Everyday I walk home from work and observe. I live in a very dense, old and family oriented part of Seoul which means people of all ages are constantly shuffling through and along the streets and alley ways.
But the most entertaining shufflers are the old guys.
Old guys in Korea are called "a-ja-shees". Considering respect in Korea is given to people older than you, some of these old guys experience nothing but respectful gestures all day because they are the oldest guys around.
But what happens when one old guy confronts another old guy? In my neighborhood, it turns into a good 'ol Mexican standoff.
A few weeks ago on my walk home I notice an ajashee ahead of me walking his bike. He was moving very slowly but with dignity. The kind of dignity that says, "I'm walking slowly because the place I need to be, can wait." However, not in front of him was another ajashee pulling a cart with some recyclables he must have picked up for some extra money.
Both of them were on the same side of the street, both walking fairly slowly and both looking about 86-years-old, or higher.
As I walked I noticed neither was making any move to avert the oncoming old guy. Both stayed the course. And both, with dead set sincerity, were looking the other one directly in the eye. They were headed on a collision course.
(Cart ajashee) (bike ajashee)
I slowed my walk. I wanted to see this. At ten feet apart, I thought for sure the bike guy would move. No move. At five feet apart I figured, without a doubt, the cart guy would at least pause. No pause.
I was almost caught up with them when they literally bumped into each other and stopped they're forward progress. A yelling match ensued. They're walks were morbidly slow, but the insults flew fast. I am not fluent in Korean, but my best guess at a translation goes as follows:
"Hey, you, get out of my way!"
"Your way? I've lived here for 50 YEARS!"
"Well, I'm older, so move."
"Ooohh no, I'm older. Get out of the way."
"You fool, look at my wrinkles, I have more."
"Don't be an idiot cart puller, my wrinkles are deeper."
"OK, what year were you born? I was born in '21."
"Ha! I was born in '19!"
And that is all it took.
When I passed them they were in full confrontation mode. But once I passed, I looked back and saw the gracious loser. The cart ajashee made the move around the oncoming elder. He even looked back with a smile and a wave.
This story made me laugh but also put many parts of this culture into perspective. It's all about respect and learning when or who to give it to or when and how to receive it graciously.
...get Lost my friends.