Today was a good day. I've come to believe that we probably spend at least half our lives battling our bad habits. But I up early, had a good breakfast, wrote for about two hours and went for a long walk. I even had a healthy lunch and dinner. This may not seem much of a challenge, in and of itself, but I used to know this girl. We weren't close friends but more than just co-workers. Anyway, she loved vegetables. Loved them to death. For her a salad was ambrosia. For me, ambrosia comes in the form of a Quarter Pounder, well any hamburger... make that anything fried. Consequently, I'm always at war with myself when it comes to eating.
Because I'd done lots of healthy things today and it had not been war to do them, I went to work happy. Because I love my job, I left work even happier. I work in what Koreans call a villa. Villa's can get quite tall, up to six or seven stories. It really seems to mean anything that is not a house and not an apartment building, though most have apartments in them. The build I work in is old which means the exterior is coated with red, clay shingles and we must use space heaters in the winter.
But summer is on it's way. We had to turn on the air con-- this is what air conditioning is called all over Asia. However, by the time I stepped out into the kind of night that always recalls to me those muggy summer nights spent fishing, or at the fair grounds, or just sitting around a camp fire. There was a bite in the air though, enough to need a jacket, but it was humid enough at the same time to make a jacket uncomfortable. I've only experience this kind of night in Korea and I suppose it's like will one day recall my days here.
Earphones in , MP3 set to my "work out" play list, I strode toward my apartment, entertaining catching the bus and going for a second walk down by the river or hopping on the subway and going to Hauendae or Gwanali for a night walk on the beach. The air smelled clean and slightly electric like ozone.
And then I saw the man. From a distance-- I have no depth perception so distance is very difficult for me-- he looked to be in the road. He also looked like he could be a rock. There is construction going on in the area and the way people walked passed him gave me hope that it was just that. But as I drew closer my eyes were better able to define the spaces and then I was there, MP3 blaring in my ears, looking at the man lying in the road. He had fives and tens spread around him from passerby who had felt bad enough to pay for the guilt and kept on going. My happiness dissipated. My good day was not stolen by this event. It's just I don't keep going when I see someone who is hurt or might need help. In America I would ask him what was wrong and if there was any I could call. I would call 911 if he was too disorientated to answer.
Here I don't speak much Korean. I couldn't really help him if he really needed help. I've seen some extreme begging and this form of it, lying with part of their body out into the road seems to be a thing. Not common, exactly, but I've seen it before. .
But even with that possibility, I was reluctant to leave him lying there. He might truly be hurt. Some students were nearby, saw my concern. I was the only adult who had shown any. But just my concern prompted all three of them to try to help him. Korean children wear uniforms and high school students get off at 9pm. It was a bit after 9 so these boys were probably walking home after a grueling day of school . When the crosswalk turned, I realized I wasn't as helpless as I'd thought.
There's a bakery on the corner that I sometimes shop at. I went in. After some gesturing I got him to get up and look. He was able to communicated to me that the police would come in five minutes I lingered, watching the man and watching the boys. I've always had this inclination to protect people. I wanted the boys and the man to be safe. Finally, the boys wandered off. A few seconds later the police arrived. The man jumped to his feet, gathered his money quickly, and bolted. The police officer dashed off in pursuit leaving an empty cruiser sitting on the side of the road, caution lights flashing.
I put my earphones in and headed home. But I still felt bad. I found myself wondering what had made him so desperate to beg this way? Not only is it dangerous but in Korea you are assumed guilty first and must prove your innocence.
M.R. Jordan is a writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. Lives in South Korea with her two cats, Bear and Geumbi.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Gold in English)... then (above) and now (below).