An Inspiring Slice of Life
Miyoung and I were on Line One of the Seoul Subway headed for Myeongdong Cathedral for Miyoung’s catechism. The weather was warm and at 4:30 on a Saturday the train is packed with weekend warriors in the city to wander around and see the sights. In other words, the subway was not the relatively ruly world of commuters that it would be on, say, a Tuesday morning at 7. We had to transfer at Seoul Station to Line Four and had strategically gotten on the train at the back end, so that we would get off right near the stairs leading to the Line Four platform. The train stopped and the doors opened. Outside was typical of this time of day, with people lined up eight deep on either side of the door waiting to get on.
For some reason we’re not moving. All of the people getting off at Seoul Station have made their intentions clear and the people standing by the door who weren’t getting off have squeezed out of the way of the flow of traffic, and yet still nobody was moving. We all independently made the group decision to push our way out of this impasse. Still it was slow going, and we didn’t seem to be making any progress. When I got within three feet of the door I saw what the problem was. While everyone else was waiting on the platform patiently, one ajumma, indistinguishable from any other early fifties, permed ajumma, was trying to power her way into the train before anyone else had gotten off. Here she was shoving back an entire wall of people, a mere trickle of people making it past her on one side, oblivious to the fact that the other fifteen people waiting to get on the train were in fact doing just that, waiting.
Finally one man, a short man of about fifty with a dark yellow suit and large wire-framed glasses, took it upon himself to remedy the situation. In a tone of voice that I recall thinking was ‘forceful but not impolite’ he said ‘Get on after we get off’ and proceeded to put both hands on her shoulders and push her back and out of the train. The going was swift because there was nobody behind her foolhardy enough to follow her lead into the train. Properly put in her place (which, as a person waiting to get on the train1, is marked off with yellow foot stickers on the platform) she stood, still sort of in the way next to the regular line of train riders, with a look of amazement on her face, as if to say ‘what’s happened to this world?’ Every single person getting off the train looked coldly at her, and everyone who had the chance, myself included, knocked her with their shoulder as a warning not to repeat her antisocial ways.