Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Mr. Hodges was not present."

Seoul Central District Court
(Image from Mentorland)

Some readers with long memories might recall my blog entry of September 15, 2006: "An exciting evening among the diplomats." This was my report on a special reception at the Grand Hyatt Hotel to which I was personally invited by fellow SIBC member Ambassador Kuma Aua, who had handed me a card of official invitation for the September 14, 2006 reception: "On the Occasion of the 31st Anniversary of the Independence of Papua New Guinea." Here's a photograph from the Seoul Times article, "Papua New Guinea Marks Its National Day in Seoul," which provided a brief report on the event:

Standing in the center of this Seoul Times photo from September 2006 is Ambassador Kuma Aua, flanked to the left and the right by various other VIPs, none of whom I knew. If readers recall my blog entry on this reception, then they will also recall my report on a particular altercation that I witnessed:
I had an . . . exciting encounter with a journalist from the Korea IT Times. I happened to be alone for a moment, sipping an Australian shiraz . . . when a Korean man approached me to introduce himself. He was a perceptive fellow, for he already had me pegged as a professor and asked if I taught literature.

In our ensuing conversation, he learned that I had previously taught at Hanshin University. At this point, he became animated and informed me that he had majored in German at Hanshin. I responded by switching to German, and he impressed me not only by replying in German but also by continuing our talk in that language.

I say "impressed" because many Korean students in Korea are not especially serious about their major, and one often meets people here who know very little about the field that they 'studied.'

Anyway, I was just about to hand him my card, when a rather burly fellow who was clearly deep into his cups came over, grabbed the journalist, spoke some angry words in Korean, and began pushing the poor fellow. Astonished by this sudden irruption, I could only stare as my conversation partner was pushed halfway across the room. Other people intervened to separate the two, the aggressive man was escorted out, and my journalist returned to accept my card and supply his own before exiting with determination in his eyes.
As I noted, an exciting evening. Readers might also recall a follow-up blog entry a little less than a year later (on Sunday, July 22, 2007), which reported on my trip to the police to offer my testimony on what I had seen . . . and what I had not seen:
I had described the aggressor as having pushed the man who had asked me to testify on his behalf.
The policeman asked, "Did the alleged aggressor strike the victim with his fist?"

I replied, "I did not see this happen."
The policeman asked this more than once. Each time, I testified that I had not seen that sort of violence. At length, the policeman appeared satisfied.
Apparently, the victim (and I noted that the police didn't say "alleged" victim) had maintained that he had not only been pushed but also struck. I simply didn't see that, which turned out to be a crucial point when the case came to trial nearly two years later, in a trial yesterday at the Seoul Central District Court, for the question was again posed several times. Every time, I testified that I had not seen any fisticuffs.

Only one other witness was called. Interestingly, he was also a Westerner. No Korean wanted to testify, I suppose, although several Koreans were present at the time of the altercation. This Westerner, whose name I didn't catch, stated that he works as a journalist and reports on diplomatic issues and related topics. His testimony differed from mine in that he maintained that he had heard some yelling, that he had turned and seen the victim grab the lapels of the defendent (i.e., the one whom I recognized as the aggressor) and that both had pushed each other. I hadn't seen that, but my line of sight might have been obscured by the defendent, who had been pushing the victim away from me.

The most interesting point in the other witness's testimony came when he was asked:
"Was Mr. Hodges present during the quarrel?"
He replied:
"No. Mr. Hodges was not present."
My wife gasped. I had to smile at the man's confidence -- overconfidence, really. He was asked again, and he repeated his point, then added:
"The party was restricted. Only diplomats and other officials would be invited to such an event because of security concerns."
What followed was also interesting, at least for me, for by revealing the other witness's less-than-perfect memory, it tended to call into question the precision of his testimony:
"How many people were present?"

"About 10 to 15."

"And did you know everyone present?"

"Yes. I am familiar with them all. I know them."

"Can you identify them by name?"

"I can identify them by their diplomatic titles."

"Do you know their names?"

"No, I don't recall their names."
Because of the discrepancy in our testimonies, I was called back to the witness stand and asked if I had really been present. I explained that I had genuinely been present, that I had been invited by Ambassador Kuma Aua, the Papua New Guinea ambassador to South Korea, that I know him from my Sunday Bible study class, and that not only I but the Bible study leader and his wife, the pastor and his wife, and a number of other church members had also been invited. I added that I judged the number of individuals present at the time of the altercation to be about 20 or 25.

The court appeared baffled at our different testimonies, so I was asked to re-enact what I had seen. I explained that I had been drinking a glass of wine at a high table when a Korean man had approached and drawn me into conversation. I related how I had discovered that he had studied German at Hanshin University, where I had taught for a couple of years, and that we had therefore switched to German to speak further. I then re-enacted what I had seen transpire, namely, that the defendent had approached, grabbed my conversation partner by his lapels, and pushed him across the floor.

The judge then intervened to request that I draw the room and show what had happened -- and he was very astute in asking that I do this first, before the others were asked, for my testimony was the one in question. I made a rough sketch of the room's layout -- its stage, its wine table, the high table where I had been standing -- and used points and arrows to show the action . . . a bit like a coach sketching a strategy by the time I had finished.

After the judge inspected the sketch, he sent it to the other witness, who acknowledged that my sketch was roughly correct, though I think that he moved the stage more to the center and added some snack tables. After that, the sketch went to the victim and the defendent, who more or less agreed with what we had drawn. The judge -- apparently concluding that Mr. Hodges was present -- then decided that the other witness had missed the beginning of the altercation and had seen only the part where both victim and defendent were struggling and that our two testimonies were therefore consistent.

That seemed to me to be the correct solution. I had not thought that the other witness had been lying -- though that other witness was clearly certain that I had been lying since he insisted that I had not been present and that I could not have been invited. To my mind, merely his accuracy, not his veracity, was at stake. However, while he may have been sincere, I do believe that a professional journalist such as he ought to be more cautious in reporting on who was or was not present somewhere and more careful in reporting facts about what could or could not have happened someplace.

But perhaps this journalist had a 'teachable moment', for he must surely have learned just how wrong wrong can be -- since his report of my 'nonexistence' had been greatly exaggerated.

Labels: , ,


At 5:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You left out some SNACKTABLES!!?!

Cran? See to it nephew arranges for a medical exam.


At 5:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, that was three years ago . . . but I do recall the wine.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 6:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After some thought I think I may've hit upon why the journalist insisted you weren't there. Had you placd the snacktables on the drawing it would've been obvious why the journalist hadn't seen you.

But that raises another question. What expat drinks wine and doesn't grab a chunk of cheese off a snacktable?

Could've been crucial testimony got lost.


At 7:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think that there was some cheese at the wine table, and as I was sketching the room, I mentioned snack tables, but I couldn't recall where they had been placed, so I didn't include them.

The journalist recalled the those table, though.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 11:20 AM, Blogger Sperwer said...

at was the fight about?

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sperwer, I never found out what the fight was about.

Both the victim and the defendent contacted me by phone to try to get me to change my testimony in favor of one or the other. I was so annoyed with the two of them that I hardly cared what they were fighting about -- or didn't care enough to inquire since I'd then have to listen to them abuse each other verbally.

I am slighty curious, of course, but I'll never know. They were both journalists, so it may have had something to do with articles that they had written.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 11:58 AM, Blogger Sperwer said...

Witness tampering, eh. You should have dropped a dime on both of them.

At 12:03 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That would have meant dealing with both of them even more, and I hope that this is finished.

At least, I had an interesting experience -- a first for me as a witness.

My wife says that I appeared a bit stiff. Having seen a video of myself lecturing this past spring semester, I know exactly what she means.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 12:49 AM, Anonymous erdal said...

That Seoul Central District Court building is horrible. Court houses certainly are obliged to look somewhat serious -- but this is going way too far. You were very brave to enter it and probably were exceptionally lucky to leave that meat grinder unharmed.

At 4:53 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Erdal, for the compliment on my courage . . . though the praise is misplaced. If I had recognized what you've pointed out, that the building looks like a meatgrinder, I might not have entered in at all. But in my abstraction, I imagined the two tall columns to represent the scroll of the law.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:39 PM, Anonymous Scott Corey said...

On the accuracy of journalism, I am reminded of the New York Times report after the Loma Prieta earthquake, years ago. As I recall (but with how much accuracy?) the first sentence announced that the University of California at Berkeley library was burning. An actual fire was about three blocks off campus, perhaps a quarter mile from the library. At least that drew a correction in subsequent accounts.


At 9:17 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I often recall Sonia Nazario's disdain for journalists. I believe that she referred to the Wall Street Journal as the Wall Street 'Urinal'.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home