Even an hour and a half after leaving the smoking area at the Creative Learning Building and I am still shuddering from utter disgust. Seven boys crowded into a three-by-three meter smoking area, all of them spitting on the floor like it’s a competition of who spits the most. Having lived in Korea for so long now, I eventually grew to understand that spitting is quite commonplace here, but to wake up at 7:30am, walk a healthy way to lectures, buy a 500won canned coffee, head towards the smoking area for a morning smoke and be greeted by an acapella of “khaeeek” (the sound made while gathering all the phlegm from the depths of their lungs to a ball in their mouth) made me realize that this preposterous behavior has gone a step too far.
It is quite amazing how easy it is to ignore things you considered a normal course of human behavior until it snaps and reveals its true, disgusting form. This is how the rest of my day went. After my second lecture ended at ten to eleven, I went downstairs to the rocky wooden bench to wait for a friend to come by. Here, I observed a case of people’s oblivion to this preposterous behavior. In a group of three men and two women, a man was talking and right in the middle of a sentence stopped to “khaeeek”, spat, and continued talking, all the while with eight eyes on him. Nobody flinched, at least not to this behavior. An older man, perhaps a street sweeper, also “khaeeeked” and spat far enough to almost reach the heels of a passing-by student. The girl glimpsed down to look at the spit, and then kept walking. On my way back from classes at around four in the afternoon, I was walking through the passage between the Coffee Bean and the mini playground. A male student walking in the opposite direction surprised me with a sudden loud “KHEEEEK” and spat towards me. Wow. By now, fed up with this atrocity, I stared at him with my “REALLY?!!” frown, but in the end it was just me ferociously trying to make eye contact while he walked away. Eight in the evening, at the library, studying in one of the cubicles with the window open next to me. Four stories high and I can still hear a distant “khaeeek” somewhere out there on a cold autumn night, almost as though the spitter is marking his territory like a damn dog.
One of the top annoyances foreigners encounter in Korea is public spitting. According to a Yonhap News interview of ten foreigners currently residing in Korea, the shock of seeing Koreans spit in public is quite difficult to overcome, even for those who have lived in Korea for a few years. Many columns point out, especially with the G20 conference nearing, that Korea’s reputation as the gentlemen’s country in the Far East is dropping as citizens continue to exhibit horrifying manners, including not only spitting but also littering , aggressive driving, unapologetic shoving in public places, and stepping onto the subway before others have gotten off. The list goes on.
I am a smoker and yes, I am a source of disturbance to many because of my shameful habit of smoking-while-walking and cigarette butt disposal. But I’m working on it. I acknowledge that it can cause as much annoyance as spitting does to me and the rest of the world. And so I’d like to end this grumpy diary of a column, if I may, with a message to all the male, female, drunk, smoking spitters out there: you don’t piss on the streets so please refrain from spitting in public. Public bodily fluid emission is not welcome or polite under any circumstances.