In which I Get Attacked by a Homeless Man on the Subway and Think I Have Broken My Foot

I haven’t written much about what I’m actually doing in South Korea.  Instead, I’ve had a few pissy entries, a few where I wax poetic on living abroad, and mostly just an endless stream of chatter.  I didn’t anticipate any real cohesion between entries other than the topic of living abroad, but I also didn’t intend to be this disjointed or cheesy with AlexaAbroad.

Whenever I read friends’ blogs, particularly ones also living in places other than the US, I always think to myself how lovely it is when they just describe the events of a day.  I tell myself I’ll do that too and take notes throughout each day, sometimes begin typing up an entry in a word processing document, then just never post it for one reason or another.  This weekend though deserves its share on internet attention.

The week before this one was a vacation for me, with only one day of work (Friday), because of Chuseok.  Chuseok is the second most important Korean holiday and focuses around the harvest, time with family, and falls on the autumnal equinox.  It’s generally equated to Thanksgiving.

Saturday the 25th, I had training for a new class I’ll be teaching called CNN.  It’s an advanced conversation course where the students (usually around 11 or 12 years old) use material from CNN broadcasts to write essays and hone their listening abilities.  I got to see some friends from my initial orientation and that led to dinner with Anthony and Cindi, and eventually a subway ride with Cindi to go meet up with another foreign teacher friend, Jessica.

Training was in Sinchon (all of the places I name are various districts of Seoul) and we were heading over to Sunshin Women’s University subway stop, which is only about 25 minutes away.  As we’re entering the subway station in Sinchon, a man keeps bumping into Cindi and I and stepping on our feet.  I didn’t think much of it at first because some Koreans, especially older ones, don’t have much respect for foreigners and will step on you, shove you out of the way, cut in front of you in line, whatever.  But then it just kept happening and it became pretty obvious to us it was intentional.

Cindi is living in Busan, which is along the southern coast of Korea, so we needed to stop and buy her a subway ticket (people living in Seoul use rechargeable passes called T money) and figured our new friend would leave us alone then.  He continued to trail us however and got on to the same subway car as us.  We tried sitting somewhere crowded but a seat opened up right across from us and he sat down, spread his jacket over his lap, and began touching himself and even flashes us once.  It was awful and there was no real way to get anyone’s attention because 1) we don’t speak Korean and 2) most Koreans keep their eyes to the ground and listen to music or read on the subway.  We keep trying to switch seats or change cars but the man continued following us everywhere we went and eventually began groping at us in crowded cars through 3 different line transfers.

By this time, I could feel my heart pumping, I was clammy from anxiety, and Cindi and I keep exchanging on-the-verge-of-tears glances.  Trying to stay clear headed to think of a way to alert someone to the situation was not working at all, and before I knew it, I had elbowed the man in the gut, spun around to shove him away, and yelled “GET OFF ME!”.  His hand planting itself on my butt once again and his awful breathing on Cindi and I had gotten to be to much to bear and I had just snapped.  And it worked to get somebody’s attention.

We moved across the car and turned our backs on the man, but he came back for more, shoving and poking at me and speaking in slurred Korean.  A young guy, probably a university student since we were only 2 stops away from a university, asked us if we need help, then tried speaking to the man in Korean.  He told us that the man in drunk and homeless and essentially, just try and ignore him.  Then the homeless man tried to punch the student helping us!  He was chasing him down the subway car shaking his fist and the student says “Sorry, I guess today is a bad day…” as he was trying to escape the man.  I felt so awful and as you can imagine, the whole subway car was staring at us by this point.  Another young guy and his girlfriend stepped in, gave us their seats, and created a wall between us and the man until we get to our next stop.  He takes us straight to the police station at this subway stop and stays for a moment to help us explain the situation until we could speak to a guard who knew English, too.  They looked at the security tape, went down to the platform to try and find the guy, and about ten minutes later, we were escorted back to the platform to catch another train.

Even though getting back on the subway made us both skittish, we were only 2 stops away from our intended destination and needed to get back on the horse again, so to speak.  We made it shakily to meet up with Jessica and after a bit of downtime, began drinking.  We began the night with a few beers at an ex-pat bar, had some White Dogs (soju, cider, and drinking yogurt) on Jessica’s roof, and ended the night with cheap white wine at another foreign teacher’s apartment discussing all the food we missed.  And by “ended the night”, I mean that we drank until nearly 7 o’clock in the morning.

During Chuseok week, my left foot had started to really hurt, particularly the area right in front of my toes.  Saturday it had begun swelling and was beginning to look really red, and drinking dulled the physical pain of my foot, as well as the emotions following being violated on the subway.  I enjoyed and did not regret that night of uncharacteristic drinking, not even when I woke up with a still throbbing, swollen foot and a hangover mid-day Sunday.

Off we went in search of food (Pho for fuel!), me limping a bit behind everyone.  Cindi and Keegan had both checked out my foot and thought I may have fractured or broken it and when we met up with Jill (another friend of ours from training who happens to have gone to school for nursing), she agreed that I needed to get an x-ray ASAP.  But it was Sunday and we were heading to Dream Forest so what’s another day of injury, right?!

Jill had brought along 2 brand new teachers from her school, Laura and Joe, so the six of us got on a bus and headed for the park.  Dream Forest was absolutely gorgeous with outdoor sculptures, fountains, beautiful landscaping, an ancestral shrine, and surrounded by enormous mountain peaks.  Another great day of simply seeing something beautiful and wandering.

After dinner with Jill, Joe, and Laura, I headed back to Ilsan to shower, ice my foot, and get some sleep.  The next day my school’s manager Sarah, noticed I was still limping and made me an appointment for an x-ray with an orthopedist.

I must say, I have been really amazed with the efficiency of the national health care here in Korea.  Getting a same day appointment with an orthopedist would never happen in the US, and I was in and out in 40 minutes.  Some people have questioned whether I received preferential treatment because I’m American, but I do not believe I did for a couple of reasons.

1) Confuscianism.  The influence of this ancient philosopher is still felt in Korea and anything in government but fair treatment for the greater good is unlikely.  It would’ve thrown a cog in the system to have me “butt in line.”

2) Common sense.  In America, you can know for a fact that you have an ear infection, yet you still need to make a doctor’s appointment, go to the office, and then pay to be told what you already know just to get a prescription.  Here, you can walk into a pharmacy, tell the trained pharmacist your symptoms, and they will give you medication.  The medical system isn’t clogged up with bullshit is what I’m getting at.

As the title suggests, I only thought I had broken my foot, and I was pretty relieved when I was showed my x-ray.  My manager translated for me as the doctor asked me questions about my pain and caused even more by pressing down really hard on the bones in my left foot.  Some of my diagnosis was probably lost in translation (story of my life right now), but I was informed I have really thin bone structure and that large amounts of pressure had been exerted on to my left foot, causing the swelling, bruising, and pain.  He also mentioned that I might be having digestion or kidney issues, but didn’t seem to think that was much to be worried about.  In Eastern medicine style though, he prescribed me a digestive aid along with my pain and anti-inflammatory medication.

Now the swelling is down a bit and I wear a support bandage on my foot when walking to and from school, but it still hurts quite a bit and hoping the yogurt I eat for breakfast every morning and my calcium supplement help out in the bone strength department.

This had better heal because this Sunday I’ve got plans to visit Gyeongbuk Palace with Jill, Joe, and Laura and the next weekend I’ll be dancing like crazy to Justice and Fatboy Slim at Global Gathering in Seoul!!

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2 thoughts on “In which I Get Attacked by a Homeless Man on the Subway and Think I Have Broken My Foot

  1. Oh lovely lady that’s just fucking awful! I’m sorry that happened. I hope your foot is feeling better by now and that day is fading a little from your mind. Sometimes I feel like even if I’m just having a sort of bad day, it is really exacerbated by the fact that I can only communicate some of what I’m feeling. So, I’m certain that language issues and being abroad just made it that much more frustrating and confusing to be in such an awful situation. I hope you’re feeling better and settling in some more. I hope you post again soon! Much love!

  2. Pharmacies worked the same in Sri Lanka. Though, maybe one step further, I’d just go in and ask for a specific drug and the pharmacist would write me a “prescription” right there. But essentially, the same, no expensive middle man. Also, all of the prescriptions I got (mostly for UTI issues…) were never more than 0.80USD.

    And jeez louise, I’m sorry you had to deal with that man on the metro! That’s so scary.

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