[ANOTHER VIEW]To stand or not to stand is the trai

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[ANOTHER VIEW]To stand or not to stand is the trai

Whenever I go to Chicago to visit my grandparents and aunt, I take a few trips downtown by subway. Since my grandparents live in the suburbs, it's not too crowded when I get on the train. But as the train approaches the city, people start pouring in.

One day last winter, I was sitting on a Chicago train when the doors opened and, along with a crowd of people, an elderly lady tottered in. I realized that there were no empty seats and, being the good Korean I am, I automatically stood up and offered mine.

Other passengers began to stare at me, and the lady looked a bit suspicious. I attempted a smile, trying to reassure her that there was nothing wrong with the seat. She took the seat, but I could still feel eyes on me as I stood staring out the window. Feeling thoroughly self-conscious, I vowed to keep my seat next time.

A few days later, I was again on the train, lost in thought, when I tilted my head up to see an old man standing right in front of me. Ah, so this man, though Caucasian, knows the Korean art of getting a seat on the subway: Stand in front of someone young and beam a ray of guilt. Before I knew it, I had offered my seat to the gentleman.

But the guy looked at me as if I were a little crazy. He politely started to decline when I said, "No, no, please, sit." Then everyone in the train was watching the scene, while I started to feel guilty for doing a good thing.

I realized then that in America, being a gentleman comes first. That is why nobody could understand why an Asian teenage girl would give up her seat for a fully-grown, healthy man.

Soon after my return to Korea, I was riding the Seoul subway. Recalling the episodes on Chicago's trains, I began thinking about what drove me to give up my seat and embarrass myself so much. Though sometimes I feel pressured to give up my seat to senior citizens, it's more often a natural impulse. And I feel genuine comfort and pride when I see the shy but relieved smile of a grandmother or grandfather as they relax into the seat.

And so I stood there on the train, marveling at the beautiful Korean respect for elders exemplified by that simple act. Then my stop came, the doors slid open, and two ajummas nearly knocked me over in their mad rush for seats.

by Moon Hee-won

The writer is a sophomore at Seoul National University and an intern at the JoongAng Daily.
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