Sunday, June 15, 2008

Expat Still Living

Not quite like this...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Matt Lamers, the man at the Korea Herald who asked me to write a language column for the paper, invited all of us Expat-Living writers to a Saturday afternoon meal on the patio of Watts on Tap, near Yonsei University, at four o'clock, and I arrived a little after four to find Matt waiting on the street, his left arm in a sling.

"What happened?" I asked.

"I got stabbed," he replied.

I truly hadn't expected that. "Stabbed? Really? With a knife?"

"No," Matt explained, "with a broken bottle."

At it turns out, Matt and another editor were sitting in a park near Hongdae a couple of weeks ago, and two [sic., three] college-aged Korean men approached them and threatened to kill them. Matt and his friend had laughed, thinking it a joke, but the two [sic., three] men attacked, and one of them broke a bottle and stabbed Matt in the arm.

That particular injury was 'accidental.' The man had aimed for Matt's chest, but Matt had raised his arm in self-defense. Otherwise, I might be without an editor.

Matt didn't bother to report the 'incident' to the police even though he'd lost a bit of blood, had seen three taxis refuse to help, and had endured the first hospital that he'd visited do little but send him on to another hospital.

"Why didn't you report it?" I asked.

"I've written enough articles about police inaction when foreigners are attacked that I knew nothing would be done," he explained.

I knew what he meant. When Koreans are attacked, the police do little, and even less for foreigners. Later in the evening, when I told Sun-Ae, she was indignant but also reluctant to believe that the police could be so unreliable. I reminded her of the 12-year-old girl attacked in an elevator whose ordeal had been captured on film, yet the police had done nothing until President Lee Myung-bak had reprimanded them when the video had become publicly available on the internet.

I then gave my opinion. "The old Confucian social ethic is almost gone, and nothing has replaced it except a sense of narrow, intolerant nationalism, so you see this sort of violence against foreigners."

I'm sure that there's more to it. My wife says the young people are simply empty-headed...

UPDATE: Matt Lamers has posted his own telling of the attack at Dave's ESL Cafe. Note also the report by Bart Schaneman, the man with Matt at the time of the attack, in the comments to this Gypsy Scholar blog entry.

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At 9:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's been sometime since I visited the "Good Ol' ROK" and frankly this surprises me. The last time I did visit, the local police seemed to be very, very alert and well, eager to do police kinda stuff. Admittedly that may've been due to having a US Carrier led task force anchored in very close proximity, and several thousand sailors who'd been unable to enjoy exotic forms of alcohol for an extended period. And of course kim-chi.

But what really surprises me is that the local police force seems to be taking to our US police "formulae for intervention" that being: focus on the certain stuff, high profile stuff in other words.

And after all, "boys will be boys" you know. Whats a stabbing among friends?

But the picture of a 12 year old, of either gender, being (?) ignored(?) doesn't seem to fit with how I considered that Nation to be.

Truth is: i don't know how to respond, or even think of this post.


At 9:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, I'b be surprised if American police ignored a stabbing attack, but I've been away a good while.

As for the 'criminals' who attacked Matt, they were perhaps pumped up by the anti-US Beef protests to feel ill-will toward America.

Matt, of course, is Canadian, but why bother to ask questions? We've previously seen attacks motivated by nationalism, especially back in 2002, during the mass protests against America when a US tank had accidentally run over two teenage Korean girls. At that time, some of those attacked on the streets were Canadian, Swiss, and other nationalities who looked 'American'.

Plus, there's some xenophobia in this society even in the best of times.

Nevertheless, I still feel quite safe in Korea, a lot safer than I did living on Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley. I've not seen any gunfights in front of my apartment.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But it seems your post today opens with a stabbing? I suppose that could be explained by the Golden Arches sort of thing. But maybe he had some sort of Canadian hockey team T-shirt on and the thugs were simply rooting for another team.

And actually, I guess I'd admit to feeling a bit safer there than here myself-fortunately I have this "don't knock on his door, he's a whacko" sort of Harry Potter cloak of something or other.

I think perhaps it was simply the "apathy factor."


At 10:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't hang around protest areas and places where protesters might show up . . . mainly because I hand around home.

When I take the subway, I suppose that I might encounter xenophonic folks, but people leave me alone.

Maybe I look too mean . . . or not quite American anymore.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ya think maybe you have that, "don't knock on his door, he's a whacko" look?


At 12:15 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I hope so.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're probably aware that Hongdae has gotten reams of negative publicity in the Korean media as a den of inquity where drunken, drug-crazed foreigners rob, beat, and sexually harass innocent Koreans. I am not surprised this incident happened there.

I experienced some unpleasant incidents during my time there and heard of acts of violence, including one stabbing death of a foreign English teacher and a beating death of a GI, that were motivated by xenophobia, but I am hearing more and more stories. I wonder if harassment and violence against foreigners is becoming more common or if it is just that there is wider dissemination of such incidents through the internet, rather than the selective coverage of Korean media and word of mouth.

As a middle-aged male, Jeffery, you are a less likely target than a younger man who might pass for an English teacher or soldier, but your age does not confer full immunity, as you might guess. In the unpleasant aftermath of the 1995 subway brawl, a 60-something American missionary grandmother was harassed by two men on the subway. One stood on one side of her, one on the other, and they jostled her back and forth. When she related the incident to me, she told me that in the past, if any Korean bothered her, others would come to her aid, but this time, no one offered any assistance to a gray-haired woman being pushed by two punks.

The apathy and laziness of the Korean police is disturbing. I suspect that underreporting is one reason why Korea statistically looks safer than it really is although with few guns and little drug use, Korea is still much safer than the US.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Jeffery, you might have to consider moving to a really safe place, like New York City.

At 5:17 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, I had heard of the noise being made about Hongdae and all that.

My impression is that there's always underreporting of crime in Korea, but foreigners' crimes are emphasized and native ones ignored.

I think that crime has increased here, also violence against foreigners.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Malcolm, sounds good. Have you found me a job yet?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:02 PM, Blogger John B said...

I really don't like hearing that it went unreported. That was a pretty serious case of assault. It's true that the Korean police are often apathetic to foreigner crime, but residents of a community have a social obligation to report crime.

A guy committed a serious violent crime, and he should be apprehended and punished. Even if the police suck, foreigners should hold up their end and attempt to report it.

Besides, you might be lucky and get a young officer who takes his job seriously.

At 10:14 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I would have reported it, and Matt said that his Korean wife's family wanted to go after the guy who had attacked him, but I think that everything had happened so fast that Matt wasn't even sure about recognizing the man.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:21 AM, Blogger John B said...

Yeah, his choice, but not necessarily a good example for the rest of us.

At 12:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been here for a long time, and have heard many stories of foreigners attacked in Hongdae.

Foreigners never do FUCKING ANYTHING about it!

Goddam it, if you're not going to fight back, then at least CHARGE the fuckers. Yeah, maybe not a lot will get done, but if EVERYONE who was a victim did it, perhaps there could be change.

Well, there's two more Korean guys that got away with a assault. The blood of the next foreigner attacked by them is on Matt's hands.

Don't start trouble here in Korea. But if trouble comes your way, and you can't get out of the situation, then FIGHT BACK or GO TO THE POLICE!

Rolling over and taking it, paying for your own medical bills, having to explain to your friends and co-workers... you're an embarrassment to yourself, and to the rest of us.

At 2:02 AM, Blogger Darth Babaganoosh said...


In order for a foreigner to charge their attackers (or whomever) with a crime, the police actually have to ACCEPT the accusation and actually CHARGE the offender.

There have been many many documented cases where the police refused to charge anyone with anything( or even tried to charge the foreigner with something instead!). The police in Hongdae, Shinchon, and Itaewon are especially against anything that may help a foreigner. Those particular cop shops are notoriously useless.

At 2:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, rock hound, but if followed through on with charges for EVERY ASSAULT in those areas, then eventually something will be done.

Foreigners in Korea are the biggest suckers. We're probably known as easy marks here.

How many foreign teachers just go home after being ripped off by their hogwans?

How many foreigners just go home after being assaulted?

At 2:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I mean "rok hound".

At 5:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Seth Gecko, I understand that you're angry, and you have your reasons, but my children sometimes read my blog, so watch your language.

It's pretty easy to adjust the text or at least do this:

Foreigners never do F**KING ANYTHING about it!

Goddam it, if you're not going to fight back, then at least CHARGE the f**kers.

If I seem old-fashioned, so be it.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B and Seth Gecko, I also would have reported the crime.

But I don't agree with you, Seth, about blood being on Matt's hands. The blood is solely on the hands of the one who attacks. To blame someone else is to diminish the true culprit's responsibility.

As for Matt's decision not to report the stabbing, from what ROK Hound says about the cops at Hongdae, a foreigner has even less chance of getting justice.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

but my children sometimes read my blog

Oh, I didn't know that. Do they read it just before bedtime as a sleep aid?

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Nah, though that's an idea. They usually just read it when I write something funny that they'd laugh about.

But I want to keep this blog a vulgar-free zone, even when it touches on vulgarity.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's time to boycott Korea.

At 6:51 PM, Blogger Harubang said...

Hey Sonagi,

You really think Korea is safer than the US? You must mean less violent crime... I miss only worrying about guns and junkies instead of Chinese food deliver-boys and marble stairs that slope downward.

At 7:17 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, I still like living here, but the place can be maddening . . . and occasionally dangerous.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Harubang, there's always a downside . . . slipping down, being run down.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think you give off a "don't-f**k-with-me" vibe, which is no doubt unintentional and dispelled by actually meeting and talking with you. Anyway, that should serve you well in the subways.

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Wedge, thanks for observing protocol even while supplying a probably accurate description of my apparent attitude.

I'll need to work on that 'dispelling' part, though. I must be doing something wrong if talking with me serves to dispell the vibe. Maybe if I deepen my voice or adopt a more reptilian look in my eyes? Or I could just watch a lot of Hannibal Lector videos and practice his style.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:36 PM, Blogger Bart Schaneman said...

I was with Matt when this happened. The situation happened fast, in the dark. It wasn't a scene with lines drawn, actors blocked and in position, where everyone knew their lines and how it was going to play out. Suddenly there was a broken bottle and then the three (not two) Korean college-age students were gone.

Seth, to say that Matt is somehow responsible for another act of violence against a foreigner is not only baseless, it's ludicrous. Violence begets more violence. Say we did win the fight? What then? Another group of Korean men step in and take their place? We fight the whole park? Or, like the cowards that stabbed Matt, we fight and then run away? Or, instead, we stay and emerge victorious, standing on top of a pile of beaten Koreans? What we see in movies and on television is not the way it plays out in real life. I believe it is better to avoid violence unless absolutely necessary.

As far as the reporting goes, I think Matt and I both felt like reporting the crime at the time of the stabbing would have only landed us in trouble, knowing how the police typically side with the natives. Plus, he needed to go directly to the hospital. He was losing a lot of blood. After we got Matt to the hospital and he was taken care of, I went back to the park and talked to the people there. It was hours after the incident and of course the three guys were long gone.

In hindsight, we should have reported the incident as soon as possible. We are going down to the police station to file a report today. I don't think either of us expect a result. If anything, at least we'll be reporting what happened.

And, yes, I do think this was racism. I don't think that means Koreans are racist. But in my mind the guy that stabbed Matt stabbed him because he was white.

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Bart, I must have forgotten that detail of the third man.

I am glad that you two have decided to report the crime. It was a serious attack that needs to be reported. I do wonder if the police will take it seriously, especially two weeks after the event.

But I can understand first seeking a hospital instead of reporting immediately to the police, who are never very cooperative here, not even for Korean victims, as we all know from the newspaper and television reports.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:11 PM, Blogger gordsellar said...

I've also grown nervous after several non-violent, but increasingly edgy, confrontations. This might sound paranoid, but...

You can buy pepperspray online. The best stuff available here comes in a cannister disguised to look like a pen. You can also buy "shock" sticks -- about the size of a flashlight, with an accelerating strobe light on level one, and a screech and electrical zap on level two.

Both of these are legal and available at Korean online shopping sites. The pepper-spray is VERY strong, and has UV ink in it too, so the perp can be IDed if they seek medical attention. (And if cops actually care enough to follow up, which is the never-ending problem.)

You can even get a taser, if you're really paranoid. You need to get licensed to use it, but they're legal.

I suspect, as you suggested to me, Jeffery, that a foreigner using any of these things would be likely charged, but it can prevent a stabbing, and the perpetrator might be less likely to press charges, especially if combined with footage. A small portable video camera can be gotten for less than $100, and most cell phones can capture a little video now, too.

Probably not useful in the case of a sudden attack, but in most cases, I imagine it could help. Were I considering staying in Korea long-term, I'd probably be enrolling in a martial arts class right now... probably hapkido, where you learn to disarm people and really inflict enough pain to end the confrontation very quickly.

However, the unfortunate fact is that the best advice is to minimize risk by not hanging out after dark (when drunkenness on the part of idiots is more common) in places where idiots congregate and like to assert their power and imagined importance. Which sucks if you like live music, but you can take other precautions.

But JK, it's true: the ineptitude of the cops has been time and again demonstrated, especially by rage expressed online at inaction on cases that barely were mentioned in the media, or didn't get reported.

I suspect that it's not new, and that the difference is how the Net lets people express and combine their anger and frustration.

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Gord, for the comment. I suspect that the best offense is a good defense, and the best defense is to avoid dangerous places.

Unfortunately, that's a problem for those foreigners who must use public transportation and find themselves isolated at stops in questionable areas. I'm thinking of some of the places where you have to wait for the subway.

By the way, did you receive my email? Keep early July free for a possible barbeque at Sperwer's place. You can bring your significant other along with your own significant self!

Jeffery Hodges

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