I was almost home. I passed a dark, narrow alley to my left. A black car was parked right at the entrance of the alley. It was not the only car parked in the alley, but this one caught my attention because it was parked at an odd angle to the wall. Koreans are experts at parking terribly, so the way it was parked wasn’t the reason it caught my attention; it was because the car’s door was wide open, the car’s lights were still on and there was no one in the car.
I strained my eyes in the darkness. I thought I was still buzzing from the makgeolli (muck-goh-li). But I wasn’t.
I wasn’t expecting an extraordinary Christmas Eve. It’s Korea. They wouldn’t really know Christmas spirit if it poked them in the eye with a chopstick.
In fact, I think the happiest part about Christmas Eve in Korea is knowing that the next day is a public holiday (also known as Christmas).
And since it wasn’t necessary to be woken up by our alarms the following day, a few of us gathered for our own Christmas Eve festivities, which, rather untraditionally, involved a few bowls of magkeolli – a sweet, traditional Korean rice wine, perfect for a bitterly cold night.
It was close to one in the morning when I decided to head home. The icy air gnawed at my bones, but I courageously hushed the devil on my shoulder and chose walking over taxiing home. The streets were quiet, but not deserted. Two policemen walked past, looking cheerful. They nodded to me and resumed talking animatedly while swishing their torches in the night air, looking out for Christmas Eve mischief makers.
It was soon after they passed by, when I came to the narrow side alley to my left. And that’s when I saw the driverless black car with its door wide open and lights still on. The car was at a 45-degree angle to the alley wall. Its front left light was almost kissing the alley wall while the boot of the car was jutting out into the road. I was so focused on the car that I didn’t realise the driver was standing right at the bonnet, which means he was about a metre away from me.
He was about a head taller than me and looked like he was in his early 60s. The ajusshi – a commonly used term for an older man in Korea – was wearing a grey cap and a luminous green jacket. He was also panting slightly, which struck me as a bit odd – I know Koreans love exercising more than the average human, but 1am was slightly late for exercising, even for a Korean.
And it was at that moment when I thought I was still buzzing from the makgeolli, because for a second I could have sworn his pants were sitting at his ankles.
But the makgeolli wasn’t playing tricks on me; his pants were really sitting at his ankles. And his penis was really sitting in his hand.
I froze. Yes, he was doing what I thought he was doing.
His car’s lights shone on him, disturbingly creating a sort of Christmas glow around him while he pleasured himself.
And all I could think of was: it’s minus four outside; he must be freezing!
There is something terribly unsettling about witnessing such a private activity out in the open. My skin prickled, unrelated to the cold. I thought about the two policemen who passed me just seconds before. I also thought I must have looked like a pervert standing there. So I unfroze myself and continued with my walk home, on Christmas morning, as if I had not just seen an old Korean man masturbating on the street.
Merry Christmas to me.