That Was Close – I almost fought a hotel owner

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about racism in Korea. The response was mostly positive, but some people noted a lack of specific, personal examples of discrimination. Unfortunately, I had an incident tonight that was undoubtedly the result of racial prejudice.

A business owner denied me an advertised discount on the basis of my race and assaulted me when I walked outside and took a picture of his business. When I involved the police, they were polite but totally unwilling to file a report or confront the business owner on my behalf. Here’s what happened:

I use a smart phone application called Yanolja (야놀자) to find hotels when I travel. I’ve even mentioned it before in other posts. Yanolja is similar to Yelp! in the US. It has a map to help you find nearby hotels, price lists, pictures of rooms, and a rating system with lots of reviews. Member hotels offer a discount to Yanolja users. All you have to do is tell them that you used the app to find their hotel.

Yanolja App - Map Screen

Yanolja App - Price Screen

The standard prices are listed in black. The blue prices below are the Yanolja prices. In this case, a single room is 55,000 won ($50) without and 45,000 ($40) with the Yanolja discount.

Before arriving in Seoul, I chose a hotel with a 5-star Yanolja rating that is in the area in which I wanted to stay. The hotel is called Jungno 3 Ga Story (중로 3가 이야기) – named after the local subway station. It was easy to find as it’s only a few hundred feet from a subway station exit. The place was exactly what I wanted – a small business motel that was a few blocks away from the local party scene.

I waited a few minutes before the man who was working behind the desk – I assume the owner – showed up. I asked him if he had any rooms available, and he said yes. I told him that I used Yanolja to find his hotel, which means that I wanted the discount that Yanolja users are promised when they use the app. We had the following conversation:

Clerk: The price is 55,000. No Yanolja.
Me: Why not?
Clerk: Yanolja Korean app. Not for foreigner.
Me: I speak some Korean, I can use the app. Why won’t you give the discount?
Clerk: Discount only for Korean person. Foreigners no.
Me: Are you serious? You racist asshole!
Clerk: 씨발개새끼야!…(couldn’t understand)…외국놈 – This means “son of a bitch” and “foreign bastard”

I gave him the finger (probably not helpful), walked outside and took a photo of the front of the hotel.

Story Hotel Seoul - 중로3가 야야기

This sent him over the edge. He came out after me, “why pictures?” He tried to grab the phone, but I put it in my pocket. When I turned around to walk away, he grabbed my backpack and pulled me back. I pulled away and continued to walk, but he ran around in front of me and grabbed my arm to keep me from leaving. I pushed past him several times, but he continued to grab me and try to keep me there. He didn’t take a swing, but he was very angry and aggressive.

Having spent many years as a police officer, my first instinct was to fight. Fortunately, I kept my cool and didn’t fight back. He was a big guy and there was nobody in the alley to help me if things got out of hand. I pushed past him several more times, but every time he grabbed me again and pulled me back. Finally I pushed him hard and he stumbled, so I jogged past. He followed me for a bit, but stopped once I reached the main street near the subway station.

I immediately called the police department. I explained that I wanted to make a complaint for assault. The dispatcher initially refused to send a police officer, but when I told him that I was an American policeman, he said that he would send someone. Three officers (two rookies and a supervisor, I think) showed up a few minutes later. One of the young officers spoke a very basic English, so I explained what happened. Between English and Korean, I got the important facts across.

The officers were kind, but they didn’t seem interested in taking a report or even talking to the guy. They simply took me to a different hotel and dropped me off. The hotel was 70,000 won, $25 more than I wanted to spend, but I decided not to complain since they were kind enough to give me a ride.

I can’t decide whether I should let this go or try to do something about it. What do you think? If you were in my position, what would you do?

Until next time.


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