Sleeping Hierarchy Revolution

He was sleeping standing up.

I was jealous.  How could he find enough peace in this crowded subway to sleep?  Not that it was particularly noisy but all of that mind pollution of 200 people packed into one subway car, all thinking about their work day?  Impossible.  All those advertisements and colorful banners clamoring for visual attention?  Impossible.  All the accidental contact forced upon you by strangers who are trying to get home as soon as possible and willing to cut on comfort?  Impossible!

I would have admired his skills, but I was finding out that he didn’t have admirable skills- he was simply playing on the kindness of others.  I first realized he was sleeping standing up when he slammed into me.  Way beyond the normal bumping and jostling of a crowded train car.

I felt hopelessly unable to do anything.  Yes, I didn’t want the responsibility of waking up a stranger and explaining that he was repeatedly hitting me.  I might have tried this in a polite way in America, but I knew this strategy would never work.  He was way older than me.  In the Korean code of ethics, he deserved my respect and (some might argue) my support in keeping him upright.  He had no obligation toward me- a nobody because of my age.

This system of hierarchy often gets me in trouble.  I understand it, but it is deeply ingrained in me culturally, intellectually, and emotionally to ignore my low position as a young female.  I wouldn’t say I necessarily fight for more power.  But I hate the feeling of being powerless that the hierarchy often presents me with.

I followed protocol.  I turned around and gave him a nasty glare.  His eyes were closed.

I accompanied this glare with a loud impatient and huffy sigh- something I trained olympically for when I was a teenager.  He didn’t have earphones in, but I suppose sleeping prevented his hearing from detecting the not so subtle communication.

So I employed the next step.  Pushing him away with a bit of force when he slammed in again.  This actually brought him back sooner as it seemed the other people he was bouncing off were also employing this tactic.

So I brought out my elbow.  I would push a little harder and hope that in his sleeping subconscious he would associate my position with discomfort.

On my commute, there are two places that I know I need to hold on.  These places are on a short stretch of track that spans three stations.  But this day I was too preoccupied and I missed the first place.  The train took it’s normal sharp corner, and the sleeping man blundered into me with all the relaxed muscles of a sack of potatoes.  Thankfully, it wasn’t only me who was on the receiving end- I shared the force with the man standing beside me.  We both almost fell into the laps of the obliviously comfortable seated passengers.

Enough!  My feeling of inability to solve this amicably turned into being willing to solve it with violence.  An eye for an eye.  Someone slap this guy and wake him up because he’s treating the world’s citizens irresponsibly!  Sleepiness isn’t a license for violence!  Being old isn’t a free pass to abuse!  As I turned, the man who had borne sleepyhead’s weight with me turned also.  We caught ourselves mid-glare and knew that our looks had the same recipient.

I don’t know why, but we paused.  Would he be a gentleman and slap the sleepyhead for me so I wouldn’t get blamed?  I confess to that thought.  With a quick assessment, I guessed us to be about the same age, and his suit showed me that he had probably been dealing with workplace hierarchy all day- taking it like a good employee who wants to keep his job.

When our eyes locked, the anger turned into something else.  An alliance.

I knew I didn’t have to stand and take the punishment any longer.  We would take away his ability to continue the abuse.  It was the absence of continuing to hold him up that we conspired together.

We moved as if we had one brain.  We both inched over and made a few more centimeters of space between us.  We turned sideways so as to offer less surface area.  And we waited for the second sharp turn on our evening commute.



My Own Personal Commentators

I was ordering a green tea latte and they were commentators of my every move.

From the moment I appeared in their field of vision, I was the main topic of their conversation.  Two young men seated by the cashier were not so sneaky about visually studying me, nor were they whispering.

Occasionally people assume I don’t understand them.  Occasionally people assume I must also be blind to their body language as well.

One time I was in the subway.  The girl next to me was taller- which is no hard feat.  She was using her height to take a look at my finger’s activities on my iPhone.  I was aware and had already pointedly looked at her.  I was doing something highly uninteresting anyway, or so I thought.  At that moment, I knew my data requirement was close to my limit for the month, so I was trying to log onto the ever-present public transportation wifi, but wasn’t having luck because of the amount of people.

My stalker turned to her friend and said, why does she need wifi?  she must be an idiot foreign tourist with no cell phone plan.  Stunned, I looked at her.  I expected her to realize that I had understood what she said.  My look was not neutral.  But she returned my gaze with a neutral one as if she had been talking about what the Queen of England eats for breakfast.  And she continued to return my gaze as if daring me.

Now my speaking skills are poor beyond small talk and I didn’t want to give her further cause for ridicule by opening my mouth in reply.  So I found another place to stand and fumed about being called an idiot all the way home.

But these coffee shop guys- they were like commentators for my solo figure skating performance!  I went upstairs to save a chair, even though the cafe wasn’t busy- force of habit.  They wondered aloud, she came here alone?

I returned down to the first floor where the cashier is.  They said, i wonder where she’s from?  probably europe.  do you see how long her hair is?  (Uhhh?)

I went up to the counter after I’d decided.  I confess I took a little longer to make up my mind.  Their response?  I think she has a boyfriend.

I ordered.  I answered the question of what size I wanted.  I followed the cashier’s directions to sign after handing over my card.  And then I requested to be given a receipt.  All in Korean.  I wasn’t even showing off for their benefit.  These are every day survival language skills.

I said thank you and turned around to take my own less than sneaky glance in their direction.  They quickly looked away and did not say anything.  At least they didn’t call me an idiot.