Thursday, March 12, 2009


Yesterday was the end of my innocence here in South Korea. I had chilbo class at 1:00pm and decided to do a little shopping around Paldalmun Gate. I bought some CDs I had been looking for and decided to eat at the Lotteria which is a Korean burger chain.

I had a lot of money in my wallet, about 750,000WON ($750US). We were going on a Costco run (which only takes cash). I still had a little time to kill before my class so I was window shopping wearing my IPOD minding my own business as I walked towards my class.

It was lunchtime and there were a lot Koreans out and about. I had also noticed that there were a lot of people begging including one with no legs right in the center of the sidewalk. This is not unusual to see in Seoul but I had never seen this in Suwon or at least our area of Suwon.

Suddenly, I noticed a scruffy looking man approaching me. He stopped me, grabbed my arm which had my purse and put his palm out to me. He said something in Korean and I said, "Annio!" which is no in Korean. He wouldn't let go of me and kept speaking Korean with me yelling, "annio!" He then grabbed my purse and we struggled. Luckily my purse was under my arm and I clamped my arm down to keep him from taking it. During the entire time I was yelling "no" in Korean looking for help from the many Koreans that passed us by. All I received were looks with an occasional stare but everyone continued on.

It seemed like forever when I'm sure it was only seconds. I finally shoved him hard and he let go of my purse. I ran off to my class, not bothering to look back. I was a little scared that he might go the police and it would all be my fault. Believe me, I've read many stories about this happening to foreigners here.

I was so relieved that I didn't bother to look inside my wallet. I saw that my wallet was in my purse and that's all that mattered to me at the time. I finished my chilbo class and rode the bus home. After awhile, I took out my wallet for some reason and noticed that it wasn't very thick like it should have been with all that money in it. I opened it up to find NO MONEY. He had somehow got my money.

I called my husband in tears. He asked if my purse had been opened while I was walking. I couldn't remember because since it's under my arm, I sometimes leave it open if I'm shopping. I called my Korean girlfriend and she thinks I was set up. That there were probably two guys involved and to be honest, I had my ear buds in so I wasn't aware of anything going on behind me. Also, the shock of it left me numb.

If you wonder if I will file a police report? I wouldn't waste my time. After our treatment by the City of Suwon when we were ripped off by a Korean taxi driver, I know there would be no resolution. This happened during lunchtime on a very busy street with many people and I was left to defend myself.

I'm thankful that he didn't pull a knife but I have lost my innocence here. I was under the fallacy that since they don't allow guns, I was safe and I learned a valuable lesson yesterday. I will not listen to my IPOD when walking, I will not stop if a Korean man comes up to me, I will always be aware of my surroundings as if I am being watched. I will not be visiting Paldalmun Gate ever again without my husband.

This was the first time in my nearly two years in South Korea that I told my husband I want to go home. This has been so hard for me to accept. I've been spit on, had cigarette ashes flicked on my chest, had a Korean man pull his pants down right in front of me, rode a bus with a drunk bus driver, been yelled at for being an American (during the beef protests), hit in the stomach by a ajuma... So for this small moment in time, I will wallow in self pity.


Helena said...

Oh no! I'm so sorry that happened. I'd feel the same way. I wonder how he got it out?

Becky said...

Helena: I have a very bad habit of not always zipping up my purse. I think that since it's under my arm, it's safe. I learned a valuable lesson. I just feel so sad about it.

I had also just began to give money to the women that collect all the cardboard and take it to recycling places. I would walk up to one, say hello in Korean and slyly put a 10,000WON in their hand. It felt sooo good.

autumnal scent said...

Well, Becky, it comes down to the fact that you were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time... Frankly speaking, I think it could have happened back home or anywhere else, especially if there was a habit of not zipping up your purse. I don't really know the whole story of how you came to live in Korea with your husband, but if the reality is that you cannot move back home as you wish, then all there is get back up and learn from all of it but you also need to keep some of that faith... Yes, it's kind of disturbing to hear that the people at the time chose to walk by. Shame on them. And yes, I would want to come back home, too... But sometimes, when you think humanity is lost, it pulls you right back in =] I know you know what I'm talking about =]

I'd learn how to say "molester" or some other attention-getter in Korean and yell that out when people are around and you have to deal with something like this again... And while you're at it, invest in mace (spray). What do your Korean friends say? Have you ever considered relocating to a community where there's more of the foreigners around (is there even such a place)?

Sarah said...

I'm so sorry to hear this. It certainly is a shock, I know. I've had my wallet stolen twice here. I now never leave my purse open. I'm also more aware of what's going on around me. It's easy to get too relaxed, but bad things do happen. :-(

Robin M said...

Im so sorry to hear about this happening to you. Im glad your alright. Unfortunately, we all have to be protecting ourselves at all times nowadays, no matter what country we live in. I look forward to hearing about more happy experiences. - Robin

Anonymous said...

Oh, Becky, I am so sorry, I can't begin to imagine how horrified you must feel. Try to remember the wonderful things you have done and learned and shared from Korea, though. It seems the good far outweighs the bad, although it does seem to be getting worse the longer you are there. I follow your blog faithfully and my thoughts and prayers are with you that things start to look up for you. Hugs, Sue C

CreekHiker said...

I'm always amazed at people who walk around wearing earbuds... I wouldn't even do it in the creek! You have to be aware of your surroundings everywhere!

Learn how to say HELP in Korean!

Sorry this happened to you!

kim said...

Oh my goodness, I am so, so sorry that this happened to you. How awful for you! I can understand about wanting to go home though - you just want some form of security and comfort, and that usually means home. However, everyone, don't think that a zipped purse means it is safe. I had my purse unzipped twice (I noticed it the first time and rezipped it up) while going up an escalator from the subway in Paris. By the time I reached the top, my wallet was gone. And I had my hand on my zipped purse the whole time! Anyway, my thoughts are with you - tomorrow is always a new day.

Lil said...

I've been mostly lurking on your blog and am shocked to hear what happened to you. I can take a lesson from you even tho I wish it would have never happened at all. So sad! I must say that I walk around with my ipod on all of the time. I have this naive view that it could never happen to me... and now I know different.

It is great to see your resilience and attitude!

Funky Time Art said...

So sorry this happened to you. I have been reading your blog for awhile now and have enjoyed your spirit of adventure. I hope this does not dampen your time spent in Korea. I think it would be wonderful to be so immersed in another culture like you are now. Crime happens everywhere. Unfortunately we always have to have our guard up.

Foreigner Joy said...

I want to say that you are so brave for making it through that. I have had similar experiences back in the States, but not yet in Korea. So it is a good reminder to us all to be cautious.

I want to add that you may want to report it to the police despite that they will likely take no action. I think it would be good for record keeping and statistics. If someone were to check the crime rate against foreigners your incident could come up and help boost awareness in the future.

Anyways, hope you have recovered.

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