Sunday, July 22, 2007

Gypsy Scholar visits the police...

Police Encounter
"Please police me, oh yeah, like I police you..."
(Image from Wikipedia)

On Friday afternoon, I had a brief encounter with the Korean police.

It started like this...

On Wednesday afternoon, I received a phone call from a certain Korean man who proceeded to remind me of an experience way back on the evening of September 14, 2006 during the 31st anniversary celebration of Papua New Guinea's independence, an event that I attended at Seoul's Grand Hyatt Hotel and that I happen to have blogged upon:

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 and musing about maybe testing that special Arabicas roast [imported from Papua New Guinea], 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.
To be frank ... the Korean fellow didn't specify all of these details. Rather, he mentioned being a reporter for the Korea IT Times and reminding me that we had met at a celebration "On the Occasion of the 31st Anniversary of the Independence of Papua New Guinea," to which I had been invited by Ambassador Kuma Aua.

All of the details then came flooding back ... vaguely. I was drowning in them, but rescued by the Korean man on the other end of the line, a lifeline:

"You remember the attack?" he inquired.

That, I recalled clearly. "Yes," I confirmed.
That established, the man reminded me that he had attended Hanshin University, where I had taught (an important connection for Koreans, for whom connections mean everything), and asked me if I would be willing to act as a witness of the attack.

I agreed.

Now, I agreed -- of course -- more out of abstract principles than due to any particular connection that I might have with this fellow. I had seen what appeared to be an unprovoked attack, the apparent victim needed an eyewitness, and I felt that testifying was my duty.

As I remarked, rather abstract.

Of course, I had to rope my wife into this. At first, she was skeptical and gave me that 'look' that says "What are you thinking?!" But after she had spoken to the man himself and learned that he had been attacked three fricking times by the same implacable fellow, her Korean heart was touched, and she wanted to help the poor man.

I -- by this time -- was wondering, "Uh ... three times? What have I gotten myself into? Is Mr. Implacable going to come looking for me?" So much for abstract principles...

Nevertheless, on Friday afternoon, I went to Samseong Subway Station to meet my wife on her way back from teaching, and we walked to our scheduled meeting in the nearby police station, where the poor man looked so relieved to see us appear. He shook hand with me, bowed to my wife (the obvious boss, I guess), and thanked us profusely for coming to help him.

Soon, we approached the policeman who bore responsibility for posing the questions. He took one look at me and sighed, "Oh no, not a foreigner!"

But he soon learned that I was a professor at Kyung Hee University and married to a Korean, which seemed to help rehabilitate me ... a bit.

After instructing the Korean fellow to go out, he asked what had happened. I recited the dry details -- which you can derive from the description above by deleting all of the adjectives.

My wife waited until I had finished telling everything, which wasn't much, and then translated.

Afterwards, the policeman typed and typed.

Then, he asked my wife to proofread what he had written. She looked at it and smiled. After reading through, she explained, "It's written up as a report of the policeman posing questions that you answer." As if he had interviewed me!

The 'legal' truth will thus differ from the actual truth. Granted, the policeman did ask a follow-up question. 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. Actually, he seemed to have the opinion that a mountain was being made of a molehill (if I may ascend into cliché).

My wife and I were then allowed to leave ... after I had signed my statement and been duly fingerprinted. (Was I the criminal?)

Outside, we spoke again with the man who had called me. He was very grateful ... until he learned that I hadn't witnessed the aggressor strike him a blow. At that point, he appeared ... deflated. He wasn't less grateful, but he looked as if he felt that he had lost his case. I guess that I was supposed to have seen fisticuffs. I had not, however, witnessed any ... though my line of sight may have been obscured.

At any rate, that was my 'exciting' Friday afternoon encounter with the Korean Police...

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At 6:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I definitely can relate to the ambiguities of your exciting Friday. If your experience comes out like my experience with a group of ROK's, it shall remain, "what the hell happened?"


At 7:10 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

One thing that happens in Korea is that the Koreans, accustomed to hierarchy, make many of your decisions for you without even bothering to check what you want -- or whether or not they're making even remotely the right choice.

Once, I discovered that my son's name had been transliterated into Korean for an ID card. I looked at it and said, "The name is wrong." The Authority informed me that one can transliterate English into Korean in many different ways. I replied, "En-Uk's name is Korean." The Authority looked startled, then grew angry at me for suggesting that somebody had made a mistake. Apparently, I was at fault for giving my son a Korean name.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I'm beginning to see hope for you my friend. I cannot recall precisely where I wrote to you that in some things, and perhaps after some time.

We must laugh.

Korea was a very, well by now I expect you know. That wonderful, wondrous land was a source of many "what the heck just happened?" experiences for me.


At 9:13 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, it is often very funny ... if frustrating.

Jeffery Hodges

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