About five years ago I noticed a crowd of people staring disapprovingly at a woman who was behaving rather erratically in Insadong, Seoul. Clearly the woman was more than slightly mad – muttering obsenities under her breath between bouts of random shouting at people only she could see. The looks of disgust from many of the passers-by were not related to the ramblings of the mad woman (public displays of crazy are not uncommon in Korea, and generally are politely ignored). No, the reason this mad old bat was causing so much offence was that she was smoking a cigarette. For some reason, smoking (in public) was something that women simply did not do.
Of course, five years’ worth of social change in South Korea is like fifty years most other places, and now young women sit around, casually smoking in the bars and coffee shops, at the universities, and, well, pretty much everywhere. When this first started (and like most things here, it started quickly, as if someone sent a mass email, like when every young woman in the country somehow gets the latest hairstyle on the same day) I wondered whether the women smokers might become a positive influence on the men, who simply cannot stop spitting – young Korean men while standing around smoking will generally spit wherever they stand after each and every drag of their cigarette.
Well, I didn’t have to wonder for long, and the answer was, no. The women were not a positive influence at all. Rather, now we had groups of young woman adding to the nationwide minefield of stagnant pools of saliva. I understand their belief that this somehow lessens the chance of contracting cancer (if you’re that worried about your health, then just don’t fucking smoke), but what the fuck!?
I saw a young woman sitting alone in a bar in Hongdae a couple of years ago. Picture if you will this very attractive young woman, with a beautiful face, and breasts that suggest she has done her part in making Korea the plastic surgery capital of the universe. The little black cocktail dress shows her long shapely legs, accentuated by the mandatory stilettos. She spends around half an hour doing literally nothing except studying herself in her pocket mirror, searching for the slightest blemish or single hair out of place. Finally convinced that she is indeed physically perfect, she casually lights a cigarette, seductively takes a draw of smoke, then proceeds to start spitting, every ten seconds, into the fucking ashtray!
How, for the love of God, can someone spend what appears to be the vast majority of their waking hours obsessed solely with their physical appearance and not know how fucking unattractive it is (at least to the rapidly growing number of people here who are not Korean) to sit around filling a bar ashtray with spit?
So, I beg of you, whoever it is that sends out these mass emails, or whatever it is that makes the entire country instantly conform in the neverending quest to be the same as everyone else… please, please, PLEASE, do something about all this fucking spitting.