3.4 Winter 2021-2022

February 11, Take that, old man!

If you don’t know by now, there’s a certain class of person in Korea called 아저씨 “ajusshi”. This term is usually what you can politely called a much older man that you don’t know. But of course, calling a young man or a man who thinks he is young by this term can be insulting.

These men have their own stereotype. They are usually gruff, big smokers, big drinkers, impatient, and a big fan of fishing vests.

I’ve met many a man who fit this category perfectly. They are the men that I usually fight with the most. They might also be the men that are the most helpful, like the taxi driver who lobbied on my behalf at the DMV and waited for my appointment to finish before driving me home.

I like to think that I’ve grown more empathetic and understanding of people’s various life situations.

However, any sympathy I had evaporated at the appearance of the same ajusshi whom I argued with several weeks ago. Just like then, he was cranky and unhelpful and impatient.

Let me back up a moment.

My gym is in a nine story building with a movie theater, a dentist office, and a few restaurants. There are several parking lots behind the building that are all behind a literal pay wall.

On the days I happen to drive I usually park in the open gravel lot and crunch my way to the fitness center. Last year, one of the people working at the gym told me I didn’t need to tell her every time to validate my parking. From then on, it would automatically be validated.

But from time to time, especially on weekends, my validation doesn’t go through. Sometimes I pull up to the parking gate and instead of flashing blue and opening, it flashes red and I have to feed money into the machine. I find it very annoying that I have to pay any sort of money in a town where people park literally in the right lane of a major highway with no consequences.

This Friday while exiting, the parking gate stayed red and the machine told me I owed 2,500 won.

Excuse me, you want my to pay the price of a coffee to park in a gravel construction zone?

The booth attached to the gate is usually empty save for Friday nights where it is manned by a grumpy ajusshi.

Last time this happened, I ended up just paying the grumpy old man in the parking booth the money because I didn’t have a leg to stand on, and he didn’t care about helping a foreigner anyway. I guess at least there’s some comfort in that he hates me consistently.

But when the gate stayed red tonight, I frantically rifled through my wallet to find the business card the gym manager had given me exactly in case this happened again, since I had complained to the beefy boss a few weeks prior. I hastily called the front desk and explained in poor Korean what had happened.

“Pardon?” A gym bro said to my harried explanation.

“I validated my parking but…”

“Ohhh okay. Tell me your license plate number and I’ll take care of it.”

By this time the old man in the usually empty booth had started to get antsy. I pulled up to his little ice cream window and rolled down almost all my own windows by accident in my harried haste. I think I blacked out momentarily and I don’t know if I actually hung up the phone call with the gym bro from the office.

This time I thought the parking validation would be successful since I went out of my way to actually call someone on the phone (ew, phone calls?) and get it taken care of so I happily told the old man that my parking had been validated by the gym office.

“No they didn’t.” Be shot down snappily.

Maybe I had reached my limit. Or maybe I’ve just taken on the characteristics of the blunt style of talking that’s famous in Gyeongnam. In any case, tonight I was ready to fight.

“I just got off the phone with them!” I said in broken Korean, starting to match his irritation.

“You still have to pay.”

Pay for this gravel parking lot? Sir, are you serious? This is literally the only place in the entire city where parking isn’t free! Oh no Lotte Cinema won’t get to scrape off $2 more from their customers who are already paying $10 for a movie ticket! Boohoo! Cry me a river!

“But I called them and they said they verified it,” I said helplessly.

“I said it’s not working,” he replied with increasing volume.

I didn’t know what to do. There was now a car behind me.

I gave up and handed him a 10,000 won note but petulantly and with one hand instead of two which is *tres rude*.

“Do you have change? I don’t have any change for this.” He said, flapping my bill around.

Sir, are you serious? This is your one job!

Ahhhhhhhhh fine!

I handed him my debit card.

“No, put it in the machine.” He said, gesturing to the meter behind me.

If there’s a machine that takes card, pray tell sir, what is your purpose? Lord of the gravel lot flies??

I backed up a foot or two and put my card into the machine. The machine which makes his job obsolete.

As I’d been arguing with him for so long, the parking meter screen had timed out. The credit card slot would not open because there was no car detected. I made a show of shoving my card into the closed slot.

He got out of his little booth to come see the problem and I backed up further, avoiding the car behind me. He started gesturing but I ignored him. An idea formed.

I backed up as far as I could then I pulled back up to the gate so the signal reader could identify my plate and wouldn’t you know it?

My parking validation had gone through. The system just needed a refresh.

The gate light turned blue and the gate lifted. Freedom! Pedal to the metal, I shouted “bye!” and didn’t hang around to rub it in his face.

But I was still so irritated for a situation he tortured me over that I cursed him while speeding away. In my exaltation I forgot that my back window was rolled down from the earlier confusion and he likely heard me.

Oh well!

After I pulled onto the main road, the expensive white car that had been waiting behind me decided to honk.

Bi—- honk at my face! Coward!

If they had honked while I was trying to sort out the situation, I can’t guarantee you that I would’ve played it cool. Koreans don’t carry guns in their car so I could very well get out and pick a fight.

In fact, I’ve seen that exact thing before in the middle of a highway.

Who’s going to be such a big impatient man when he sees a scary English speaking foreigner get out of the car, ready to throw down? I’d just speak English until he wet himself.

Then again, my luck would just be that it’s someone I know, like the vice principal.

Maybe I could open my heart and imagine the parking man’s own hardships. Maybe this is the only place he can exert power and control. Maybe he’s lonely.

But nah. I’m not the bigger person today.

I win, old man!

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