Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fish Tales

This one is for Murray, because I promised I would.

As it were the following is a true story, or at least mostly true. All the names have pretty much been kept the same because I'm not sure anyone really cares enough to have names changed at this point, and well, hell, I don't mind if you know it's a story about me. Most of the major players are no longer in the country anyway, or at least, they are no longer in this country and that is mostly all I like to worry about. While the story is true I may decided to embellish a little, examples might include me running like an Olympic sprinter; fun to say, wholly inaccurate.

It was back in the late fall of aught '2 that this story takes place and it begins in a way that some stories might begin, with a fish market. If there are sayings about fish markets I am wholly unfamiliar with them so feel free to pass along any good ones if you know them. This story begins in a fish market where I was fighting to keep my ground in a throng of pressing Koreans and hoping to the merry gods that I was not going to wind up with a face full of squid. I like squid with beer and even squid on a bus, but non-dried squid wriggling down my gullet was not really something I was falling all over myself to experience.

I was walking through this fish market part of a larger and even more ramshackle market with a wayward Sam who had only recently disembarked a plane from Waygookistan to join me on these foreign shores. Sam, being still a bit jet lagged, and being still very new to Korea, was quite unhelpful with the fish problem and I was pretty sure I was going to fall in. Instead of falling I got shocked to my senses by the sudden vibration in my pants. For a moment I thought the fish, or at least the octopi that swam about in the buckets around my feet had decided to solve the fish problem by just crawling up my legs, but this was not to be the case. It was, in fact, my cell phone.

"This is Sara." I piped curtly into the phone while pushing my way through a dozen more jam packed Koreans on a busy afternoon while trying to drag a helpless and more or less distraught friend along with me. "Who?" shove, knock, push, and hey did that guy just feel me up "What?" more pushing "Hello." And with the continued poor ability to hear I worked and pushed and groped my way to a space where I could actually hear what was happening on the other side of the phone.

"It's Mary."

"It's who?"



It took a few minutes, what with all the excitement happening in the local market, for me to realize that Mary was someone that I knew. Mary, was in fact, someone I worked with and saw on a regular basis, I should have been a bit more withit, but it finally hit me after repeating the "it's who" dialogue only a dozen more times for it to sink in.

"Right. What's doing."

"I'm being attacked?"


"I'm being kidnapped."



"Right. Where?"

"Across from the bar."




I think I wanted to say something intelligent at this point, but mostly I didn't know what to say or do so I said I'd be there in a little bit and grabbed the now insanely confused Sam and tossed him into the back of a cab, followed by bags, followed by me, and we were off to find out why Mary was being kidnapped across the street from the bar. The fish, wisely, stayed at the market.

As we were in a cab I called Mary back so we could talk a bit about what was going on. It was a nice friendly chat considering that fact that she was being kidnapped in Korea. Apparently she was getting kidnapped or more accurately mugged by her old boss. See Mary, naughty person that she was, had quit her old job to take a newer and shinier one. Alas, for her, in Korea that can make you're old bosses kinda angry and put them in a mugging mood. Usually when one does such a thing they leave town and sometimes the country, but in the is particular instance the new job was only a bit away from the old one and the neighborhoods were close enough together to cause enough overlap that on this fateful, fish-filled, Saturday afternoon, the Employers had happened to spot Mary while she walked down the street and decided that this particular time would be as good as any for having Mary pay back her flight to Korea. By quitting Mary had basically ended all need to talk to former employers or pay tickets and etcetera, but Korea has some funny laws and we foreigners often end up on the wrong side of them.

Knowing all of this helped a bit. I knew now why the attack was happening and the potential mischief this situation might cause and how little wiggle room there would be, but I still didn't know how bad it was or could become. As with so many things I suspect this was a good thing.

The cab finally starts to curve around at just the right angle to tell me that we were almost at the bar and sure enough there on the street was an angry Korean couple holding a startled waygook up against the wall while life continued to move blissfully on around it. Sam and I got out of the cab and I figured on the game plan. Sam seemed confident enough that he could find my apartment and considering that he had been in country less then 72 hours I sent him to said apartment to take a nap. I gave him all the bags and anything of import that I had on my person and kept my cell phone. Sam headed one way and I walked across the street for what fate might await me.

Fate would be an angry pair of Lee's, Ms. Lee being slightly shorter and plumper then the wiry Mr. Lee, but both were pretty pumped up on adrenaline and keeping Mary quiet helpless against the wall. I walked up and grabbed Mary's hand without looking at either Lee and said "We're going" and we did. I wanted to know how bad it was going to get, and if living in Chicago had taught me anything, staying in a bad situation never solves it. If you can get away, do so. I didn't know if we could and there was only one way to find out. Unfortunately what I found out was that the Lee's were a rather persnickety pair of people and were not letting go of the new found prey without some old fashioned pay and rather like that octopus I was watching early, I found myself tangled up among several pairs of legs and arms and not sure who was touching what or whom.

Now I was annoyed so I did what any city girl would do in this situation. I dialed 112. That's right because in Korea you do not dial 911 you dial 112. It works better if you dial 112 and can actually speak Korean, but having only been in Korea for about six months at that point my Korean was beyond bad and the poor beleaguered police officers could do nothing but tell me to call back from a payphone. Calling back from a payphone would have allowed them to trace the call. Perhaps fate is not so persnickety but I was no where near a payphone. This is a good thing. I learned that the police had already been by at least once that afternoon and had basically listened to what the Lee's had to say and were then on their way. It was for all intents and purposes a dispute between employers and employees, and since they friendly neighborhood cops could not speak any English they figured it was best left up to the employer to work it out. The police left. Mary called me when the cops had walked away.

Without police back up I wasn't really sure what we could do. I saw a cab out of the corner of my eye and grabbed Mary's hand and we ran for the street and got a cab to stop, I pushed her in and me after thinking to tell the cabbie some directions. Again as fate would seem to have it, this jam was going to be resolved some other way. Mr. Lee dived into the car and across both of our laps wedging himself very firmly into the cab in such a manner that we could not shut the door or move and our only choice was to get out. The angry cab driver made it clear that getting out was also the only choice. After a few more limb tangled moments we ended up back on the street, back against a wall, with a now red faced and angry Mr. Lee shouting and pinching my arm.

That's when I got pissed.

I try not to get fighting angry. It tends to be a bad thing. I like thinking and fighting angry removes a great deal of my ability to think. I'm not good with anger if I get angry, I just tend to stay angry and get more so. I also tend to hurt people when I get angry. Sometimes because I can't help it and sometimes because it feels good to do it and in just the right situation because I have to hurt someone to help myself; this was a hurt or be damned sort of situation I had gotten myself into.

Thinking kicked in through anger. I looked at Mary and asked her why we were still here.

"If I try to run he grabs my bag."

"Leave the bag."

"I can't."

At this point I had turned to put myself between Mary and the Lee's. Her neck was red from the bag handle where it was being used as a garrote or a leash. My back was taking the worst of the punishment right now which came in the form of being punched a bit by Ms. Lee. What Ms. Lee didn't know is that I've asked for a lot worse and what she was doing was by no means going to move me away from the wall if I didn't want to be moved. Still thinking I told Mary to stick everything important in her pockets. Not coat pockets or shirt pockets but in the pockets of her jeans. I let the Lee's hit and push me closer while I laid out the plan in quite quick whispers that hopefully would not be understood by our assailers. She nodded when she had everything in her jean pockets and looked at me.


I shouted it out and at the same time turned hard and pushed myself against the wall taking the Lee's with me. Ms. Lee grabbed for Mary's bag which she had moved onto one shoulder just in case. While she did tug it, she did not succeed in actually getting it away from Mary and Mary ran. In the momentary confusion of having pinned the Lee's against the wall I managed to grab both their arms and hold on. I couldn't watch where Mary was going, but I wasn't worried about it at the time. I was more worried about Mr. Lee who was like a wet cat in my hand. Having only one hand per person I knew that eventually one of them was going to get free. Ms. Lee in the high heels would not catch my girl, but Mr. Lee loose and running would be a problem. I held on for as long as I could until finally with a twist and a Karate chop Mr. Lee broke free and took off after the now disappeared Mary.

I looked at the arm that had freed him where there were several messy scratches from Ms. Lee from earlier engagement. I turned to her now, still trapped and struggling in my grasp, and gave her my best "cat that just ate the canary" grin and told her she was not going anywhere. I waited about five more minutes before letting her run after her husband and Mary. I then took a deep breath, counted to five, and started to walk in the same general direction.

No one knew where Mary had gone. Mr. Lee was stopped and looking and Ms. Lee was next to him and I started walking past them. I was far enough away that there was distance but when they started running towards me I got annoyed. I ducked into a store. Like many stores in Korea this one had two exits. I did this trick three or four times until I ended up in an alley behind the park that was in between me and one of the apartment buildings that Mary must have escaped into. Then my pants started shaking again. I remember the octopi at the market but again it was only my phone. Mary. In a building


"I don't know."

"What are you doing?"

"I think I can see him."

"Are you still on the first floor?"


"Go up!"


"Go up! Now, go up. Don't stop, go as high as you can, but go up!"



I hung up the phone and squatted down in the alley waiting for the Lee's. They did several turns in the park looking for one or both of us but were not finding either. Eventually they disappeared and so I emerged and started walking towards Mary's last known direction. She was nowhere to be seen, but neither were the Lee's. Trembling jeans again and I answer the phone. Mary had climbed down after climbing up and we arranged a rendezvous which after two wrong turns I finally made. At this point she was very well hidden.

"Why up?" she said as soon as she could see me.



"It was a foot chase. They figured you would try to get away, and I most cases that would make the best sense. But in this particular case it made more sense to stay put and get distance. I figured they would expect you to run maybe try to hide in building. Most of the time, though, no one goes up. They go out, the go round, they dash off, but not up. Up was the safest direction. Besides, he is going to give up after a few floors figuring you must have. How far did you go anyway?"

"Pretty much to the roof." I looked up at the twenty story apartment and smiled.

"Yeah, he definitely would not have gone that far."

We decided after several more moments of hiding out that it was best to try and make it back to my apartment. I scouted ahead and we dashed almost cartoon like from lamppost to boulder to tree to cab where I was able to give the directions in Korean to get me home. Fortunately for us the Lee's who were now driving around in a car did not see us. At my apartment we walked in to find Sam who was reading a book and patiently waiting. Mary's beau was called and directed towards my villa so she could be escorted home after relating for a third time exactly what had happened. People parted ways and I looked at Sam. It had gone from breakfast time to dinner time, the day had basically passed and I figured grub was in order.

"How bout fish?"

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