Recently, the NYT has taken an interest in the local Korean ecology. The article in question focuses on Bonogit Hussain, an Indian man, and Hahn Ji-seon, a female Korean friend of his whom both found themselves facing down BOA. If you’ve lived in Korea for any significant amount of time, say about a month or so, then you’ve probably spotted the public menace known as BOA. BOA is an indigenous species native to Korea. BOA is more commonly seen at night, but can also be seen during day as well. Just to ease your K-pop fears I’m not talking about the Korean pop princess now storming America. Still, it would be quite a sight to see her out and about berating foreigners while taking swigs from a bottle of soju. No, the BOA I’m referring to is the belligerent old ajusshi.
BOA can be spotted in a variety of locations: on the subway, walking the streets, or on the bus. The only true safe way to avoid a BOA while traveling the streets of Korea is in the inside of a cab. Luckily, BOA can be easily spotted by his intense head movement which tracks foreigners as they walk by. Other tell tale signs include the bug eyed stare that narrows into a steely glare as well as the pursed lips and inflamed cheeks, reddened perhaps by soju or the intense loathing boiling in his veins, one never knows for sure.
If you’re unfortunate enough to cross paths with BOA there are only two feasible options open to you. One, you can plant your feet, face the BOA eye to eye, and deliver a sharp loud rebuke in your very best Korean. The volume will be sure to attract attention from others nearby, to act as possible witnesses, as well as an audience for the BOA’s humiliation for being called out on his intolerable behavior. This tactic has been to known on rare occasions to engender a certain fondness from the BOA transforming his former prey into a newly found drinking buddy. However, I stress that is rare. The important thing when using this tactic is to be sure the rebuke is in Korean. Delivering it in English or any other tongue will only serve to infuriate BOA even further against you. For those of you without a tongue dexterous enough to handle the Korean language then there’s option number two: run like hell. Put as much distance between you and BOA as fast as you can as quickly as possible. Leave the area entirely as the BOA has been known to stalk its prey often leading to disastrous results.
The Times article notes the rise of Korea’s foreign population as impetus for the rising “incidents of xenophobia” or what I like to call Hate Crimes. BOA’s behavior has to be curtailed either through social stigma from his peers or by legal penalties enacted by the court system. Though, I think, the former would be better since it would probably go a lot further in changing BOA’s attitudes or at least keeping him quiet. It’s happening. I’ve read stories and heard tales of Koreans coming to the defense of foreigners being attacked by BOA, shooing him off. This is probably the metaphorical rap on the knuckles BOA needs to keep his actions tolerable in public spaces.
Let me end with a remark that I know not every ajusshi is a BOA. But as they say “one rotten apple can spoil the bunch.”