A Complex Slice of Life
I get on Line one of the Seoul Subway at Bucheon station at 5:40am on a Thursday. There is only one empty seat and I take it. To my left is an old man. To my right are three young girls. I notice that the girl to my immediate right is wearing a very short skirt. They are very noisy and animated and seem to be bothering the other riders on the train, telling each other stories and sipping coffee-flavored milk noisily. As for me, I have my headphones on and I’m studying for midterms. As we approach Yeokgok station the girl next to me leaps out of her seat and runs to the door. I notice that she is in fact not wearing a short skirt but what amounts to a nightgown. She is heavily made up. When the subway doors open, she chucks her empty milk carton out the door and runs to her seat before the door closes.
At this point everyone on the train is giving these girls dirty looks and I am fully expecting an old man to give them a harsh reprimand, but other than dirty looks, nothing happens. The ill will towards these girls is growing. The one furthest down from me starts telling a story in which almost every other word is ‘시발연’ and the people around me are groaning to themselves. Then one of the girls gets a phone call from a guy she calls 오빠 but speaks very politely to. They found a cell phone. Was it that guy in the blue shirt? 오빠’s friend? He’d have to ask him later, because that guy’s sleeping. It went on like this.
Then the girls started to get curious about me. I pretended not to hear as they talked about me. First they looked at what I was reading. ‘Oh, my head hurts just looking at all that English.’
‘Hey did you ever have a foreigner?’
‘No, and you know why? Can’t communicate.’
‘What about “I love you.”‘
‘Oh yeah, “I love you!” “I love you” is enough English.’
‘Talk to him.’
The girl in the middle, who was quiet up to this point, stepped up to the plate. ‘Cutey! Cutey! Oh Cutey!’
I pretended to not hear them. I looked around at the other people on the train. They hated these girls. At this point everyone around us was male and old school (Subway line 1, y’all) and I felt this sudden surge of empathy. These girls were acting out. Everybody hated them. Nobody even cared enough to tell them to act right. They were on their own in a hostile world, stuck with two options: face the world’s cold disapproving stare or ignore it completely. In a grimy, miserable world where nobody cared about them except 오빠, where they were headed from Incheon to Uijeongbu at dawn, covered in makeup and half dressed because they were born in a country that makes whores of them, why should they care?