Photo By Chris Duggan
Awhile back, I mentioned “the old Japanese guy who recommended I beat my wife if she does not drink with me” in a post about my Love Motel speech. I said there would be “more on the old Japanese guy another time.” Well, another time has come.
There were a few old Japanese guys in my Korean class last semester. The one I’m referring to is wearing a yellow tie in the picture above. He seemed like a decent enough guy. He made a lot of jokes in class about being an alcoholic: What do you do when you’re sad? Drink. What’s the best way to cure a cold? Drink. What’s your hobby? Drinking. What did you do this weekend? Drink. Etc… But, that is par for the course among guys in Korea. Another time, when he was asked where a younger classmate could meet women, he suggested hanging out around the Kangnam metro station at 6PM when offices closed. There were a lot of very beautiful 20-something women, he informed us laughing with glee. This made me wonder a little. I knew his wife and family were in Japan.
The class went out for dinner and drinks one night. I ended up at one end of the table with Wife Beater and the Korean-American kid whose Korean speech was about drinking and going to massage parlors. In hindsight, I should have been obvious something was going to happen. But, they kept it together for a while. We talked about the Korean drinks we liked; made some small talk about finding the Korean-American guy a girlfriend; and then Wife Beater started asking about my wife. That was okay for a while, too. Where did you meet? What does she do? How old is she? Where did you get married? Did your family come? Will you stay in Korea? Does she want to go to the United States? The usual. But, then he asked if she and I drank together.
“We drink together sometimes,” I said. “But, she doesn’t like to drink much. So it doesn’t happen that often.”
“You have to hit her and make her drink,” He said.
I thought he was joking. “Hit her?” I laughed.
“Sure.” He smiled. “When she doesn’t want to drink hit her.” He moved his hand back and forth and made a slapping sound: “Tish, Tish!” He tilted his head back and laughed loudly. “Next time you suggest drinking together she’ll like it.” He lowered his head, took the soju shot-glass between his hands like he was praying, and raised his wide eyes up. “Yes, husband. Thank you,” he said in a mock woman’s voice and bowed. He turned his head left and drank the rest of his soju in the deferential Korean style. He turned, looked at me, and laughed loudly as if he’d just heard a wonderful joke.
I showed him and toothy grimace and let out a single fake chuckle. I turned to the Japanese graduate student to my right and asked how his studies were going.
When I told Jiyeoun about the incident, she stopped me after I said the guy recommended beating her. “Was he joking?” she asked.
“I don’t think so. He made slapping gestures and everything. It didn’t seem like a joke. He was smiling and laughing about it. He told me my wife would like drinking with me next time.”
“I hate hearing that. Don’t tell me any more. It’s making me angry,” she said. “So, what did you do when he said that?”
“I didn’t do anything. I just stopped talking. I changed the subject. I started talking to the other guy sitting next to me.”
“You didn’t say anything to him?”
“What should I have said? What do you say to something like that? I’m not going to fight with the guy in Korean at our class dinner. I doubt a guy like that is going to listen even if I said something. He’s in his mid-50s. He didn’t get like that overnight. I’m sure he knew I didn’t like what he was saying. I changed the subject and didn’t talk with him again.”
“If I was there I would have fought with him. I would have yelled at him. I would kill him,” Jiyeoun said gleefully.
This got me thinking. What is my obligation in that situation? Should I have said something? What should I have said? Would it make a difference? Would it have made the situation worse? By not saying anything, am I condoning his type of behavior? I’m certainly not doing anything to address it. But, maybe simply changing the subject and talking to someone else was enough.
But, you’ll notice my arm is around the guy in the above picture. (I’m the one in the blue shirt with the buzz cut.) The photo was taken after the incident in question. I chose to stand next to him. He put his arm around my shoulder and I reciprocated. Honestly, in my preoccupation with looking good for the camera, I totally forgot about the Wife Beating.
In writing this, I’ve come to realize saying something would have been the right thing . But, it was easier to let it slide, talk to someone else, and pretend it somehow addressed the situation. In the future, I hope to be more courageous. Meanwhile, this is my belated, slightly cowardly, wholly inadequate remedy.
International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
Face to Face: The Face of Woman's Rights
Amnesty International: Campaign to Stop Violence Against Women
Ministry of Gender Equality (Korea)
National Domestic Violence Hotline (USA)
Women Matter (USA)