Sorry, Mister, I’m Not Santa Claus.
Today at about 4PM, I had a little run-in with the native fauna of Itaewon. Standing on the subway platform, I was engaged in a rather spirited discussion with an Asian lady-friend of mine about white dudes with samurai swords and their wanting to show said swords to Asian ladies (verdict: creepy and thinly-veiled). Apparently, I and my loud American voice were attention grabbing because a festive gentleman approached us and joined our conversation. And by joined, I mean totally interrupted.
Our new friend was the kind of rough-livin’ old party animal generally missing from your average Korea street corner, but apparently crazy dudes—like chickpeas and Cracker Barrel brand butter—are one of the many imports on offer in Seoul’s foreign neighborhood. He was red-faced and splotchy. His ill-fitting plaid shirt—a riot of blue and pink and yellow stripes—was half-untucked. He suffered from the type of eternal middle age that comes from too many bottles over too many years: I can’t pin it down any more precisely than to say that he must have been between 38 and 59 years old.
This crazy dude, let’s call him “Carl,” totally ignored my lady-friend as he swayed up to me. “Where are you from? Where are YOU from?” Carl asked. He repeated himself to make sure he had my attention. Being generally polite, even to crazies, I said, “California,” and tried to return to my friend’s story about all the white guys she’d met who liked to show off their Asian weaponry. However, Carl, being somewhat enamored of me, just had to beg another moment of my time. “Santa Claus? Santa Claus. Santa Claus!” he said, as he—wide-eyed and intent—reached for my face.
Let me, for the sake of my own ego, clarify: I do not look like Santa Claus. Yes, I have a beard and, yes, I am thick of frame, but at the tender age of 27, I think I still have a few years left before children begin stopping me on the streets to ask what happened to the iPads they had been promised. Anyway.
It took a second, and a few more Santa Clauses, for me to understand exactly what was going on: he wanted to run his fingers through my beard. Although Carl had enough sense to not actually touch my face without permission, he did not have the sense to take the hint hidden in my stoney though admittedly puzzled expression. Wanting to get him more than two inches from my face, I reached up and pushed his hand away, but he resisted. He resisted?! Who Does that?! Although I could feel a flutter of anger, I was actually more confused than anything.
Rather than throwing a punch (not my style, but after Carl, I understand the impulse), I looked him in the eye and said, “No no, dude. Don’t do that. Step BACK.” It felt more like I was talking to a child or an unruly puppy than to a vaguely aggressive creepo. Chastened, Carl did as I said and replied, smiling, “I’m from our country’s capital.” I’ll never know if that was meant as an apology, an explanation or a last ditch attempt to convince me that I wanted a beard massage because, in leu of a farewell, I just said, “Cool,” as my friend and I backed away down the platform.