Tuesday, March 10, 2009



Grieving in South Korea or West Meets East on issue of "pay offs" & "hush money"

I think by now I've been insulted on every level imaginable concerning my son's rite of passage into death. Setting aside the incredible loss of love, talent, humor and compassion when my son was murdered, there is still much for Korea to insult.

Part of it I logically realize is their own dysfunctionality in relating to or understanding anything outside their kimchi box. Still, I"m quite tired of ALWAYS having to be mindful of THEIR cultural ways and to avoid THEM loosing face. I was not hired to come to Korea to learn Korean or to embrace the Korean culture. I"m here for the cash, always was, always will be. It was my son who loved Korea. And look where that got him. Of course, I learned the mandatory kimchi cheers and how to quickly evade attempts at "friendships" for free English lessons. Overall, I see our time here as being in economic exile. Had I been able to earn this much back home, I'd have bought my son an online subscription to Rosetta so he can impress his girlfriends' Korean mother instead of actually coming here.

Still, we came, we saw, and he was murdered. But not end of story. Today, on the 10th month anniversary of his death, I want to share with you the events following, and perhaps you'll understand why I feel so insulted.

My son was murdered on a Saturday night, during the big buddha birthday weekend. We had Monday off that year. It was also the day before Mother's Day in our culture. Yes, how much better could it get then to murder a child the eve before Mothers' Day. Not only was the timing horrid (as if the murder of a child ever could be anything but horrid) but to add insult, the establishment was busy, crowded, packed and no one helped. Thanks Korea, it's something I'll never forget.

In the ambulance, My friend had used my cellphone to call a Korean "friend", the only one who answered the phone at midnight was my new office mate, I'll call her "gangsta gal". My son & I met Gangsta Gal when she was hired by my University. We were quite shocked because she is covered with tattoos. I've been to jimjilbang with her, she is literally covered. She is Korean, but lived in the USA for 30 years.

She even has two teardots under her right eye, done in prison blue and solid in color. If you want to know what gang tattoos mean, google "teardrop" tattoo. If you wear a gang tattoo or wear one of their "rank" tattoos without being a member, you risk death or at the very least, having it cut off. So, I figure she has a right to those tattoos considering her age and the fading of the tattoos, she has earned them. Lovely eh? But she came along right away to the ER.

At the ER, as my friend & I tried desperately to save my son's life, giving him CPR when the doc quit after less than 5 minutes, we continued for an hour & half. Begging the doc to either take extreme measures or to transport him to a hospital that could. Both of us have "first responder" training because we are mothers and we work with youth. We watched the monitors to make sure the oxygen level was good, ensuring my son's brain was still functioning.

We of course asked & expected Gangsta Gal to translate my wishes & to explain we did have insurance & I gave my credit cards... anything -- just do the aspiration & heart massage.

In hindsight, I seriously doubt gangsta gal even bothered to translate. She did not implore the doctors nor did her behavior in anyway suggest she was trying to convince them to try. In fact, she barely spoke. But she did manage to get the phone numbers of the sauna manager.

The next day, Mother's Day, she tried to bring "someone from the sauna" into my apt. This "cultural aspect" of Korea wouldn't be explained to me until months later. It seems when there has been what we could call anything but pre-mediated murder, any problems with the police or social tsk tsk would all go away with an apology and 50 million won. The person who arranges the apology gets between 10-20% commission for their trouble. A deposit on the commission is usually paid before they attempt to talk to the victims family to settle.

They never darkened my apt door. How dare they on the day after and on Mother's day come to my home where my son's things are still scattered about the apt. and offer me hush money. If this had happened back home, I would have been expected to at least shoot at them, or at the very least the tires on their car.

From my viewpoint, this was the worst thing they could have done to me and a great dishonor to my son. By that friday, May 16th, I was approached by a lawyer offering his services probono. Actually all he wanted was that commission. He offered "enough to cover funeral costs" up front, and AFTER I went home, I could pick out a house worth up to 200.000.00 US$ (200 grand) and it would be bought for me. Yea right. I was also told that if I insisted upon pursuing criminal charges, the court would only award me MAYBE 5 million won. Can you imagine the shock when I choose criminal proceedings.~!! He couldn't get me outta his office fast enough. And that was the last I saw of that particular Korean "friend" who set up the meeting with the lawyer.

Hello people, my son is DEAD as in no more playing ball, no more eating my lasagna & telling me it's monkey food (family joke) he is DEAD as in his body is here no more. I don't see where a little jail time for the murderers should be a big deal... at least they are not DEAD. Without justice, this will never be OK ~ even with justice it's still gut wrenchingly wrong.

Emotionally manipulating me in attempts to make me shut up & go away will only backfire. Yes, the emotional manipulations hurt... but Korea forgets, they have already hurt me in a way that can not be topped. I have no fear anymore..the only thing I ever feared has happened...now ... well now is a whole new ballgame.

before the next week had turned the corner, I used the last of my own money to hire a real lawyer. This put me dependent upon the contributions from the expat community for my son's remains. It sucked but I put my pride in my pocket and set about my fight for justice.

But Gangsta Gal wasn't finished, she was busy sending out emails to my co-workers, getting fundraisers canceled and trying to get me fired from my job. She even arranged for the donations given by my co-workers to be earmarked for "body only". It seems no one wanted me to hire a lawyer. But HA HA, one had already been hired by then.

Next came the way I must keep my personal pain & grief from offending the other faculty. Of course we all know how to "put on the happy face" when we go into the classroom on a bad day... but I have that pressure to "perform" all the time. Literally, since I live in the neighborhood with most of my co-workers. Now expats are great backstabbers and I wouldn't put it past about a dozen of them to do so,...but we all know who is REALLY offended by my grief... the Korean staff. I make them uncomfortable... guess I'm a reminder that bad things do happen in Korea and bad things are done by Koreans. Well, just think, had the police done their jobs and this had been handled by the criminal courts as it should have been, I wouldn't' be here bitching about it now.

And then there is the day of cremation.

The building in Seoul is built with high ceilings and lots of stone tile everywhere...make for a great echo with Iggooo & all. The place in Seoul is set up like an assembly line, there were about 20 chambers with viewing rooms and families were making processions in & out nearly every 30 minutes.

Despite all that bottled up emotion saved for the crematorium, plenty of folks still had time to go INTO the MY wailing room with me and stare at me as my son was being cremated. It go so bad the assistant from the mortuary company handling Mike's remains had to stand guard at the door to keep folks out. even then they stood at the door.

I'd have been cool with it had folks given me a small gesture (like pat on arm, hug...etc) or said something nice in a soothing tone, instead of just staring & make comments with their friends.

by the way, I had to go alone ~ my friends were working (their directors thinking my 'grief" had gone on long enough) & the support groups had faded by then - there was no one except the assistant from the mortuary and the crowd of onlookers at the McCrematorium. But I got an awesome souvenir to take home from Korea, my son in a box.

I got no plans anymore... I got plenty of time to ride this one on out... gives me time to think of the 'nice touches' I can add of my own. And if you feel the sting of my venom, imagine what my son has to say about this.

No comments: