When possible I really enjoy a game of ultimate frisbee. It’s been one of my favorite things about being in Korea. Every once in a while a group of teachers find a field and spend the afternoon throwing the disc. Last Sunday I took the subway to the western part of Gwangju, about an hour away from our apartment. Usually I try to find a seat where I’m not sitting next to anyone on either side of me or I’ll just choose to stand. I had found a nice corner seat where there was no one sitting in the whole row of that subway car.
Several stops later an older man in his (I would guess) 70s sat one seat away, which is quite fine with me. You should know that earlier in the day I had about three cups of coffee, which is up from my normal one cup of coffee. But it was the weekend. Time to enjoy a few cups right? Because of the previously consumed coffee I was unknowingly bouncing my leg up and down. A few moments later the man leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder. I took off my head phones to be polite, but honestly it wouldn’t have mattered. No matter what he was going on about I wasn’t going to understand his words. His body language told another story. With his furrowed brown, finger-pointing, and scratchy words, I knew he was telling me to stop bouncing my leg up and down.
One thing you must know about Korean culture is AGE IS EVERYTHING. We could go on and on about instances where this is the case. But believe me when I say that if an older person tells you to do something whether it be to let them sit in your seat, have your place in line, or stop bouncing your leg up and down, you do it. Well Koreans do it. I on the other hand smiled at him and said, “Way?” Translation (if you couldn’t have guessed it): “Why?” This side of the subway car is empty. If something as small and trivial as a bouncing leg bothers you, there are plenty of other empty seats around. After asking my question and knowing I wouldn’t understand his response that he was yelling at me I said, “Gwen chan eye oh.” Which basically means, “It’s alright. Everything is fine. My bouncing leg isn’t hurting anyone on the subway.”
But that’s exactly what he was worried about. Because according to my co-teacher, the older generation is very superstitious. And ancient Korean superstition holds that if a person is bouncing their leg, it shakes away one’s good fortune, and apparently everyone else’s around them. And if you firmly believe that my bouncing leg is negatively effecting your good fortune, you might bend over and me them not to. (Check out #6)
So like a good tennis match we went up and back. I would serve him a slight wiggle of my leg and he would return with a look of shock. At one point he had bent his back so that it was parallel with the ground and his face was about one foot from my knee. Staring at my knee and looking back at my face. My knee. My face. I calmly looked forward and waited for my stop. After frisbee practice I headed to the apartment and found that I hadn’t lost any of my good fortune. I was home and my beautiful wife was there too. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.