Soe Jung Kim Staff Reporter, National Desk
The article hasn't run yet, but this is a transcript of the interview. It was conducted via email to avoid misunderstandings that sometimes occur when using foreign languages over the phone. It is interesting to note how much was left out of the final article.
1. I heard that you are working in Gyeongsan as an English teacher. How long have you been living in Korea? What made you choose to work in Korea? Which school did your son go to in Gyeongsan? Did he like living in Korea?
We have been living in Korea for nearly 4 years now. August 28, 2008 will mark 4 years. My MA is in College Student Development, a specialization in the field of education. My goal is to work with international students in the USA someday. The growing number of Korean students in the US and personal friendships with Korean-Americans led me to come to Korea for some years. Our purpose in Korea is to learn about Korean culture, understand the special needs and circumstances of Korean college students, and to learn how to better provide service to Korean students in the US. One day I will return to the USA and work in an International Programs office at the University level.
I decided to bring my son to Korea because the crime rate is so low. I do not have to worry about anyone trying to make him join a gang or to make him use bad drugs. Korea seems like a safe place to raise children. I know of several expatiate families who feel the same way.
Unfortunately, there are no bilingual programs in the public schools or easily accessible language programs for Mike to learn Korean. He has had a couple of private tutors to teach him Hangul and has taken a class at Chungbuk Dae in Chungju. Since I didn’t want his studies to suffer while he improved his language skills, he has been homeschooled.
He took taekwondo and achieved up to the purple belt, but he dropped out. He liked to do the various stretches and ponses (I don’t know this word) but he hated the sparring part. Mike just simply wasn’t a fighter at heart. He made friends easily and was in the English Drama club at Hoseo University, even having a small part in their play, “Sorry Wrong Number”.
In Chungju, he made several gaming friends. They would gather on Saturday or Sunday afternoons to play board games, magik cards or “killer bunnies” his favorite card game. Once every few months he would go with his friends to Seoul to play in a magik card tournament at Yongsan base. We had only been in Gyeongsan a couple of months, which is why he wanted to go to the sauna that night. He hoped to meet some other teenagers… there is some splashing games they play with washing bowls.
Last summer we went back to NC to visit friends and family. Two different families offered to have him stay for a semester or a year with them. Mike chose to come back to Korea because he liked it here.
2. Based on your previous interviews, it seems like you strongly believe that your son was murdered. Why do you think so?
Because there is no evidence of an accident or health problems, there is only one conclusion left… foul play. People don’t just spontaneously drown in 40 cm of water, especially a 1.8m man/boy in a 2.6m pool. Something or someone had to prevent him from getting out of that pool.
Mike took swimming lessons in the US, at Appalachian State University for 3 years before coming to Korea. He also went to American Style Summer Camps for 4 summers (3-4 weeks each summer) where children learn water/sports safety and camping fun.
He was well versed in safety rules especially around water. No one wants to drown, it’s a horrible death. What prevented Mike from getting out of the pool if he was in distress?
In one interview, You even speculated that your son's death might have something to do with the import of U.S. beef.
Tensions are running high along the beef issue. Sometimes in a spark of anger people do cruel things. Mike has been spit upon twice before and we have both experienced aggressive behaviour from Korean people who just didn’t like our presence on buses or trains.
As foreigners, we live in a fishbowl, everywhere we go, and everything we do is watched by Koreans all around us. I find it hard to believe that on a busy night, with the Buddha holiday coming and so many families there bathing, that no one saw the 180cm foreigner. What is being kept hidden? And if there is nothing to hide, why don’t witnesses come forward?
3. You seem very disappointed with Korean justice system and emergency rescue sytem. What frustrated you the most?
The only disappointment I have felt from the police was that they didn’t detain witnesses at the time of the incident…at least to find out their contact information for later questioning.
Now we have no witnesses and this makes things difficult. Aside from that, the police have been very supportive and diligent in pursuing questions within the scope they are allowed.
My frustrations are with the legal framework within which they must operate, not the police themselves. The police so far have been gentlemen and patient with my questions.
The EMT firefighters claim per the choson Ilbo article that was published May 22, 2008 that they did possess a defibrillator, but they did not use it. There were no marks on Mike’s chest to indicate they had made use of the defibrillator. Why didn’t they? No one knew for certain how long Mike had been unconscious.
From the best estimate of the Staff worker, Mike was first noticed at 11:05 but the staff person didn’t do anything until 11:20 and 119 was called at 11:28. The ambulance arrived at 11:36 but didn’t use all means within their power, ie the defibrillator.
This was just 30 minutes of unconsciousness. Mike was still revivable with a majority of brain function. If I am willing to live with Mike with some small loss of brain function, then that is my right as his mother, and not a decision for some stranger.
Had the staff notified me and my friend, we could have performed CPR even earlier.
Originally the staff at the Sauna claimed they made an announcement with the English word “danger” in it. This is not true. My second friend at the Sauna is bilingual and no announcement was made on the women’s side. Even if there had been an announcement, and we insist that there wasn’t, there were over 50 women with children in the women’s side that night. Someone would have told us.
Already, Maggie, my bilingual friend had made friends with another girl at the Sauna. The other women knew we were there because as foreigners, we stand out in a crowd.
At 11:45 a staff person contacted us saying we had to take Mike to the hospital. This is a full 40 minutes after staff first noticed Mike in distress.
We were the only foreigners there that evening. We came in together and when we were checking in at the front desk (to pay our money) the clerk made a mistake in the amount and had to re-do the charge. Since we were 1) the only foreigners 2) there were extra things to notice at the front desk staff should have had the common sense to know where I was.
4. From the interviews, I noticed that you are very well aware of CPR and emergency lifesaving measures. Could I ask you how you gained the knowledge? An article said you are a certified lifesaver.
When I was in the USA, as a volunteer for “outdoor programs” at Appalachian State University, I obtained my Red Cross Certification for CPR, First Responder Certification and Epinephrine Certification all in 2003.
This was not my first time to become certified as a CPR caregiver, having done the course in High School Health Education class 1985 and College Health Education Class in 1991 at Haywood Community College.
These are basic skills adults should have when working with students and for mothers/fathers. Because there is limited access to English recertification, my certification has expired but the knowledge in my brain has not.
My friend Corina is also trained, she received her training in Canada and I do not know the details right now.
5. You also said the U.S. embassy was not very helpful either. Is it correct? The Embassy is processing paperwork.
6. I know it is a very insensitive question, but can I ask you how you feel? You said in an interview that you divorced with your husband because you wanted to have a child that he didn't want. Mike must have been a precious child that you could not imagine living without.
Essentially my life is over. All my hopes, dreams for the future have shattered. I will not have grandchildren now. All our travel plans for Asia we made together. We were best friends as well as family, anyone who knows us can attest to that. Sometimes people would think we were brother & sister from our looks and closeness. I feel nothing in my heart now but aching emptiness and cold anger. Everywhere reminds me of Mike. I can still smell his scent on his pillows. I sleep on his bed and cry for him in my dreams. In the morning, I wake up and cry again.
7. I heard you are going to hold another vigil in Daegu on Sunday. How many people do you expect will come and how many came to the vigils in Daegu and Seoul? What do you want to achieve from all of these actions? What kind of questions do you want to be answered?
There are over 70 questions I have submitted to the police, only 6 have been answered so far. I seek answers to my son’s mysterious death and I seek witnesses.
8. I read that you are planning to establish a foundation named after Mike. What kind of foundation would it be?
An educational foundation, at some point once this stage is over we’ll network with the Red Cross to design a program to train college students CPR among other skills. Then encourage these students to go to businesses, schools, etc and encourage people to have environmental awareness of the people around them. Encourage people to help those in distress rather than to turn away in fear they might ‘catch a disease’. Even if people are not CPR trained, they need to know how to call emergency services and the type of information they need to give EMTs so that the EMTs can arrive prepared for the emergency. Giving wrong information can prove fatal, as the EMTs are not prepared properly for the emergency. In an emergency every minute, every second is vital.