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.