STILL SITTING IN DISBELIEF IN FRONT OF MY COMPUTER
I am using all my energy to not go over to the Dark Side once and for all and write off this country completely. Trust me when I say that I sure am glad you can't choke people with your mind, or do other bad things with the Force – cause things would have been pretty gruesome tonight.
You see, I was ARRESTED today, FINGERPRINTED, and CHARGED WITH ASSAULT. It's now 3:15 AM (this wonderful experience started around 10) and I'm mad enough to punch through a concrete wall. Or at least try.
Oh, why, oh, why did you get arrested, you ask? Surely, people who get arrested were doing SOMETHING to end up that way, right? I mean, people who end up getting the pleasure of watching the crazed drunk handcuffed to a railing in the holding cell while being fingerprinted aren't usually absolutely free of guilt, right? I must have been a LITTLE bad, right?
That's why I don't think I've ever been more a mixture of humiliated and enraged in all my life. Because not only was I not doing anything at ALL wrong or unlawful, but I was actually just trying to play upstanding citizen, which got me arrested and charged with assault.
How could this be, you ask? Come on, right? Let me tell the story. And I swear on my father's grave – he died a few years ago and I don't like to talk about it much – what I'm telling is the truth. No exaggerations. I am trying hard not to curse and just relay the events as they happened, as I'm trying to turn this into a positive experience, one that I can process and learn something from.
And also, I am doing this in an act of pure blogging in its original form, since I just need to get this out, and blogging this is cathartic; I feel like pulling my hair out and banging on the wall and screaming, but since that does nothing productive, I'm gonna let off that steam in as positive way as possible. And perhaps this will be a cautionary tale as well, and can concretely benefit one of you if you find yourself in a tricky spot.
Three of us – a model, MissKoco, and myself – went to do some shooting in Ewha and Shinchon. We had two video cameras, my DSLR, a couple lenses, and the mammoth flash in tow, along with extra shoes, a bag, and other things to keep everyone's hands heavy. After finishing up in Ewha, we took a cab down to Shinchon, where we disembarked from the cab and got set up to take the final planned shot (me and MissKoco had been planning this little trip for more than a week and even went location scouting to get angles and test shots) near the entrance to Yonsei University. It was a specific shot we needed and the "money shot" of the evening; things had been going well, and we had gotten all our planned shots, and this was going to be the slam dunk.
The model is lithe and attractive, and she LOOKED like a model, and what she was wearing was definitely striking. People walked around us politely as we were about to get started shooting (taking a couple test shots, actually), assuming that we must have been shooting something important. We were in the middle of discussing/deciding the first pose when suddenly, the drunkest ajussi you ever saw came right up behind us and started accosting us.
I could barely understand much more than "blaargh blaargh Korean girl, blargh bleegh nigger ("깜둥이 새끼") blather blather fucking American ("미국놈") – you know, the standard drunk ajussi talk. Did I attract his attention? Did I give him a funny look? No and no, as I was literally in the middle of a sentence when he appear behind and to my left side, at which point I rolled my eyes and thought, "Not now, of all times..."
So what to do? We just stood there and completely ignored him, hoping he might just wander off. He just continued his harangue. I then (and so did the model) said very firmly "Sir, please leave us alone. We're working." (아저씨, 지금 일하는 중이라소 좀 가주세요.) The firmest the language ever got was "Please leave." (아저씨, 가세요.) I never once cursed, nor did I yell, or otherwise lose it. I am sort of used to this kind of thing, after all.
Now, we could have just left. Just called it a night and just left. In retrospect, I wish we had. But the entire evening's efforts culminated in this final, unifying shot, and we had a deadline – we had barely been able to make time with the model as it was, and this was for something that had to be done that night, or not ever. It was really a peculiar situation.
So, I decided that maybe we should cross the street to the big, well-lit coffee shop – the brand-spanking new "Beans&Berries" –and wait it out. So we decided to cross rather than take a cab and loop around. At the time, this seemed as good an idea as any, and besides, we had the clothes right and all our equipment out. We were really almost done.
Presently, we're standing at the crosswalk, and the guy was trying to grab my bag, grab me, and was feigning hitting me; he reared back like he was going to kick me once, and once grabbed my label, at which point – the first of only two times I touched him – I brushed his hand off me. I did not push him, grab him, or touch him in any other place on his body. I then raised my voice so that all in the area could hear – there were a LOT of people waiting to cross the street – "I'm giving official warning to you to stop touching me." ("공식적으로 경고합니다. 더이상 만지지 마세요") Something like that – and no, I don't talk like that when I'm mad, but is something I'd had this prepared in my head since I have a rule I've talked about on this site before: when in doubt, it's the foreigner's fault. Or, to paraphrase an old southern quip, "When the nigger starts to win, then we all jump in." Anyway, I wanted there to be no question that I, 1) spoke Korean, 2) was trying to evade a fight, and 3) was not the crazy, drunken, violent foreigner everyone seems to think we are, if you believe the newspapers and other rumors and lies.
I must admit, I did want to knock the guy out, and boooy was I tempted; but I didn't, and I never laid a finger on him other than to take his hand off me. Again, no pushes, punches, or anything like that.
So the light changes, and we go into the coffee shop. Of course, the ajussi follows us, but we thought that in the blinding light of day, he'd maybe give up and move on, at which point we could just go right back out and shoot for 10 minutes and we'd be done. Yay, right? Wrong.
We occupy the third table in; there is a young couple at the first, the second is empty. The ajussi comes in, cursing and carrying on, at which point the young couple sitting down tightens up, and a silence falls over the first floor. The two girls are at the table, and MissKoco has decided to order a drink, since she felt bad we were camping out there and causing trouble, even if it wasn't really our fault. We were just thinking: we ran across an old, belligerent drunk, so the best place to go was a well-lit place where there would be less chance of anything happening as well as witnesses if it did. Good idea, right?
Well, our favorite person in the world comes up to our table, at which point I stood up and very forcefully told him to leave us alone and to stop harassing the girls. I also did another one of the "official warning" things, which freaked out a lot of the people and caused some people to come downstairs to look. He tried to grab me again, and I barely even touched him as I brushed it off, mostly just stepping back and avoiding him, actually.
The tall, male employee had come out from behind the counter and was trying to get the ajussi to leave, at which point he just plunked down in the table next to us and continued cursing at me. Fucking American this, dirty nigger that, respect Korea, I lived in America so I know you people, where are you from, American Indian, etcetera. Oh, it was lovely.
But now, he was just the tired, sleepy drunk guy talking and mumbling to himself. Fine, right? But he wouldn't leave, and even though we were completely avoiding eye contact, and he just continued with his one-man show, I knew he was just going follow us out again if we left. We had a true fan.
So I decided to call the police. Public drunkenness, harrassing people, he tried (albeit feebly) to hit me, and causing a disturbance. And the stench of soju was so rank and rancid that it was clear who was the problematic party, right?
So I called 112 at 10:07 and spoke with the operator for exactly one minute and 20 seconds, explaining that there was a drunk guy here harassing people, that he was harrassing and following us specifically, and our exact location. He hadn't done anything bad to us, nor us to him – I just wanted the police to come, find this guy sitting here drunk with the entire 1st floor of the coffee shop all up in arms, and just escort the guy away. He was being a public nuisance, right? I mean, we could have been any concerned citizen and called the police about a dangerous, threatening, or otherwise potentially harmful character harassing people on the street, right?
Well, they show us, and I figured I had remained calm, done the right thing, stayed in the light, called the cops, and that the cops would do the Korean thing and be like, "Walk it off, sir and don't let us see you again tonight", and we could take our last shot without fear of being harassed. And I had always calling the cops the better idea than letting myself get mad enough to actually lost it, hit a guy, and get into worse trouble. And remember, "when the nigger starts to win, then we all jump in," anyway. Doesn't matter who started it.
So the cops arrive. They listen to his harangue, filled with racial slurs and expletives, then when we're packing up because we've had our fill for the evening and thought our little friend was in good hands, the cop says *I* have to come down to the station. When I incredulously shot back, "Why?" the cop says that the guy is now saying I kicked him.
Of course, that's complete and utter, brown and drippy horse shit, to put a fine point on it. Not only had I had a huge black camera bag in tow around one shoulder, and an SLR with a huge, honkin' flash in it in my hand outside, which would have made it quite a feat of balance to kick him, he would later assert in the police station (the second stop of the evening, not the first) that I had grabbed him with BOTH HANDS and then kicked him hard in the shin, leaving the blue welt that was there, which only the Lord knows how he got. And the Lord also knows that I couldn't care less, since I certainly didn't give it to him.
And I certainly could not have grabbed him, two-handed style, and given him that kick, even if I had wanted to. To get the kind of bruise he had on his leg, I'd have had to wind up pretty good to get some swing into it, not be all right up on the man. And that would have been as obvious a scuffle as hell, anyway, and hey – WHERE'S MY BRUISE? I did taekwondo for three years - not long enough to be frickin' Jean Claude van Damme, but I did enough sparring to get lots of leg bruises from shin clashes, one of the most common injuries in kick-crazy Taekwondo, but you don't get shin bruises by being up on a guy. You need to clash shins in a kick, both people get bruised, and it fricking HURTS.
In short, I didn't kick SHIT. Didn't hit anybody, either. Didn't push nobody, or even use bad language. I was completely and utterly under control, was trying to defuse the situation the right way, and if anything, just wanted to appear as calm and professional as I could for our model, who wasn't enjoying this one bit, and was supposed to have finished an hour ago at this point.
So I go down to the station, he lies his ass off, saying that 1) he had just come up to us with "good intentions" and was curious about what we were shooting and just wanted to be helpful (I was writhing in my chair at this point, since I was sitting in the same room with him), 2) HE had asked the employees to call the police on ME - which was another bald-faced and confirmable lie, since there are records and witnesses and the shorter young lady at the coffee counter had specifically come up to me and asked if I had indeed called the police, which I answered in the affirmative, 3) that MissKoco had been a white MAN (nice state of inebriation ya got there, bub!) 4) and that I had grabbed and kicked HIM.
What fascinated me was how no one was taking breathalyzers, and they were listening to his ass still. They were treating his testimony – with no witnesses on his side – as the same as mine! And after he was done, he was just allowed to go home.
Me? I was served papers, made to do the red thumbprint on every page, then taken downstairs where the violent crime unit is to be electronically fingerprinted and made to sign what I think was an official record of my arrest and another form asking me whether I wanted the American consulate (embassy?) notified, on which I checked the "no" box, of course.
What gets me is that, on the word of an ajussi so drunk he can't stand, and in his testimony to the cop, he mentioned he's unemployed, has no cellphone, and lives in a boarding house – I was arrested and booked. And it was just his word against mine (oh, by the way, he said that MissKoco wouldn't be called since she was American and you know, her word just isn't that believable). So he's going to just call the model and ask her for her version of the story, since she's Korean, and despite the fact that she's technically in my party and would tend to be on my side, her word is more valid because Koreans apparently don't lie.
This makes a whole lotta sense, right? So yes, now I get to worry about 1) whether I will be found guilty or not, 2) get to live with this hanging over my head for weeks or even months, I'm told, 3) don't know if this will affect my visa renewal process when it comes time next year to renew, and 4) if found guilty, I might have to pay THIS GUY and then I'm even more royally screwed, since I will have been convicted of ASSAULT. That looks good these days in the Immigration Office, right?
Lovely. I've followed the law all my life, never been arrested (besides a protest in college in which like 500 kids were "arrested" for like 5 minutes), and never hit anyone outside of a Taekwondo dojang or my little brother (sorry about that, little brother!).
So it's 4:33 in the morning now, and I can't sleep, and am still thinking WHAT THE FU*K?! I avoided the fight, went to the brightly-lit place with lots of people, and called the cops. And now I've been arrested, fingerprinted, and booked!
And you know what the cop said, in a moment of "let me give you some friendly advice, kid" candor?
"You should have just gone home. You shouldn't have called us. Next time, just leave."
And that, kids, is the moral of the story. When you're the foreigner, and you haven't done anything wrong, RUN. Otherwise, all the person has to do it lie, and you're guilty until proven innocent, even if they're a drunk, nearly homeless loser who doesn't even have a single witness to corroborate his lies.
Damn, I'm mad! Damn!
Yeah, this is why I learned the culture and language and came to Korea – to end up arrested, red-thumbed, and booked in a police station in the middle of the night after *I* had called the police on some drunk waste-of-flesh who very well might have gone on to harass OTHER PEOPLE.
The ironic thing? I really wonder if he'll EVEN REMEMBER what happened tonight. I mean, he harrassed us, made a fool of himself, and gave OFFICIAL TESTIMONY while smashed beyond comprehension. He STUMBLED out of the interrogation room. Stumbled!
They just let him walk. And I gotta wait for the judge to rule.
P.S. Just for fun, I recorded the delightful demeanor of this man, who was drunk out of his addle-brained skull and lying so much that I think he either convinced himself that this was the truth, or he just was so shit-faced that he probably tripped over something and bruised himself, then the next thing he remembers, he's standing in front of me, trying to take my camera bag. With me and MissKoco talking, it's partially in English, partly Korean. (Two quick edits in there, made to take out personal names.)
Second, enjoy the special moment he and I were forced to share while I waited to be taken to Seodaemun Police Headquarters – we were stuck looking at each other, twiddling our thumbs. This little gem is all in Korean!
I've also got video of him being a drunk old bag of flesh, but that's for later.