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Mob work in Seoul

I think I'll continue my story from yesterday until I reach a point where I can take a break. It'll take me a few days to finally get to that point. Keep in mind that these are all very true stories more or less. I say more or less because I'm telling them as I remember so some of the details may be fuzzy but the overall stories themselves most certainly happened to me.

I had returned from Utsunomiya and was back at square one. I was in Ryosuke's house again without a job. This time, things were different. The oldest brother had felt for some time that I had long overstayed my welcome. If I look back on it in hindsight, I'd have to say he was correct. I had been living in their place for almost two months. I was jobless and practically penniless. To him, I was must have been an unbearable leech. He complained to his mother, and when she came back to visit from Cleveland, OH, she pulled me aside and told me that it was time for me to go. I can't remember if it was Ryosuke's mom or one of my friends who used to be an exchange student at the university, but someone had introduced me to a woman who had an extra room. It was in an outlying suburb near Chofu. The woman ran an English school out of the apartment, and she let me stay there as long as I didn't mind her coming in to hold her English lessons.

I was still going to job interviews every day, trying desperately to get hired so I could earn my own way. At this point, you're probably wondering why I went through so much trouble. Why didn't I just go back to the United States? The odds were stacked against me in Japan. In the United States, I would have had a better chance. To be honest with you, I don't know the answer to that question. In my mind, being in America or being in Japan was all the same. I had just graduated from college and had to forge my way through the world. Since I was never one for doing things that everyone else did, this strange path was the one I was determined to follow. Also, I didn't want to go back defeated. I felt like people were waiting for me to fail, and I did not want to give them the satisfaction. If I was going to fail, it had to be more spectacular than this. It would have to be a failure so great I would have no choice but the return to Cleveland, OH, with my head hung low. I didn't want that.

Soon after I had gotten back from Utsunomiya, I moved into the apartment near Chofu. It took me a week to be able to say the name of the closest station, Seisekisakuragaoka. Three months had almost passed since I arrived to Japan. It was time for me to leave the country again. Americans without a visa could only stay for 90 days. If we left the country, we could reset our 90 days. The closest and cheapest place to travel was Seoul, Korea. I used the salary I earned from working at the English school in Utsunomiya to purchase a ticket. Vince and Lynn told me of a hotel they had used in Seoul. They said it was a very cheap place, so cheap it was unbelievable. When it was my time to leave, I contacted the hotel, made a reservation, and went there. I had given up my return ticket home to take another chance. Because my family was poor, I did't give up my ticket with the comfort of knowing that someone would help me buy a new one if I needed it. No one would have been able to afford the $1000 it took for me to get back. I was on my own. I flew to Seoul with my suitcase and a Nikon 35-millimeter camera. Back then, digital cameras were not available. I shot everything on film, just as I had done in the university. Having the camera brought me comfort. It was quite expensive. I bought it about a year before I left America with money I had earned working at the hospital.

When I arrived at the "hotel," I was surprised at how rundown the place looked. The floors were made of dirt. The walls were covered with peeling paint. There was a decrepit wooden desk that served as a check-in counter. A Korean guy in his 20s looked over my information and led me to my room. Inside the room there was no bed or bathroom. There was only a futon on the floor. Cheap linoleum served as the flooring, but I could feel the lumps of dirt underneath. I didn't care how seedy it looked. The place only costs $20 a night. I only needed to stay for one.

Before the guy left my room, I asked him how much it would cost to call Tokyo. I wanted to be able to call my girlfriend, Yuki. When he told me the prize, it was so cheap it was unbelievable. I don't remember the exact figure, but I knew it was too cheap to be true, so I asked him again. He repeated the same number. I paused and thought about it, then, for good measure, I asked one more time, at which point he became furious and snapped back, "That's the price! That's the price! How many times do I have to tell you?"

I just realized the timing of this story doesn't match up. I remember coming to Japan in June or July around the rainy season, but that could not have been the case because it was late December or early January when I was in Seoul. That means I must be missing a stretch of time. It was more than 25 years ago, so lost time will probably never come back. No matter the true timing, this is where we are in the story now.

At the decrepit hotel in Seoul, I could only afford to stay one night. The next day I planned to stay overnight in the airport, which is something you could do in the United States. In the morning, upon check out, the hotel clerk told me the bill. I was shocked because it was much higher than I had imagined and certainly much more than I could afford. I demanded to know why because we had agreed the price would be $20. The phone call was a lot more than the guy had told me the previous night. In fact, he had forgotten to add a zero to the figure. As I tried to argue how it was not my fault because I was given the wrong information, several Korean men appeared from the back. They looked like roughnecks. I could hear them talking back and forth with each other in Korean. In all of their jibber-jabber, the only word I could understand was "camera."I had my Nikon around my neck. In that instant, I knew what I had to do. I offered the camera up as payment even though it was 20 times more in value. They took the camera and said they would keep it until I came back. There was no way I would be able to go back and get the camera, and it would be another ten years before I got another one. Not only did they take the camera, but they also took the cash I had left, minus enough for bus fare to the airport.

Rather than take the bus directly from the decrepit hotel to the airport, I walked to the city center. It took about three hours. I was born without a sense of direction, so it was an absolute miracle that I could make it as far as I had. When I reached the point where I didn't want to walk anymore, I decided to wait for a bus. As I stood there, I noticed three or four men sitting casually around me, but something about them seemed unnatural. I notice one guy pretending to read a newspaper while looking at me. Another guy was standing in line at the bus but making eye contact with the newspaper guy. A third man approached me. He spoke clear English.

"Do you want a job? You need money, right?" They must have followed me from the decrepit hotel. I was curious as to what kind of job they were offering, so I asked. They wanted me to go with them to make a fake military ID so I could enter the military shop and buy things they could sell on the black market. They claimed that for this job, which they insisted would only last a day, they would pay me $2000. Given my financial situation's dire straits, $2000 for a day's work seemed very attractive. But, in a flash of a second, I saw myself lying in some alley bleeding to death because those shady men beat me to a pulp instead of paying me. In another flash, I saw myself being brutally hauled off to jail by some military police for being some kind of traitor. Neither of those scenarios was appealing, so I politely declined. The man asked if I was sure. I said yes. He left with the other two men.

That was the first and mildest of three horrible things that happened to me on that trip.

to be continued …


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