Racist Korean Rashomon Morning

Yesterday, the bus driver ruined my morning. I just wanted to be left alone and go to work, but no, he had to get into my life, embarrass me in front of strangers, and ruin my morning.

The bus was packed as I got in. There are two ways to get in the bus: the front closest to the driver, and the back which is really an exit, but people in Korea use to get into the bus anyway. The bus that morning was so packed that I remember whispering “fuck” as I got in and swiped my card. I was standing at the front, making sure not to block the driver’s view of the right side mirror.

After a long tunnel, we stopped. The door opened and a couple of people behind me were trying to get out. I wanted to make life easier for them since the bus was so packed, so I got out of the bus only to go back in once they got out. The bus had less people now, so I went further back. I was enjoying listening to This American Life and updating my Twitter feed when I noticed the bus wasn’t moving. The bus driver got out of his seat, went straight to me, and yelled, “CARD! CARD!” while pointing to the bus’s card reader. He must’ve assumed I just got in and assumed that I didn’t bother paying.

He didn’t speak in Korean nor was he being very polite, so I shot back, “I already did!” And I heard a Korean lady, probably the one next to me when I first got in say, “He paid already.” Content, he went back and resumed driving. No apologies. I had to call my friend in Canada during the ride just to calm down about, all the while shooting dirty looks at the driver. And as I was about to get off, continuing to imagine his death, he gave a goofy wave goodbye. Idiot.

A co-worker heard this story and said that perhaps I was reading it all wrong. The bus driver actually took the time to get off his seat, come to me, and remind me to pay in English. Most Koreans would’ve just been yelled at from the driver’s seat. I say bullshit. How would she like it if she was travelling in the US and the bus driver stopping the bus only to yell at her, “PAY! PAY!” when she already did?

My View: That bus driver was a racist. Why would he assume that I didn’t pay? Do I look like someone who doesn’t know how buses work, or for that matter, how the world economy works? I just wanted to go to my job. I didn’t wake up in the morning thinking I’m gonna screw the bus driver. And really, if it was a Korean person, I’m sure he would’ve given him or her the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately for him, I already paid. I’m sure if I didn’t and he had to drag me to the card reader, that would’ve made his day. I’m sure he can’t wait to tell a foreigner off.

Co-worker’s View: Joe is being overly sensitive. He’s been binge-watching Black-ish and the new OJ Simpson show. He really should know that he’s not black, and he’s not being oppressed in Korea. I’m sure that was just an honest mistake. He’s lucky the bus driver even used English.

Bus Driver’s View: Did that guy just get in without paying? I’d better tell him. Luckily, “card” is the same word for card in Korean. Maybe he’ll get it when I tell him.

Lady in the Bus’s View: Didn’t that guy already get in before the tunnel? I remember him whispering “fuck” as he swiped his card. I’d better tell the bus driver. That foreigner mustn’t speak a lick of Korean. I’ll bet this’ll ruin his morning.

Now I’ve calmed down since yesterday. And yes, I know there was a misunderstanding, but I can’t help but sense glee in the bus driver tone as he told me off in a crowded bus. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but even if it was, the perception of the whole thing is bad: a Korean man yelling at a foreigner in front of people early in the morning. It’s very hard for a person to be understanding and open-minded if he or she was on the receiving end of that abuse, especially if they went out of their way just a few moments ago, to make life more convenient for other commuters. Sometimes you don’t have to outwardly racist in order to be racist, just the appearance of racism is enough.

And that really, is one of Korea’s problems. Sure, there is racism. There are people out there who truly hate or don’t want anything to do with foreigners, but there’s also mild or “innocent” racism. An example of it would be places like Koreans-only establishments. Their excuse is not so much that they don’t like foreigners; it’s just that dealing with English is a problem. It’s all just a misunderstanding on the foreigner’s part. This is often excused by saying, “no, no, it’s not racist, but…”

But what?

But your foreign ass just has to deal with it.