Kimchi and Coffee

Justin Eckl

(Brent Schwert)

There’s nothing like getting harassed by a stranger in the good ole U.S. In Korea, walking past a seemingly dangerous pack of post-adolescent alpha males just doesn’t pack the same entertainment value as it does back home.
Here, a gang of well-fed, Hollister-clad high school students, or, even worse, scowling, baseball hat-cocked thug wannabes, is sure to tell you exactly what they think about you, or, at the very least, resort to some stock insults about your perceived sexual preference (i.e. faggot, homo, etc.)
But in Korea, you can walk past similarly clad delinquents who walk and talk with just as much lan at 3:00 a.m. and you won’t catch so much as an intimidating stare.
A few days ago, I was crossing College Avenue near Plantz Hall when some mischief-faced post-high schooler stuck his head out of the passenger-side window and yelled, “Heyyyyy!” at me.
A few years back, this might have provoked me to yell something equally witty in response, but what he said was innocuous enough. Plus, I’ve done some passenger-side heckling of random strangers of my own in my day, so, you know, I can’t be a hypocrite.
What I thought immediately afterward was something like, “Wow. I haven’t experienced a chance verbal onslaught like that since, well, before I left for Korea.”
So why do American males harass random strangers while Korean males don’t? I’m not an authority, but I think the reason for this has something to do with what we commonly refer to as – but is not really captured by the term – masculinity.
I’d like to avoid the Asian-male-as-somehow-less-than-completely-masculine bias because it simply isn’t true. Any culture – Korea’s – in which the proverb, “A man cries three times in his life: at birth, upon his father’s death, and upon his mother’s death,” plays a role in how young boys should behave is not lacking masculine “cred.”
As you can perhaps tell by the quote, though, masculinity in Asia has more to do with a sort of glorified stoicism than does the Schwarzenegger-like machismo it’s associated with in the U.S.
Regardless, the topic is too broad and complex for me to tackle fully in just one column. Suffice it to say it’ll come up again when I write about the time I saw two Korean cops holding hands – downright hilarious, folks.
Until then, don’t let me fool you into thinking that Koreans don’t engage in any harassing of strangers of their own. Take the time I was upbraided by an old man for about 10 minutes on the subway for wearing shorts that were “too short.”
And who said Korean men aren’t masculine?