Are You a Boy or a Girl?

Confusion on the Korean subway.

As a foreigner in Korea, while I'm walking sometimes a little boy or girl will run up to me, wave, say "Hi!" and quickly dart away. Even after two years of this, I still think it's really cute and charming.

Other times Koreans want to chat with you is after they've been drinking. Having a Way-Gook-Een (the Korean word for "foreigner") as a friend instantly makes you cooler than your less cosmopolitan Korean buddies. From time to time, old Korean businessmen or young Korean college kids ask me to drink soju (Korean rice wine that you shoot like Lil Jon in fast forward) or beer with them. It's usually a blast, and a lot of broken English and Korean.

Sketch drawing of Casey FreemanThe least exciting time Koreans converse with you is when they trap you in a store or a busy street corner and say, "I'm sorry, do you speak English?" Then they blab about God the Mother, which as far as I know, is some weird religious cult that says Jesus predicted a giant World War that starts between North and South Korea. I'm not a bible scholar, but I don't remember Jesus mentioning rice, kimchi, Tae Kwon Do, or anything else Korean in his beatitudes.

However, for the most part, I'm flattered whenever a stranger wants to talk with me in my language in their country. All based on the color of my skin. And my giant eyes.

One day, I was riding the subway and reading whatever book I had at the time. Korea is a pretty crowded place, so I stood, and I happened to be standing next to a seated little girl. I didn't notice her at first, but then she said, "I like you! You're nice!"

I was tired from either wrestling, teaching or drinking, so I just smiled, waved, and nodded. I didn't think much of it and returned to my fantasy, science fiction or Pulitzer Prize-winning book. Then she said, "Are you a boy or a girl?" I gave her a look that said "What the fuck?" Then she repeated it. "Are you a boy or a girl?" I raised my eyebrows and grumbled, "Is it that hard to tell?"

If you've ever seen me, or a photo of me, it's pretty obvious I'm a dude. I usually wear a beard or a five-o'clock shadow. My voice is pretty deep for a male who's been kicked in the nuts as many times as I have. My hands aren't abnormally big, but they're covered in black hair and scars from barfights or accidents. So I was a little shocked this girl couldn't tell the difference.

"Who are you?" she spoke tone deaf without even looking at me.

"Look little girl, are we on some weird hidden camera Korean TV show or something? Because I am about to kick some teeth in."

She didn't pay attention to me, but instead said, "I like pizza more than hamburgers."

"Pardon me...."

Then I saw it, a set of headphones. For a split second I thought maybe this was some closed-circuit radio her stupid TV show producer was using to make fun of me, then I realized she was just listening to a "How to Learn English" book-on-tape.

Whoops.

Sorry I almost punched you little girl. I'll go back to being a stupid and violent American idiot now.



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