Last Saturday was supposed to be a happy reunion with friends, since my husband and I got back from our three-month vacation in the Philippines and hubby’s best buddy had just arrived from Japan. Instead, the merry occasion was marred by an unpleasant encounter with a group of drunk and rambunctious Koreans.
The incident occurred in a restaurant in Gwangneungnae, a few blocks away from our friends’ apartment. It was getting late, so we didn’t look for another place. The restaurant seemed comfy enough. Besides, it wasn’t crowded and noisy when we got there. Things seemed quite normal… until the group sitting one table away from us started quarreling among themselves, palpably very drunk. One member of the group walked out, came back after cursing everyone at their table and resumed drinking as if nothing happened, and then they were one happy group again.
Nobody cared about the drama, not our group nor the other customers, not even the restaurant owner and his family. When something like that happens in Korea, the best thing to do is to ignore it, but a couple of times, we had to stop chatting, because the drunk group was making so much noise we could barely hear one another. We shot a few side-glances at them when they were making a scene, but we never said anything to them. It’s ironic that just a few minutes after my female friend told me (she thinks) it’s safer in South Korea than in other countries, our group got involved in a physical altercation.
I don’t know how or why it happened. We were minding our own business. We had been there for an hour or so just chatting, eating and drinking when one of the men from the other table threw a fit and asked the men from our group what their problem was and why they were staring at them. We weren’t even looking at them until he called our attention. My husband and his friend told him, “We’re good. We’re okay. We don’t want to bother you.”
They knew better than to give in to a drunk or should I say demented man’s provocation, so they acted like “real men” and said sorry though they weren’t doing anything wrong. That didn’t appease the schmuck. He kept verbally harassing us.
Instead of telling him to stop, his companions, also intoxicated, joined in. I asked my husband if there was something he or his friend said that enraged everyone at that table. He told me,”They’re just drunk. Don’t mind them.” That time, I was starting to get nervous (and upset), but my husband assured me that as long as we don’t say anything to offend them, they would eventually stop badgering us, so we ignored them.
To everyone’s shock, the woman the drunk men kept calling 이모 (aunt) hurled a pack of cigarettes and a lighter at us. I don’t know which of those hit me, but I felt something brush against my shoulder. I wasn’t hurt, but what she did was soooooo rude and uncalled for that I couldn’t let it pass. I looked at her furiously while she kept swearing. My female friend could not contain her annoyance, “What’s wrong with her? Is she crazy?” Her husband’s face turned so red it looked like he was ready to explode with anger, but the man’s a saint for trying to keep his cool even after the throwing incident. He told the drunk men to go outside with him and talk things through, but the moment they got up, they started shoving him and my husband.
This is when the restaurant owner and another man stepped in. All of the men went out, while my friend and I stayed inside. The woman’s incessant cursing continued. She stood right in front of me, calling me names, telling me that I am a “dirty Filipina”. (I don’t even know how she found out that I am a Filipino. I think maybe their group overheard me and my husband telling our friends about our recent vacation in the Philippines.) Even when the restaurant owner’s wife intervened and my female friend told her to stop, she wouldn’t let up.
I couldn’t tolerate her anymore. I just had to tell her what a pain in the neck she was. “You have no manners!” I remember telling her over and over again. She hollered “Sharrop!” (Shut up!) in my face and pushed me pretty hard that I fell back in my chair. I was petrified! My friend came to my defense, telling her to leave us alone, but the more she became belligerent.
While she was cussing, I stood up and threw a glass of soda in her face. I guess she didn’t see that coming.
She was going to hit me, but my husband came back to see what was going on inside, and was able to restrain her. She was totally out of control! My husband had to hold her hands, because she kept hitting him in the chest. She was struggling to get back inside to grab me, but my husband was able to push her out of the door.
My friend and I were told to stay inside, but when we heard commotion outside, we went out to check if our husbands were all right. The “crazy” woman was yelling and telling her companions that I threw soda in her face. When I went out, one of the drunk men came towards me and asked me if I was the one who threw soda in his aunt’s face. I said, “Yes, I threw soda in her face, because she hurt me!” My husband managed to pull him away from me before he could harm me. I think he was trying to reason with the man, but he pushed him against the wall and tried to punch him. After several attempts to calmly resolve the conflict, but to no avail, my husband fought back.
As I was shouting, “Ya! Ya! Stop it!” and my friend was urging others to break up the fight, the woman attacked me. She pulled my hair and hit me in the head multiple times. I was screaming and covering my face, and when I finally got the chance, I turned around, pulled her hair, too, and kicked her. My friend grabbed her and was trying to pull her away from me, but she wouldn’t let go of my hair. I kept kicking her, but man, was she tough! The other customers, mostly men, came to the rescue. My husband and his friend were dealing with the other mutton-heads, so they probably didn’t notice what was happening to us.
I was trembling with anger. My friend tried to console me, “Are you okay? She’s crazy! Really, really crazy!”
We had barely recovered from shock when the woman attacked me again, but before she could grab hold of my hair, I managed to grasp both her hands and I squeezed them so hard I thought I was going to break them. “Don’t touch me again!” I told her. She yelled in my face and kicked me. She was going to kick me the second time, but I pushed her away from me. I turned my back on her and was going to walk away, but she grabbed me by the hair. My friend tried to defend me by pulling the woman’s hair and telling her to let go of me. She did let go of me, but she took her anger out on my friend. She grabbed her by the hair like what she did to me and dragged her to the ground. I tried smacking her hands and kicking her, so she would let go of my friend, but she held on tighter. My friend couldn’t fight back, because she was pinned down. I kept kicking the woman as hard as I could. I’m pretty sure I was hurting her, but maybe she was too intoxicated to feel it that time. The restaurant owner and his wife were telling her to let go, but she wouldn’t listen. I pulled her hair as tight as I possibly could and I was shouting, “Let go of her and I’ll let go of your hair!”
A man pulled me away and brought me to the restaurant. The restaurant owner’s wife locked the door and told me to stay inside. “How about my friend?” I asked her, but she didn’t reply.
A young man went inside using the other entrance. He was instructed to lock it, too. I was terrified. I could hear my friend crying and screaming. I was telling them, “Do something! Call the police!” but they just looked at me. I wanted to go out to help my friend, but the restaurant owner’s wife stood by the door, and told me, “No, no.” I saw the restaurant owner trying to help my friend, but the woman would not let go.
Finally, my husband and his friend saw what was happening and rushed to my friend’s aid. The woman was diabolic! She wasn’t just pulling my friend’s hair, she was beating her up! I saw my husband press his knee against the woman’s back, so she couldn’t move, and then he held her wrists, so she’d loosen her grip on my friend’s hair. My friend was able to wriggle free and run to the door. She called the police. She was crying the whole time and complaining of a headache. I felt so sorry for her. She wasn’t supposed to get hurt. She was just trying to defend me.
We stayed in the restaurant while our husbands were outside, trying to talk some sense into the woman and the men with her. The woman kept banging the door. She wanted to get in, but it was locked.
While my friend was talking to the police, the ruckus among the men continued. My friend told the police to hurry up, because people were getting hurt… but they came when the fight was over. We didn’t even know that the police arrived. My friend was going to call them again, but the restaurant owner said the police had already come. They left right away. I couldn’t believe they didn’t even check to see if anyone was hurt!
My friend got bruises and a scrape on her knee. She said that her head was pounding. My left hand hurt so much I couldn’t move it. When I got home, I noticed some scratches on my hand and a bruise on my arm. My injuries were nothing compared to my friend’s. I was all right the next day, but my friend wasn’t. Her husband called us up in the morning and told us that his wife’s head hurt a lot and she had been crying all night.
I haven’t met anyone as obnoxious and as violent as the woman we have encountered that night. I have never been in a cat fight. It was the first for my friend, too.
I don’t blame my husband and his friend for losing their cool. They tried a few times to calm down those drunk men, but they were really looking for a fight… and the fight didn’t end well for them. My husband managed to floor one of the drunks. It was only then that they simmered down. I don’t know how they got the woman to pacify.
One of the men apologized to me and my friend. He said he was sorry that his aunt hurt us. He seemed to have sobered up. My friend and I were quiet. We didn’t want to hear from any of them.
After a while, the woman approached us, trying to apologize, too, but she was still in drunken stupor, mumbling nonsense. I told my husband to get her out of our sight, because she was only bothering us. She was asked to go back to her seat.
What irked me more was that after the brawl they started, they went back to their seats and drank and talked as if nothing happened and the people at the restaurant did the same thing. “Just like that? No police? Nobody is even saying anything to them?” I was complaining to my husband, then to his friend, “Look at your wife. She’s badly hurt.” After showing her husband the bruises she got and her scraped knee, she picked up her phone and said she was going to call the police again, but her husband stopped her. He said calling the police would not do us any good. They would probably put the blame on us, because one of the drunks was badly injured. I gave him the “are-you-kidding-me” look, but was too tired to push the idea of calling the cops, so I just kept quiet. It would probably be pointless to call them again since they came before and did nothing!
We barely finished our drinks and the 오댕국 that we ordered before the hullabaloo began, but we decided to leave before the drunks go psycho again. My husband paid the bill and we left, distraught and ashamed of how things had turned out that night.
We went to the nearest 7-eleven to have coffee before heading home. We talked about what happened and what we could have done to avoid it. My husband was telling his friend that they should have just walked away. The other was saying how could they do that when the drunks were already throwing punches?
I told my husband that maybe if I had not thrown soda in the ajumma’s face, the situation wouldn’t have gotten out of hand, he pat my head and said I did the right thing.
I remember one of the first things my husband taught me when I came to Korea was to always stand up for myself. Yes, the ajumma was drunk, but being drunk is not an acceptable excuse for acting like a moron. I threw soda in her face… and I’m not sorry I did it!
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20 Cultural Mistakes to Avoid in Korea (seoulistic.com)
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Ask a Korean! News: Please Don’t Do This (askakorean.blogspot.kr)