and cry for help, but none of them did anything about it. Their ignoring the whole thing is also inexcusable. Nobody called the police but my husband. The police just stopped the fight and left right away, but a few hours after the incident, I heard them talking over a loud speaker. They were giving warning to two other drunk men who were shouting and swearing.

12 thoughts on “Unspeakable Neighbor

  1. I’m not sure though. My boyfriend and his friends always call the police. Obviously her husband also called the police. So it’s not like no one would do it.


  2. Before we moved into an apartment there was a riot between some highschool students and some sort of gang right in front of our house…unfortunately, the students broke the window of a car parked in front of our house. Out of all the people watching the fight only my husband and I had the guts to call the police and the owner of the car. Lucky owner because I even had the sense to write down the plate number of one of the gangster/student…so the police was able to catch the culprit who broke the car owner’s window. The car owner was so thankful she even gave us some fruits.


  3. True, Cher. It’s scary. I hope it doesn’t happen to any of us.


  4. I’ve seen this happen a few times, too, usually in subway stations and outside bars or hoffs.


  5. I was more frightened for the woman who was hurt. She was trying to get up, but the man kicked her repeatedly. =(


  6. I was more furious than scared. =)


  7. My husband always tells me not to get involved in any argument or fight among Koreans, because I could get into trouble and nobody would help me. I’m not the type of person who would just watch or ignore an incident wherein somebody is getting hurt, but last night, I didn’t know what to do. I was actually asking my husband why no one was helping. We have CCTV right in front of the entrance and there is a guard whose supposed to keep watch over the residents… but he wasn’t there when the whole thing happened. There were customers in the bars and restaurants just outside the apartment who, I’m pretty sure, heard the commotion, but they didn’t seem to care. Some neighbors just watched from afar as if they were enjoying a scene from an action movie.


  8. Everyone’s observation here is right…it’s like an unwritten rule in korea that they should ignore whatever is happening around them…a helping hand is not something you could expect from Koreans they would rather stay in the background and watch


  9. I, too, saw an unusual event on chuseok eve. It was 2am so we were already in bed. Suddenly, we heard a cellphone blaring its whistle ringtone. It was certainly not from our house so my husband searched where it came from. At first, we let it pass but it didn’t cease from being noisy and we couldn’t sleep anymore. It went on for many times…maybe for the nth time? So he told me he’d go out but I said no and just to wait for a while and see if the noise would stop. Then, my husband heard people shouting at someone. There was a drunk ajussi sleeping underneath a car at the parking lot near our room. They kept shouting,”ahjussi!”at him. They wanted to hit the road early to avoid the heavy traffic that chuseok brings but that ajussi was still underneath. We also live on the first floor so we heard everything. I was thinking,”what if they didn’t see him under the car? Some people wouldn’t care.. he would’ve been cut crosswise. Omo. Grotesque…”


  10. I have heard many instances of this happening in Korea. Now, of course, domestic violence goes on everywhere, but in Korea, no one ever gets involved, they just ignore it, even the woman getting beaten. I live in a block of flats and on three or four occasions I have heard blood-curdling screams in the early hours of the morning and it is only ever the foreigners living here that think of investigating or calling the police. One time the scream came from my wife’s friend who lived in the apartment opposite us, so we called the police (not just for her safety but it was 5am on a Sunday!); her boyfriend had threatened her with a knife, hit her, and smashed a glass door in her apartment. When the police arrived, we watched from the opposite building. They did not enter the apartment, spoke only with my wife’s friend for about 2 minutes, and then left.

    I have also had friends intervene in similar situations to what you described. The result was that they either got in trouble themselves or they were told by Korean co-workers that they shouldn’t have got involved, despite the woman in question being struck quite badly, apparently, in each situation. I think it is just part of the culture at the moment that people don’t involve themselves in others business when it comes to things like this, because the stories I am hearing like this keep on mounting up.


  11. There is nothing I hate more than a man hitting a woman!!!!!! And you probably were scared. I would be!


  12. I’m so sorry to read your account of events. You must have been so frightened and then very upset. Your story is like something right out of a Korean drama/


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