"Mr. Hodges was not present."
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.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:
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.
I had described the aggressor as having pushed the man who had asked me to testify on his behalf.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.The policeman asked, "Did the alleged aggressor strike the victim with his fist?"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.
I replied, "I did not see this happen."
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?"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.
"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."
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.