Tuesday, 31 July 2012

July 31st, 2012 Day 11

Nothing happened today. I woke up, ate rice, kimchi and potato/turnip soup. Washed my face and shaved. Stared at the wall for a few hours, stared at the TV for a few hours, skipped lunch of rice kimchi and soup, stared at the wall for a few hours, stared at the TV for a few hours, ate dinner of rice, kimchi and soup, stared at the TV for a few hours, stared at the ceiling for a few hours, tried to sleep, but really just stared at the wall for a few hours until the lights got brighter. The end. Only 69 more days to go of the same shit.

Monday, 30 July 2012

July 30th, 2012 Day 10

Monday’s here. Hopefully, today is the day I find out if I’m going to spend the next 70 days locked up or give in my day in court and/or deported. So far, the day has been uneventful. The usual watery turnips soup actually had pieces of meat in, so that was kind of nice. I read that NASA has a kitchen staff devoted to making meals for the mission to Mars. They have over 100 different vegetarian options because they feel variety is important to moral. I think they should just send Koreans, then they would only need 59 unique items and they would get 21 meals out of it and the Korean astronauts would happily eat the same weekly menu for a month, every month. Really, all you need to send with them is rice, kimchi and water. It reminds me of a friend he was going to write a cookbook about 1001 ways to cook Kraft dinner. NASA doesn’t need 100 different recipe options; they need people who have never eaten food outside the ethnic group.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

July 29th, 2012 Day 9

Breakfast was the same as usual— shitty. More of that unwashed grass with red pepper paste and slimy seaweed soup. This soup is a Korean birthday tradition; it seems like a trick to get children to eat gross food before they get cake. A childhood friend of mine was served liver every Halloween and he had to eat it all before he could go out trick or treating. As a kid, liver is gross, but I sure would like some liver slathered with onions right now.

I pissed off the weekend warden at roll call this morning because I didn’t sit cross-legged it with my back against the wall; I sat with my legs stretched out in front of me, lounging. The assistant guard came back and tried to explain to me.

He started off by asking if I spoke Korean. I said “no” and he proceeded to explain away in rapid-fire Korean.

I cut him off- “You just asked if I spoke Korean and I said no, and now you you’re saying a bunch of shit I don’t understand for no reason, but to listen to yourself talk, what’s the point? I don’t care.”

In Korean, he says “I guess you’re right” and walks away.

Obviously from what I wrote, I understand perfectly, I just feign ignorance because I really don’t care. How are they going to punish me if I don’t comply? I’m already locked in a small room for 23 hours a day. And the weekend warden is a complete nincompoop. You can tell just looking at him. The look of rage that welled up in his face as I stared at him. Rapping his hand on the door, as if that is some special language foreigners understand. The complete frustration on his face as he sputtered, trying to figure out what to say in any language.

When he started knocking on the glass, I wanted to jump up and start acting like a chimpanzee. That really would have pissed him off.

The assistant locked rather amused by it all.

And the day has just started. Sometimes, some of the guards aren’t so bad. I doubt any prison guard in North America would invite you to have coffee with them or bring around slices of watermelon on a hot day. The assistant guard invited me for a cup of coffee in the control room. His English is about as good as my Korean. He says he would rather travel and work in a prison (who wouldn’t) but he doesn’t have any other skills. People may think I’m selfish because I live the way I do, but I rather be considered selfish than feel miserable about my lot in life. I may be in a jail cell now, but I will not always be here. Unless the guard gets a new job and/or skills, he’ll always be here. How depressing. Of course, as of now, he gets to go home at the end of the day— I don’t.

It turns out I can buy a comb, but only on Tuesday. Actually, I can buy a lot of things, but only on certain days of the week. For example, if I want a pen, I have to wait until Thursday. On Monday, I can buy a watch. No one knows why it’s like that, just that it’s the way things are done here.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

July 28th, 2012 Day 8

It’s a Saturday, so pretty quiet around ye olde prison.

Breakfast wasn't so bad— a couple of bread rolls, strawberry jam, mushroom soup and coleslaw. Not so traditional, but no rice or kimchi either.

I have a list of things I am able to buy. Things like pens, paper, food/snack items, toiletries, etc., so I decided that if I have to stay the full 80 days, I should at least buy a comb before my hair naturally dreads. Some pencils and other stationery would be nice, too. I have all this stuff already, but my sketchbook is the only thing from my personal belongings they will allow me to have since I have addresses and phone numbers listed in it. I had to borrow a pen to write this.

I also requested a Korean – English dictionary. I figured I could pass the time by using the dictionary to translate Korean versions of Maxim (I’m reading the articles, honest!) or GQ. Aaron also has a Marvel graphic novel in Korean. I've already read it in English; it could be cool to learn to read it in Korean. It’s ironic that three months in jail will probably teach me more Korean than 10 years living and teaching and married to a Korean in Korea.  And then, I’ll get deported, never to return.

Lunch and dinner was totally uninspired. Lunch was rice, kimchi and kimchi soup, so I got served kimchi twice. They just added water to one of the dishes. Dinner wasn't much different. The soup was hot water and bean sprouts. The side dish was marinated garlic. Nothing else, just gloves of pickled garlic.

“Hi honey, I’m home! Sorry I’m late, long day at the office. “

“Oh hi, did you eat?”

“Yeah, I’m good. I grabbed a couple cloves of garlic on the way home.”


They started showing the Olympics on TV. The opening ceremonies were pretty awesome, then right in the middle, some asshole switched the feed to some k-pop boy band. I have a hard time telling the difference between the boys and girls, except the girls all wear short shorts or skirts that show off their legs. Other than that, there is not much difference. Anyway, one of the most important events in the world was switched to effeminate dancing boys. To make up for the shot of estrogen, they did show the movie Real Steel afterward. And now it’s back to actual Olympic events. However, the idiot guard behind the controls can’t decide which event to watch, so I haven’t seen anybody win anything yet. I've watched archery, 400 m freestyle swimming and air rifle targeting and I have no idea who’s in lead in any event because the guard in charge of the TV channels for the entire prison keeps switching channels.

I should mention the TV is controlled by the prison. There are three channels, but two of them usually show exactly the same thing at the same time and the third one is usually off-line. So really, there is only one channel on for a limited time, at certain times of the day. They shut it off at 9 PM. When it’s not on, they play K-pop over the loudspeakers. It’s torture. No volume control and I can turn it off. The TV channel that is usually turned off shows educational TV, when it’s on. It's usually math or English instruction. The (Korean) English teacher has a terrible accent and can’t actually speak English, but she is very enthusiastic about teaching English grammar. The other channel shows mostly human interest stories about “everyday” Koreans who have strange hobbies. Sometimes, they show travel shows that mostly showcase how normal Korea is compared to the rest the world.  Maybe I’m biased and bitter, but there is nothing superior about anything Korean. Although they will do their best to convince you otherwise-- there are four seasons, kimchi cures cancer, fans kill, only foreigners have AIDS, SARS and H1N1, Jesus and the Christmas tree come from Korea and Dokdo is in the East Sea.

They also have lots of varieties/talk shows with other “famous” Koreans and dramas.

There are two types of Korean dramas, historical for the boys and love triangles for the girls. I even have contempt for the dramas on TV. I can’t watch them without scoffing in disbelief. The mothers can’t stay out of anybody’s business; the men treat the women like shit, and act like mama’s boys. Women act like poor, little, weak victims and the older men act like assholes to everybody else. It just disgusts me. I don’t see the appeal behind the Hallyu (Korean wave) craze at all. All the boy bands look like little girls. The girls look like they’re barely out of middle school and the dramas trot out every stereotype known-- men are assholes  and the women are weak without them. Unless, they’re married. Then the men are mama’s boys and the women are dragon ladies.

Friday, 27 July 2012

July 27th, 2012 Day 7

Breakfast was more of a disappointment than usual. I don’t  expect much when it comes to rice and kimchi and soup, but today, the variation of kimchi was more akin to grass with pepper paste, except they forgot to wash the grass first. I could still taste and feel the dirt. 고들빼기장아찌… highly not recommended. I also got the new menu for the next month. It’s essentially the same menu as last month, but in a different order. Exciting culinary pleasures.

I was unprepared for the second roll call at 8:15 this morning. The warden asked if I had a watch. When I said no, he yelled at the other guards, saying it was their responsibility that I know what time it was. I may be a foreigner in a Korean jail, but I seem to get preferential treatment—within the guidelines of the rules, whatever those are.

I sat in on a seminar the first day, where I’m pretty sure the rules were told to me, but it was all in Korean… I also got a full medical check-up, so I know my blood pressure is good and I don’t have AIDS.

The guy who serves me my food has turned out to have an English name—Aaron. He gave me a magazine and a book. I’m so starved to read something, anything in English. The Harvard Business Review and a book about the best companies in the last 20 years is exciting stuff. Being in jail is like rehab at business school. No smoking or drinking, and the only English books I can get are about business. And I gladly read them. If I actually cared about math, statistics, percentages and stock analysis, I might even be good at it. Aaron also gave me an electric razor, so I’m clean shaven for the first time in a week. Now, I at least look normal instead of like some crazy, wild lunatic. If I could get a shower, I might even feel normal again.

It looks like my appeal wasn't approved yet, so I’ll be spending the weekend here. Hopefully, it will be approved soon; otherwise, I have 73 days to go. By that time 3 more charges will have been processed, worth another 150 days behind bars. At this rate, I could be here until April.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

July 26th, 2012 Day 6

I've been here almost a week now. I had a shower when I first got my inmate digs, 6 days ago. I haven’t showered, shaved, brushed my hair or changed my clothes since. Today, the barbers, also inmates, visited our cell block. He had to use clippers to shave my beard. Good enough. He didn't use a cape or towel to cover me though, so I have tiny hairs all over my body. I gave myself a sponge bath as best as I could in my tiny bathroom with only a cold water tap and a bucket. Not even a bucket really, more like a plastic basin. I washed my shirt, pants and underwear as well. Cell check isn't until 5 pm, so everything should be dry by then. I wish they would give me a comb or a brush. I don’t know why they won’t. Maybe they think I’ll make a shiv out it… turns out I have to buy it. I filed an appeal for my fine yesterday. Hopefully it will be considered and I’ll be out of here in days. Otherwise, I have 74 days of incarceration left. With any luck, my appeal will be accepted and I’ll be picked up immigration and be deported. Problem solved. Out of the country and avoid paying any fines. If I don’t get deported, I’ll be forced to get a job to pay of all my debts. It’s a pain in the ass, but better than jail. At least I have a bit of capital to get me started if this scenario plays out.

Lots of excitement today. One of the inmates cut open his foot, on purpose, it seems. Lots of guards running around. There was also an inspection by a group of bigwigs. That’s always fun… 10-20 men in suits walking past my cell, peering in—“look, we got a waygook in our zoo!”

The TV stayed on past midnight to show the Mexico/Korea Olympic football match. Terrible game. Korea kept messing up their scoring opportunities, final score 0-0.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

July 24th, 2012 Day 4

I know I’m a stubborn bastard who thinks he knows it all, but I’m willing to admit my mistakes. I don’t always actually admit to my mistakes, but I am willing. In other words, if I do the crime, I’ll do the time, but this whole fiasco makes me question the logic and sanity of following that mantra.

So, after months of preparation—finding a home for Guinness, selling all the furniture, sending boxes back to Canada, packing my bags, getting my key deposit back, paying all the bills and buying a ticket to Thailand, I’m finally at the airport at the check-in desk.

“Would you like a window or aisle seat?”

“Window seat, please,” I reply.

“Oh wait, I ‘m sorry, sir, you’ll have to go to immigration…”

3 hours later, still at the immigration desk, “No, you can’t leave Korea. You must go to the Yongsan Police Station.”

Flight missed. $500 down the drain. My only consolation is I’m able to see The Dark Knight Rises on opening night. With everything going on, I still manage to squeeze in the opening night of Batman.

The next day, after a couple of hours at the police station, I get my criminal record. There are 3 charges being persecuted and one of them is for $4000! For obstructing the duties of a police officer! WTF!? I was asleep outside like so many other drunks in Seoul. Why do I get a $4000 fine?

“You must go to the Mapo district Prosecutor’s office and talk to Mr. Han.”

And a couple hours later I’m back in the Jail system again (I briefly visited jail during March of 2012 for a 2 week period on an unrelated misunderstanding) where I must pay a $4000 fine or spend 80 days in jail. I can file an appeal (and I do), but that takes time, so I’ll be here at least a week and chances are, when I’m  released for my appeal, I’ll be picked up by immigration and deported. Korean logic may be illogical, but it’s predictable. Just choose the result that’s the opposite of common sense. Common sense says that since my crimes are minor offences, it would save the taxpayers of Korea a lot of money by letting me leave. As it stands, it costs the Korean taxpayer $50 per day to keep me incarcerated, for the next 80 days, plus the additional costs to deport me. Being in jail is no fun, but on the other hand, I have free room & board and my lungs and liver are pretty thankful after 25 years of abuse to be free of cigarettes and alcohol for at least a week, if not 3 months. I may just quit smoking permanently as a result and then my wallet will be thanking me too, if I ever get back to Canada at $10 per pack of smokes.

So, here I sit in my cell. When I was being processed (given my prison uniform and all of my belongings cataloged and stored away), some of the guards recognized me from my previous visit. I guess they don’t get too many foreigners that are repeat offenders.

 At least this time, I know what to expect. They (the guards) keep asking me if I like Korean food.I keep answering “No.” On the menu posted in my cell, there are 21 meals. 19 of them mention some form of watery soup or “guk”. 17 meals mention kimchi. One thing not mentioned, but guaranteed at all 21 meals is rice. I was asked if I like milk, eggs & bread. I’m not falling for that one again. Milk, eggs, & bread 3x a day is no better than rice, kimchi and soup 3x a day. Variety is not a part of the vocabulary here. At least pizza has multiple food groups involved. It’s not just plain baked bread. Same with a cheeseburger. There’s meat, cheese, bread, maybe some pickles and ketchup. It’s not just a slice of meat. Rice is just that – a bowl of plain, sticky, bland rice. Kimchi is no better—essentially rotting cabbage mixed with hot pepper paste. It makes me fart a lot. What passes for soup is usually under-cooked potato and turnip in a bowl of hot water.
For lunch one day, we had some sort of potato, onion, & turnip salad and then for dinner that same day, we had the same concoction in a bowl of hot water. And that was considered a meal. They may as well just serve me bread & water. Oh wait, they did just offer to serve me that instead…

My cell is a little over 2 metres by 1 metre. If I stretch my arms over my head and place my feet against the door, I can touch my cell end to end. If I put my shoulder against the wall and stretch my arm to the side, I can touch the other wall. In addition, there is a small room half again as wide and about 1.5 M long that has a toilet, one cold water tap coming out of the wall and a drain in the floor. It also has a glass door, so I can pretend to have some privacy from the CCTV cameras in the ceiling 2.5 M above me. I also have a small enclave that has a shelf and a wall-mounted flat screen TV. There is no bed. I have two blankets instead and I use one of them as a mattress.

I spend 23 hours a day in this cell. I eat, wash my dishes, clothes, body and shit in this cell. I get to go out for one hour a day to exercise in a small graveled courtyard, but usually, I just read the paper and enjoy the fresh air and sun.

They have some stupid rules. 3 times a day, the block warden checks the cells. When this happens, I have to fold my blankets and wear a shirt designating my cell block, cell number and inmate number. I must sit cross-legged with my back against the furthest wall facing the door. If I don’t do this procedure exactly, they get really upset and yell at me until I comply. I have no watch or clock, so this is my only indication of time. It happens at 6:30 am, 8:15 am and 5:00 pm. I constantly wonder why they get so upset when I don’t do what they want. It’s not like they can take away any privileges—I have none to begin with, and the radio and TV I am allowed is more like torture than a luxury. The radio has no volume control since it's piped into my cell from a speaker mounted in the ceiling, and plays k-pop constantly. The TV has only one channel that shows every program in Korean so I don’t understand any of it. Any foreign programs are all dubbed into Korean, except for the odd movie shown Saturday night, so it’s pointless anyway.

When the day is over at 9:00 pm, the TV automatically shuts off. It’s automatically turned on at certain times of the day as well—another good indicator of what time it is. An hour later, the lights are dimmed. Not turned off, just turned down. They remain like that until 6:30 am the next morning. This is the worst part of my day. I don’t sleep well to begin with and I usually only sleep 6 or so hours. This means I spend most of the night staring up at the ceiling wondering what time it is. If I’m lucky, someone may have given me an English language newspaper the day before. By morning, I have read every article, cover to cover, at least half a dozen times.

I have no contact with the outside world and only two people know where I am because I was able to send brief messages before being locked up. The person serving my meals is also an inmate. He’s pretty young and says he used to live in Vancouver. He’s out in 2 years on drug charges. He tries to bring me a newspaper every day and sometimes he brings me snacks and coffee. He gave me this pen so I could at least write and draw. I don’t know his name.

None of the guards speak English, but every so often they get something right and there is great celebration and a slapping of backs. My fellow inmate and I look at each other and snicker. Some of the guards are idiots as guards tend to be. They are on a power trip, evident by the cell check procedure.