I strolled onto the busy beach, nonchalant, alone, ready for some sun time…and found myself getting a TON of stares. I was still clothed and therefore not yet scandalous (read on), so I had no idea why all the looks. ‘Don’t you people have something better to be doing?’, I thought to myself, grumpy and self-conscious.
Undeterred, I unrolled my towel, stripped down to my bikini, and promptly started enjoying the sandwich I had brought along…
…WHAT!?! I was hungry!…
Unfortunately for me (and every girl in the history of sandwich eating), this was like a homing beacon to every person, of every gender, and every nationality, on the entire freaking beach. I swear. Okay, I exaggerate, but really. You would think they had never seen someone consume a sammy on the beach before and it was somehow related to a prophecy about the end of life as they know it. Or something equally dramatic.
(As an aside, I say ‘sammy’ now and it is suuuuper annoying to everyone (the boy), including myself, and yet here we are…)
So I calmly finish my sammy (I will not be rushed by your stares!), and I lay back to relax with my book, when I am politely interrupted by one of the Dynamic Busan volunteers. She has come by to make sure I know alllll about the wonderful sights this city has to offer. Which is fine. Unnecessary, but kind. And her job. And her English was really good and I think maybe she wanted to practice a little.
Or so I thought (duh duh duuuuuhh).
At the soonest possible moment that politeness would allow, she proceeds to ask me if I am “here” alone. I am unsure how to answer. Is ‘here’ referring to the country, the city, or the beach!? We had just been talking about Busan and she had asked how long I had been in Korea, so I assumed she must mean city or country.
“Ummmm…I’m here with my husband” (the boy and I had been going with this for ease because live-in boyfriend is not really a thing here).
“Oh!”, she says, “Is that your husband there, then?”. She points, I turn, and there – at least FIVE meters away – is an older – not hot older, or even maybe-I-have-dated-quite-older-before-and-would-not-think-that-is-crazy-unrealistic older, you guys, but older, unhealthy-looking, otherwise non-descript foreign dude of undetermined nationality (except white – to match me, of course).
Is that my husband!?! What the hell!?!?!
And then it hits me. The stares. The inquiry. It’s not because I’m foreign or because I’m eating a sammy on the beach. It’s not even because I’m a woman in a bikini (except for those young Russian dudes’ looks – those were probably the combination of foreigner plus bikini). It’s because I am a woman, unescorted, on the beach. Let that sink in for a minute, will you?
As you can imagine if you know me (or women!) at all, my immediate thought was:
WHERE THE HELL AM I!?!! But seriously, where am I? Is this real life? How did I get here? What is happening right now?
This refrain plays in my head over and over for the next half an hour while I digest this news, start looking around a little more, and realize that I am the only female (probably the only person aside from ‘my mister’ over yonder) there alone. I am also one of the few in a bikini, which doesn’t help, I’m sure. Le. Sigh.
Perhaps I am overreacting. Maaaayyybbeee these things combined had nothing to do with me being alone. But I doubt it. The reality for women in this country so completely frustrates me some days that I cannot even determine how to appropriately respond to it. Yet it would never in a million years occur to me that there might be something alarming (or at the very least, strange) about going to the beach alone. Lesson learned, Korea, lesson learned.
Also of interesting note from my day: Koreans don’t wear swimsuits at the beach (which is why I mention the bikini thing a few times). They, for the most part, swim in their clothing. All of it. Or at least varying degrees of it. I saw some girls wearing LAYERS into the sea. Denim shorts, tee shirt, button up over top. Into the sea. I do not understand. Even many of the boys wear shorts and tees or tanks. It’s not a totally gendered thing, it’s an everyone thing. No wonder I was having such difficulty finding a swim suit!
A woman, alone on the beach, in a bikini. They probably thought I was my own promotional billboard…if you catch my drift :-/
What say you, fellow expats and Koreans alike? Am I crazy? Or is this a thing??