Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bullets of a Happy Reunion

* NSLS is so cute with her preggy belly. And still sassy as ever. Her stomach did poke me when I tried to hug her, but I think it was just the baby's way of trying to get to know me.

*The Kid can play the guitar. I mean actually play. He sounds like a dang rock and roll star. And he is self-taught. When did kids get so darn smart?

*Bro-in-Law remains funny and friendly. It's so nice to have nice people come into the family. And his sense of humor fits right in. NSLS sure did marry a great guy.

*The RevDrMom and the Kid still have a funny good natured bickery-we-know-each-other-too-well relationship that we all love to hate.

*The birds outside the window don't scare me anymore. I'm not sure about the skunks. Uh, I mean squirrels. What's the difference anyhow?

*Today I made coffee in 4 minutes flat.

*Last night we had a good old fashioned let's make fun of our fathers session which started when the kid got a package from his father and remarked, "It's probably a mail bomb." To which we all burst out laughing. When he opened it, it turned out that his father sent him a newspaper for Christmas, which he took pretty well given our cheap dad jokes. The "let's make fun of our fathers session" is somewhat mandatory so that we can stave off any Christmas depression about how bad our relationships with our fathers actually are.

*Happy Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

In America

Today I blog from the RevDrMom's computer in what is not really my hometown, but a home of sorts. It took me a bit longer to get here than I had anticipated (26 grueling hours with more than 6 security checks, 4 airports, two taxis, and finally a bus and middle seats on airplanes between fat people the whole way the added bonus of 4 obnoxious teenagers who truly believed in their own hilarity and wished to share it with everyone with a 4 aisle radius), but I am here and it is a relief.

It shocked me a little this morning when I turned on the computer and found myself staring at birds and squirrels who are feeding right outside the window. It's been a long time since I've even seen a squirrel and the only birds I ever catch sight of in Korea are magpies, but that is always from a distance. And the size of the kitchen has confounded my efforts at obtaining breakfast. I feel confused by the amount of food and the various options for cooking it. It took me an hour to get the coffee made and I'm not sure that I'll figure out what to do for breakfast before lunch time arrives. But man am I starving.

When my mom and brother picked me up, I couldn't even recognize my brother who has grown a foot and long hair, not to mention a (dare I say?) deep voice and childishly adult heir about him. The very pregnant NSLS will arrive with her lovely hubby tomorrow night sometime and then I'm sure the real reunion will begin.

I honestly wanted to cry when I saw my mother last night. It hasn't felt so good to hug a person in a long time. I don't know how I'm going to get the courage to return to lonely Korea, if only for two months to finish up my contract and pack up my stuff to return.

I can finally say that it feels good to be home.

And by the way, Masum is home and fine for the time being. He still has quite a lot of family issues to deal with, but that could take weeks for me to process so hold tight if you are waiting for an update to the illegal immigrant love story.

Monday, December 17, 2007

woman warrior --

A level headed person who always makes the wrong decision

'How will you be defined in the dictionary?' at

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Masum was deported this morning. No phone calls. Nothing. I still haven't heard from him, I just know that he's not in jail anymore. Hopefully I'll get a call from him soon.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Out of Hope

So today the High Court officially refused to hear the appeal for Masum, Kajiman and Raju's release. Which means we are pretty much out of legal avenues to fight for their release. I heard from a Nepalese friend today that Raju and Kajiman have both been cleared by the Nepalese embassy for travel and it looks like they will probably be gone by tomorrow. Masum's situation is still unclear. He spoke to Bangladeshi embassy officials today and they haven't issued papers for him yet, although that could also happen tomorrow. There is just isn't a basis for them to say no any longer.

Unfortunately they will all probably just disappear without being able to make any phone calls, so we won't know that they are gone for sure until they find phones in whatever countries they have lay-overs in.

It's still hard for me to believe that I might not ever see Masum again. It really pisses me off that our last moments together were in a jail visitation room with glass and steel between us. I'm still really afraid about what will happen to him when he arrives in Bangladesh and if it's bad, I wonder how I'll ever find out about it. It's the uncertainty of everything that is hard. And hoping for anything to actually work out is scary.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Paranoia? Not if they are really out to get you!

So I'm feeling extremely paranoid these days. I have dreams about police knocking down my door. I have a tendency to look around on the subway and buses to see if anyone might be following me. I watch anyone with radios (the kind you can talk on) like a hawk even if they don't look like cops. And speaking of cops, there about a million of them on my street and and I stare them down and watch their every movement as I walk down the street.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Masum was arrested right outside our front door. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Korean government must know absolutely everything about my life. Maybe it's due to the fact that Masum has been interrogated about me two times in less than a week. Yes. Two times. Less than a week.

So the first time wasn't really an interrogation. The guards at the Cheongju prison were prying in a rather light way about who I am. And maybe that was nothing, but they asked an awful lot of personal questions about me. I should clarify. They asked Masum an awful lot of questions about his relationship to me, how we met, what I do... Masum didn't really answer any of the questions and joked it off.

But yesterday, there was an official interrogation which lasted for about three hours. Government officials, probably from the Ministry of Justice (although they never clearly identified themselves), came to the jail to "interview" all of the MTU officials. Obviously, I was not the only thing they asked about. But most of the questions were rather personal in nature. And a good deal of the questions were about me: What is my involvement in MTU? When did I meet Masum? How long did we live together? Where do I work? Whom do I consort with? But of course, they must know the answers to many of those questions already. My visa is tied to my work place- since I am legal here, they would have to be really stupid to not know where I work and live. And they followed Masum around for a while so of course they know he lived with me... Again, he refused to answer any those questions.

Masum said that the tone wasn't actually threatening, although I have to tell you, I feel quite threatened. Why are they asking questions about me? Am I in some sort of political danger now because of my associations? When I come back from my Christmas vacation in America, are they going to let me into the country again? Are they going to do something weird like fine me and revoke my visa (although I don't know how they could actually legally do that as I haven't broken any law).

I know this is paranoia. Really, I know that. But why do they have to go and be like that? I'm not doing anything to them so they should just leave me out of it. But if they want to fuck with me, I say bring it because I'm all kind of ready to get up in their face with my annoying, obnoxious American privilege. It's bad enough that my boyfriend is a political prisoner (really, Amnesty International designated Masum, Raju and Kajiman prisoners of conscience a couple of weeks ago), but they really don't want to pick a fight with me, too... I know, I know. It's just paranoia.

But is it??

(I should add that they tone of the "interview" may have been more threatening to Raju(VP) and Kajiman (president). Masum said that they both looked broken and defeated when they finished their interrogations, although he hasn't really had time to talk to either of them about it. (They are roomed separately.) I suggested that they might file human rights abuses, but Masum said he wants to talk to Raju and Kajiman to see how they are holding up....)

A Rant~ For Lelin

The Korean government just can't stop their repressive, abusive and threatening behavior. They seem an awful lot like an abusive spouse. They say they want foreigners to come here. Indeed, the government and the corporations who woo us give us mighty financial incentives to come here. They lure foreigners- 3D workers and English teachers alike- with the dream of financial and job security, a place to live, a visa and sometimes even plane tickets and signing bonuses. But once we get here, we find we are shackled to jobs we hate, with no rights and little or no opportunity to leave them, lest we lose everything we came here for in the first place. And then when we are brave enough to quit, we lose our visas and try to make it anyway. But then we are punished...

We are punished for trying to realize the things that were promised to us. We are hunted, followed, sometimes beaten by police or bosses, verbally abused and forced to leave the country. In short, we are made to feel that foreigners are merely a resource to be used up. We are not valued for our contribution to the Korean economy. We are not valued for our role in expanding the cultural horizons of the Koreans we meet. We are not appreciated in any way. Yet the Korean government pays decent lip service to building a new multicultural Korea. This, they are very good at. So while they break our backs in the workplace and send us into hiding from immigration officials, they celebrate us in cultural festivals which showcase fresh off the boat migrants who haven't yet had a chance for their dreams to turn into nightmares.

The whole charade is quite disgusting...Yet we can't stop coming here because as desperate as we are to have dignity in our workplaces, we are probably more desperate to have money to send to our families, to deal with our debt, to save for our futures... And so we continue to allow Korea, and other labor importing countries to abuse us for a small fee.

When are we going to end this? When are we going to stand up and say, "Enough!"? It's time for workers from developing countries to end the abusive relationships with bully countries like Korea. I don't mean stop working in them, but to meet them on the same level. Because they have something that we need, but those countries need us, too. Let's use our strength as workers to demand our rights... (* Man, at moments like this, I really want to call a general strike! If only people would follow me!)

*This was written for my Bangladeshi friend, Lelin, who keeps asking me to write something for his Bangladeshi newspaper. He asked me to write about my experience in Korea, yet I find that my personal experience in Korea is inextricably linked to the experiences of migrant workers in Korea. And so I don't really have anything to say about my life in Korea without talking about the lives of my friends who experience, in all seriousness, the same abuse from their employers as women who find themselves in abusive relationships. And today I just happened to feel enough anger to write a productive rant about why I dislike Korea so intensely. And I feel the same way about America, although I don't think American attitudes towards migrants or immigrants is as monolithic as they are here in Korea.

* I will probably add more to this article later. And I'll edit before I give to him. So if you have suggestions on how to improve my wildly angry writing, by all means, leave a comment...

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Helping Update

There are no public email addresses for government officials, so faxing is still the only way to go. But if you can't get to a fax machine for international purposes, by all means please send a letter to KCTU and let them know you sent it directly to them and they should forward it to the Korean government. It's better than nothing. So here's the sample letter one more time, along with KCTU's email and the MOJ's fax number.

Minister of Justice: Minister Jung Seong-Jin +82-2-503-3532 or +82-2-500-9128.

Sample Letter:
Mr. Jung Seong-Jin
Minister of Justice
Seoul, South Korea

Dear Minister Jung,

On the morning of November 27 between 9:00 and 9:30, the president, vice president and general secretary of the KCTU affiliate, Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union, were arrested, each in front of his separate home or workplace. This event has already received international attention. It is clear from the form in which the arrests took place that this was a targeted crackdown meant to silence MTU and the opposition struggle it has lead against the anti-human rights crackdown being carried out against undocumented migrants in South Korea.

That this was a meditated act of repression is also apparent from the fact that the arrests came at the same time as the South Korean Immigration Control Office is stepping up its crackdown and a proposal is being put forth the revise immigration law to make it possible to carry out the crackdown continuously with complete disregard for the most basic procedures to protect human rights.The arrests of the MTU leadership is a gross violation of human rights and a horrendous act of labor repression which targets not only migrant workers and MTU but also the KCTU, the 15 million workers it represents and the international labor community.

As such, we will not remain silent.We therefore forcefully call on you to meet the following demands:

-Immediately release President Kajiman, Vice President Raju and General Secretary Masum!
-Stop the targeted crackdown and labor repression against MTU!
-Stop the crackdown and deportation of undocumented migrant workers!


Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience

A.I. has designated Masum, Raju and Kajiman prisoners of conscience. You can read about them here.

They are doing okay, but it is still unclear how long they'll be in jail. I'll be going back to Cheongju tomorrow night for a Saturday morning visit.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Ain't No Sunshine When He's Gone

Yesterday I was able to see Masum (his name is all over the place- no point in using a pseudonym anymore) at the Cheongju Detention Center. We had about 30 minutes together, which I shared with 4 of my closest Korean friends, and he shared with the president and vice-president of the union. That's a lot of people in room for only 30 minutes of face time. But of course, we weren't all in the same room because he and the other two guys were separated from us by metal bars that had a thick layer of glass on either side.

Honestly, Masum looked better yesterday than I've seen him looking in months. When we first met, there was something about him that always stuck with me- the sparkle in his eyes, his mischievous grin, his ability laugh at himself in any situation, his almost child-like open and warm heart. But the last year has been really hard on both of us. The gleam was gone from his eyes, his energy sapped by crisis after crisis, his playful spirit had withered. But yesterday even though he was sitting in a stupid looking jail track suit behind bars and glass, he could still charm the pants off of everyone in the room. The old Masum was back. And I fell in love with him all over again.

It seems that everyone from MTU is being treated really well in jail. They have visitors everyday, decent food, warm clothes, access to a phone, television... They all joked about feeling like they were on vacation, seemed cheerful, maybe even relaxed. Masum and Raju, true to both of their personal styles, have made friends with almost everyone they come into contact with, including many of the guards who are young guys fulfulling the Korean government's military service requirements.

When I talked to Masum on the phone today, however, the mood seemed to change. He said that everyone feels tense because it seems that the government is going to try and forcibly deport them, maybe without any notice to friends or loved ones here in Korea. I don't know exactly how it works, but it seems as though the Korean government is trying to arrange consent from the Bangladeshi and Nepalese embassies, even if they don't have passports, personal belongings or money to buy a plane ticket. It seems possible now that at least two of them could be gone as soon as Wednesday, if not the end of the week.

Masum continues to be very worried about what will happen to him when he arrives in Bangladesh. His personal situation aside, there is a chance that the Korean government will encourage the kind of political harassment that they did to Anwar (the first MTU president who was in jail for more than a year in Korea) when he went home last August. Anwar was detained in Singapore by immigration authorities for questioning (even though he only had a layover there) and then when he arrived in Bangladesh, he was jailed for more than 24 hours and then put on probation for participating in activities abroad that undermine the Bangladeshi state. Anwar has had a few run-ins with Bangladeshi authorities since his return, and only now does it seem that his life is returning to normal. Add to that the fact that most of the MTU activists who have returned to Bangladesh have been stripped of their passports and are not allowed to travel abroad. Which for us, makes for a nearly impossible situation.

So today I am charged with the duty of trying to pack Masum's bag to take home. He really doesn't have that much stuff, but I have no idea what he wants as he hasn't made any specific requests about personal effects. I'm really having trouble doing it. As I started cleaning out the closet, the reality of him not being here with me anymore really started to sink in. I'm not sure if I'm ready to do it, even though it has to be done today. It's hard to see his stuff laying around our house, but I think it'll be even harder with his stuff gone. I don't want to erase the evidence of our life here together. Especially because Masum has been one of the defining parts of my life in Korea. He was one of the first people I met here, it was he introduced me to most of the people that I know. With exception to my work, he has been a part of nearly everything and every relationship I have here.

I'm trying to be more positive about what will happen when Masum goes back to Bangladesh. I have no idea what the cultural or political reality is there, but some Bangladeshi friends have let on that things may not be as serious as we once thought. There is nothing I can do but hope that Mahbub is right, that his personal situation has been exaggerated by emotion and is nothing more than a threat. I'm afraid of hoping too much, but for now it's better than thinking about the fact that we may never see each other again.

In the meantime, on Masum's request, I'm researching the possibilities for emigrating to another country that will be activist-exile-friendly. I don't know if he would be eligible for any kind of refugee status, but I suppose it wouldn't hurt to look into the possibility. There has got to be some country that will take us-- poor, tired and weary...

Cuba, anyone?