(Got across the Canadian border, dropped off at some buddy’s in the woods (Mounted Policeman?) near Vancouver? Talk about US as a monolith, big bully, rude and dangerous. They eventually take Billy into Vancouver where he hangs out for awhile, tbd, before catching a flight to Seoul, airport Internet, get an address, walk around lost, see Edelman (?) some PR agency sign he recognizes and say what the hell, figure there will be someone in there who speaks English at the very least. I walk in and tell them I used to work for them or am in PR still or was. I’m visiting a friend and lost and can they help. Then the John Mullins story. I turn around and see him. He took a sabbatical and was actually on Las Piedras. He got involved with a missionary group, intent on prison reform and other social justice issues. He was totally disaffected with PR with high-tech with business in general, the falsity, the corruption, greed. He started visiting prisons, a guy/lawyer/psychologist in his mission had started this program – he’d recruit folks to come and talk to those criminals, well these people who had been arrested, tutor them, try to teach them some skills before being let out – or just give them soemthing to do, some hope. John got into it, but it was pointless, the system was too big, too broken, “I just wanted to get out of the states,” he said. “I couldn’t stand it anymore. It was a poisoned society, still is, tainted and most of the population is either oblivious, complicit, corrupted or incarcerated.”
I hardly knew what to say to that. It was playing right into my hand.
“So how did you end up here?”
“I was running out of money, and I went and talked with Richard (?). He told me about this opening. I was reluctant of course, I didn’t know a word of Korean, but Jae (Mr. Kim) is great. He really runs this place, I just deal with the howlee clients.
“So, how long have you been here?”
“Oh, almost a year now,” he said after some consideration.
“Wow, that’s great. What do you think? I mean the whole ex-pat thing, how’s that been?”
“I love it,” he said. “It’s been fantastic to put some distance to me and America. The US just isn’t the same, it’s gone through a dramatic, dangerous transformation that you can’t see totally from the inside.”
He used the term purposefully, I think. His time spending time with those doing time gave him that liberty, that right, that something…
“Americans are locked behind the lens of their own televisions, they are trapped in a false world.”
“Uh, John, aren’t you one,” I felt like saying, but just said slily, “You know we have flatscreens now.”
“Ha, ha,” he said good-humoredly. “You know what I mean. At least I think you know what I mean.”
“No, no. I know exactly what you mean. Although were you to come out and say that in Des Moines they’d ask you why you hate our freedom.”
We laughed a bit. “So, what the hell are you doing here?”
“I’m lost,” I joked, although it wasn’t untrue, not in the slightest. It was probably more true than anything else about me at the moment. Anything else I could have said.
“Listen, I’m almost done here. Why don’t you stick around for an hour or so and I’ll help you find your way.”
I considered that a very generous offer and with hardly any hesitation asked, “Could I get online?”
“Sure. He walked me over to an empty cubicle and logged me on, opening a browser that although in Korean was an understandable/recognizable Yahoo interface.
“Have at it. I’ll be back in an hour.”
“Take your time,” I said. “I’m in no hurry.” I was anxious to read the news and see if I’d received any messages from Jake.
“OK, make yourself comfortable, and I’ll wrap things up quickly, it’s still all nonsense, this PR game. Whether it’s a Korean Man or an American Man, I still don’t like working for The Man.”
“I work hard for the things that matter.”
He shrugged and smiled. “Don’t let the girls bother you,” he added over his shoulder as he walked away.
I logged on to check my mail, entered my password, read the NY Times, LA Times, the Chronicle. Nothing new about Martin. I googled myself and still nothing. SFGate just had that one article, very vague and disconcerting in what it left out. No other news from Jake so I sent him an update. I couldn’t find the contact he’d sent me to. I ran into John. I’d try to get there (what is there? Add this, Jake directed me to an address near Itaewan (look this up what neighborhood is near the business district, but not businessy) but couldn’t find it. I’d look tomorrow.
I had a feeling that John and I were not going to search out this address. In fact, I had no intention to. The best course of action, or what I, in my awkward circumstances, seemed to be the best course, was to co-opt John (not co-opt, word here?) was to let John in on the whole deal, like I did with Franklin, with Martin (although that didn’t work out too well. I didn’t have the energy, the wherewithal to get conspiratorial, to lie to John. He clearly was in our camp philosophically, and what’s more, how else could I explain my presence in Seoul?
Again. Sitting in front of a computer, with a message to Soo so close, so easy to send, I had to refrain. If they were to trace it to the ISP this would turn into an international espionage thriller. I had trained myself in Utah, I hadn’t sent her any messages from (Utah guy’s name, Smith, ha) Smith’s place. Nor in Idaho, nor in Canada, nor even from Inchon. Why start now, why risk it? Phone was pointless. I knew that for certain after SF. Email would be too risky and why, what could I possibly say?
Right now the last communications she had had from me were that crazy rambling ‘note’ and that half a call from Martin’s apartment in San Francisco. An email telling her I was in Seoul…not reassuring. The likelihood of a reunion was slim, but there was no sense being needlessly idiotic – or – more accurately – there was no sense in disclosing to her how idiotic I was.
In less than an hour, John came back. I was fiddling around at that point, checking the box scores.
“Let’s get a drink,” he said. Who was I to argue?
He took us out into the crowded, bustling street, cars honking and maneuvering relentlessly through dangerous traffic, pedestrians heedless of signs, bumping and jostling. John was oblivious to the tumult. He pulled me down an alley and we walked down a few stairs, through hanging cloths adorned with words I did not comprehend, could not know.
The proprietor seemed to know him, they made eye contact and each gave the other a familiar nod. With a wave of his hand, the man behind the counter directed us to a low table in the back of this claustrophobic, more than cozy certainly, little den.
Almost instantly, small bowls of pickled vegetables, kim chi, and other tidbits appeared before us brought by the hands of two elderly Korean women who emerged on cue from the kitchen.
When they left, John said, “Ponchon (sp?)” pointing at the snacks.
“Yeah, I know. My Wife’s Korean.”
“Really. I had no idea.” I nodded and started nibbling. “Is she here with you?”
“No.” was all I said and kept my eyes on the table, focused ostensibly on eating.
“Well then,” he said after an awkward pause, “Soju?”
“Sure,” I said, figuring I’d let the story out slowly during the inevitable course of inebriation I saw developing before me. Soju is a distilled rice liquor, stronger than most sake, not as strong as vodka, although drunk much the same way as the Russians drink vodka – in large quantities with snacks like the ponchon we continued to nibble.
Another knowing look at the proprietor and soju was on its way.
“So, come here often,” I asked playfully.
“How can you tell?” (put back a bit that we took off our shoes) (I should probably explain a change of clothes, a resupply when in Vancouver, a whole new getup to go along with my new identity. They/we had decided to make my cover, my new identity, which sounded so James Bond, I laughed at them when they used the word ‘cover’, they gave me a new Canadian passport, new ID, the stuff Murray had done was probably compromised, exhausted by the car rental and hotel stays. I was to be the Canadian agent for an export/import operation bringing in Asian furniture, pieces not antiques for that would require a specific knowledge I wouldn’t be able to fake if quizzed on it, but that looked like antiques, sold in large quantities. Apparently there was quite a trade in the stuff as it was popular amongst Asians living in Canada and Canadians that harkened themselves hip to the oriental mindset. In return, the Canadian operation exported faux pine furniture, rustic like you’d find in a mountain cabin. This was popular, especially to Koreans and Japanese. Hong Kong and mainland Chinese went for fake animal skins they used as carpets and status symbols. (This all backstory for the Vancouver operation that supported this trip). I thought it was over the top, a degree of elaborateness that went too far. They assured me it was necessary and it was as important for them to maintain this appearance as it was for me to keep up the ruse. They’d spent years building this operation and it was the perfect cover for the work they were doing. I found this language both melodramatic and troublesome. I was either involved with real nut-jobs or with people that were very good at what they were doing, and it wasn’t entirely clear to me what exactly that was.
Again, though, I didn’t have many options. The episodes in San Francisco and at the border, not to mention the stories about Martin’s troubles, led me to believe I had, I could take, two paths. One, I could turn myself in, get a good lawyer, and hope for the best. Or, two, I could play this thing out and see if I could either publicize my plight for grassroots support or work the politics waiting for a change in US governance, which, now that I think about it is three paths, or two with a fork in one. Hoping for a change in the political mood was a daunting prospect, it could mean living like this until November 2008. Plus, the administration didn’t exist in a void, they did get elected twice, or so we are to believe.
The violent faction headed by Galt was frightening. Who knew what sort of alliances they had, what sort of contacts and cohorts they were working with. I wanted to soften their rhetoric. I still wasn’t 100% sure where Jake stood, but Franklin was turning into a good influence, his age and easy-going manner contributed to a more reasoned and seasoned approach. More patience was needed.
WTC guy? Scoop? How is this all playing out? In many respects I felt like an observer, emails flew back and forth in cryptic conversations that never seemed to end. Occasionally, I’d pick up bits of news or Jake would forward me articles he thought were pertinent. This mission they’d sent me on hinged on the first meeting I didn’t make. Lost again and getting drunk with a friend/acquaintance, this was all eerily familiar and I was certain Jake would be pissed when he woke up and read my email.
I had no intention of telling John the full details, but I couldn’t very well give him the bullshit about being a Canadian import/export agent.
“So, really, Billy, what are you doing here?” John finally asked.
“It’s kind of a long story.”
“Is it a story you plan on sharing?”
I raised my glass and drank the clear liquid from rough brown little ceramic cups. “Yeah,” I said dispiritedly, “I suppose I will.”
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” he offered nonchalantly, as if it made no difference one way or the other, but I could tell he was curious/intrigued. I shrugged. He took that as a cue to keep up his queries.
“Are you still in PR?”
“Not exactly,” I said.
“What then? What the hell are you doing wandering around Seoul?”
This was hard to answer, so I proffered more soju. At length, I leaned forward and whispered perhaps too conspiratorially, “If I tell you what I’m doing here will you promise not to judge me until you’ve spent some time considering my situation.”
John whispered back in his best mock British agent voice, not a bad Sean Connery, “Agent Shakes, you can count on me to behave as a gentleman, I will take your story to heart and give it earnest consideration.”
“And it is confidential.”
“Well, of course it is. I will take your story to my grave,” he continued mockingly.
I eyed him suspiciously and then started in on the story slowly. I had no desire to get the same guilt trip Martin had laid on me, so I hoped John would be true to his word and hear me out.
I told him about our move to Las Piedras (it turned out we were living only a few miles from each other for about three months), the meeting with Bob, the driving range, and Max and Jake and the ferry fiasco. I told him about San Francisco and Phoenix and how Martin was in custody. I told him about Franklin and the radio stations; and Utah and the Mormons and the Utes and canyon-dwellers, how they fit with the Ghost Dance and the powwows with the Idaho, north plains Indians (tribes?). I told him about Galt and the silos, and the cops and criminals, and the trip to the border and the Canadians, which led me to Seoul. I told him about the meeting I never made and how I felt absolutely at sea, caught up in something I did not fully comprehend and yet feeling responsible and exhilerated by the prospect of doing something momentous. Whether I was deluding myself or just trying to convince about the merits, the benificence and historical significance of my ‘mission’ was not clear. I do know that at some point during that conversation, which was really more of a monologue John became a convert. I had an ally.
“This,” said John after I had finished and we’d had more to drink, “is one of the most remarkable stories I’ve ever heard.”
“It is, yes,” I said, “one way or another it is.”
“What do you mean, ‘one way or another’?”
“Well, I don’t know, part of me feels like I’ve gone off the deep end, that I’m absolutely crazy and at any time the cops or the men in white coats are going to walk in and collect me.”
A group of men, walked loudly down the stairs and entered the restaurant. Both John and I turned quickly to look and laughed to ourselves as three clearly inebriated businessmen sloshed to the bar.
“For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re crazy.” I raised my glass and winked in thankful acknowledgement. “I’ve read about your friend Martin. Remember I have some interest in the American judicial system and the prison culture, what’s happened.”
“True,” I said, “yes, I’d nearly forgotten. But, what do you know about Martin?”
“I know he’s getting screwed. The government has nothing on him, but this unconstitutional ‘enemy combatant’ bullshit is keeping him in the clink. FLBailey and Willie B are politicizing his cause, but it’s still too early to tell how this will develop. One thing’s for sure, the feds don’t have a hapless shoe-bomber or a mosque full of Muslims on their hands. Martin is smart, well-educated, well-represented and if this story gets more play in the press we could have a Nelson Mandela on our hands.”
This was far-fetched. Martin was a tried and true capitalist, a Republican. I knew few people more invested in making the system work for them. He had his issues with authority, sure; what black man in America wouldn’t, but Nelson Mandela he was not.
“So, what are you going to do?” he asked.
“Fuck if I know,” I quipped. “I suppose I’ll find this address tomorrow. He asked me to show it to him again and he gave it some thought and we drank some more and talked about shit, food and Korea and life abroad and whatever then he said, “You know we’ve been doing a lot of public affairs work, government relations, that sort of shit. A lot of what gets done here, most times, is by who you know.”
“Well, we’ve been doing a lot of that kind of work. And when I say ‘we’ I mean Mr. Kim and sometimes an assist from me, but really it’s Kim.” (everyone will be named Kim).
“There…well, there are lots o people we could introduce you to who may not be averse to the kind of conversation we are presently engaged in.”
“Spoken like a true PR guy.”
“You know how it is,” he said. “There are people I’ve boozed it up with, whored it up with too if you must know the truth.
I didn’t. I just shrugged. “I didn’t say I must know anything, John.”
“Right, right,” he said embarrassedly, “But you get my point. I know them and I think I know how they feel, but you know they have different political considerations here. They have to take care of their careers.”
“Right,” I said, not entirely sure I knew what the fuck he was talking about. There was a moment’s hesitation when my addled mind took the time to process exactly what he was intimating. “Um, so, are you saying that you might not be opposed to perhaps introducing me to some of these people in an informal capacity [‘capacity’ is a very hard word to say not sober] and that maybe, maybe, there may be a certain amount of shared sentimentality.”
“Well said, well spoken.”
“I’m nothing if not a professional,” I said and then raised my glass which his clinked.
“I’ve always admired that about you.” We laughed again, perhaps too much, considering the gravity of what it was we were talking about, what all this could mean, not necessarily in a historic sense, but what it could mean to John, to me, to whomever we managed to drag into this.
“Are you serious?” I asked. “I mean you say this now, but, honestly, tomorrow, what does this mean?”
“It means we talk to Kim. I don’t want to do anything without talking to him.”
“Will he be, will he be, you know, amenable, wouldn’t he run away from this shit?”
“I don’t know,” John replied honestly. “I do know he is not a big fan of the present US administration and there aren’t a lot around here who are. So…”
“I don’t want to put anyone else at risk,” I said.
“Oh, don’t worry, Kim won’t do anything that isn’t absolutely safe. He hasn’t survived for 20 years with Edelman without learning a thing or two about covering his ass.”
I nodded and smiled, inside I was thinking of how glad I was that I didn’t have to work at an agency and deal with all the shit that that entailed. Of course, six months ago I would have killed for a job, any job that might have kept me out of this mess. It almost certainly would have. It occurred to me then and I’ve pondered it much since, just how dangerous an educated, disaffected, unemployed underclass is to the safety of a society. The uneducated unemployed are not likely to succeed in any sort of organized rebellion. Peasant Russia wouldn’t have turned to Bolshevism without Lenin, without Marx and Engels, of course, but it took a Lenin and charisma to adapt a philosophy to real life, exploit the emotions of an oppressed people under the cloak of a noble social experiment. Taking academic concepts and applying them to a particular cultural circumstance can’t be done without the brute force, and brute force alone can’t succeed without the guiding principle to serve as a rudder. The southern gentlemen farmers who studied ancient democracies and thought applying them to colonies under the thumb of King George and an imperial yoke (thumb and yoke, some joke) could never have seen their high-falootin idealism realized without the firebrands and warriors like Patrick Henry and George Washington willing to take a bullet for the cause. And, what’s more, you don’t get the average Joe to take a bullet just so he can pay less for tea (or gas). You need a Tom Paine to capture the sentiment of the lower class while couching the destruction of revolution in terms redolent of rebirth and transformation.
I congratulated myself, perhaps too much on my advancement from PR flunky to modern day Tom Paine. Afterall, I’d yet to do much besides run from the authorities and recruit a DJ, granted a wealthy, capable and instrumental (ha) DJ, but a DJ nonetheless. He could broadcast our message, but we were going to need more than that.
That night in Seoul, John and I talked and talked, he let loose years of frustration, finding a friendly ear in me (two, actually). His view of America, his years of observing the priveledged and then his exploration of the prison led him to believe the country was heading on a disaster course. With no opportunity for hundreds of thousands of unlucky people getting trained in violence by hardened individuals belonging to organized groups, it was only a matter of time before some massive tempest or a collapse from within. Look at the Rodney King riots, the madness is just below the surface. The weight of the prison system, such beaurocratic infrastructure must certainly weigh heavily on a government, add to that expenditure, the huge dollar amounts – a massive military budget both in armaments and veteran medical care; a daunting rate of debt accumulation, tax cuts for the wealthy; social security and welfare programs for an aging population; an economy built on a resource, oil, whose rising costs was crippling an industrial base and factory farm system – and the tottering tower of US supremacy was crumbling at its base. The foundation of democratic principles still exists, he said, but it’s been painted with such a cynical opportunistic brush as to be unrecognizable. There’s a point when rhetoric becomes propaganda, when patriotism becomes nationalism, and when pride becomes chauvenism. At that point those who led that rhetoric those who fostered superiority, exclusion and righteousness will do whatever it takes to hold onto power and exploit their advantage. It’s an appeal to humanity’s baser instincts. Tell them they deserve better, they deserve cake and they deserve to eat it and have it and when they have bread they can have cake and if they don’t want bread but want to have cake instead, they can break out the credit card and buy some damn cake because goddamn it they want cake and there’s no reason they shouldn’t have it.
I cannot claim to have a complete recollection of all his rambling, his poli-sci 101, convenient history pinko mumbo-jumbo in all its metaphorically mixed glory; nor can I say it was entirely all his, but the record stands as a close approximation as it captures the prevailing tone, which could be called, in short, incendiary.
John and I walked somewhat unsteadily back to his small one bedroom apartment, not far from his office and his local. He went weeks without leaving that triangle, he said.
“Don’t you travel?” I asked.
“Yeah, but not as much as you’d think. It comes in waves. I’ll be here for a month just working with clients in the states and coordinating activities with our local team. Honestly, they do most of the work. Sometimes I feel like I’m nothing more than a translator, and I don’t even speak the language!”
“Sounds like a good gig if you ask me.”
“Yeah, I’ve always said it would be a great job if it weren’t for the clients.”
“Without the clients we’d just be pimping our own ideas to the press.”
He pointed me to a futon. “Sorry, no guest bedroom.”
“I’ve slept on worse,” I said.
“I bet you have.”
Cursory goodnights, collapse on the couch, and I was out til morning.
A bright hot, muggy morning that when we walked out into the full loud crowded wave of it felt oppressive as death, a hell. My head throbbed, the backs of my eyes pierced by each ray of sunlight, breathing made me sweat, and the persistent throng and gong of the people, the noise, a terrible confusion making no sense to me. I followed John, who with sunglasses on, marched head down through the crowd. The reprieve I receive in his air conditioned building was a blessed respite, life-saving, perhaps I exaggerate but those 20 minutes pushed me closer to dementia than any other 20 ever had.
“Is it always like this, so crowded, so crazy chaotic?”
“Oh, no, in the winter it’s so fucking cold no one walks on the street unless they absolutely have to.”
We slotted some time with Kim, he was going to join us for lunch. John sat me down in my little visitor’s cubicle. The women, the employees were primarily women, young girls really chattering away on their phones. Land lines and cell phones used indiscriminately, odd ringing and the occasional curious visit from one of the girl’s eager to practice her English – all this distracted me for part of the morning, the rest I spent checking email and the news. Jake had replied. He was pissed that I missed the meeting, but not as pissed as I thought he’d be. He was concerned about John, as was I, but last night’s conversation led me to believe we had an ally in John. The lunch meeting with Kim would be critical, instructive, and, hopefully, productive. I was worried about it.
The tone of Jake’s email led me to believe he was concerned with other items. I still didn’t know exactly what else he was up to. Since I’d introduced him to Franklin I felt there’d been a change in Jake. More mellow, less urgent. Frank was stabilizing, he had an easy assurance about him and the fact that he was wealthy enough to tell the world to piss off gave him the luxury to do and say what he wanted. He had “Fuck You” money, as we used to say. The goal in Silicon Valley was to work as hard as you could, find a good opportunity, and exploit it, and then either move on to the next one or tell the world to fuck off and go and do whatever it is you really want to do, answering to no one but yourself (or your wife). That dynamic led to a certain short-sightedness, the ones who would stick around the length of time it would take to build something truly lasting and meaningful were either the extremely greedy or the extremely competitive, the latter was often confused with being a visionary, but there’s always been just one vision in business and that’s making money, the rest of it is just marketing bullshit. Those that get free of it with their ‘fuck you’ money rarely make money from whatever it is they go on to do, but they feel like they’re doing something either for themselves or for others, and, when you think about it, those that feel compelled to do something for others are really doing it for themselves. Any honest assessment of personal motivations, of philanthropy, would show that, no matter how altruistic one’s actions appear, the root cause is always selfish, either to assuage guilt or to make themselves feel good about themselves. The poor or the needy or the sick that receive their benificence are just convenient props.
Frank was a guy who made no bones about his selfishness. He liked his music and his own company, he was comfortable in his own skin and he didn’t give a lick about what anyone else thought of him. As I said, I was beginning to think Frank’s, well frankness, was rubbing off on Jake. There’s a bit of retrospective and 20/20 hindsight going in to this analysis but that’s my perogative now isn’t it? Jake had jumped into this whole hog, he was recruited by Max, wooed and trained and when it became clear he’d been duped, turned into a radical revolutionary by a con-man, I think he felt his only alternative was to buy into the story fully, otherwise it would be apparent he was simply a stooge. If he had altered his tactics it would have been a tacit admission that the plan was not his. After Max flipped the switch and turned us in, Jake had to be more than Max (more Max than Max? Take it to 11). He had to prove he did more than believe the rhetoric, he had to prove he believed in the ‘movement’ that the movement was indeed his. Otherwise he was a fool driven by emotion and a belief in a false idol. It was like a man who convinces himself he has fallen in love with a woman merely because he slept with her. The cheapness of it, the baseness would be plain as day. Call it love and it’s understandable, noble even. Well, the shine was wearing off Jake’s love of the plan and as the relationship soured he was looking to rebound with Franklin’s more reasoned approach.
A little after 1:00, John came over to my temporary cubicle and asked, “Anything interesting going on in the world?”
“Oh, you know, this and that. Tumult, conspiracy, revolution…the usual.”
He smiled and said, “Kim’s ready whenever you are.” We headed out of the office together, talking lightly about PR and how the agency was doing. It all seemed so inconsequential, I had a hard time pretending to be interested. We went back to John’s usual Korean ratskeller.
“Do you eat anywhere else?” I quipped.
“I’ve found if you concentrate where you spend your money you get better service, and, I like this place, they’re nice to me.”
“That’s important,” I said in mock seriousness.
“It is,” he responded gravely. “It’s much more important than people think. This example is at a wide distance, but it’s on the same spectrum,” he started and I could tell he was about to expound on a subject to which he’d given great thought. “When you enter a restaurant you are in a position of weakness, you ‘want’ something, you are in need. The restauranteur can meet that need, thus, he is in power. There is some reciprocity obviously, as the customer has money and can always go somewhere else, but the balance of power favors the side with the food because the customer made the first move, they walked in the door and expressed a need for something.”
“Yeah, so what’s your point?”
“Both parties should be nice to each other, social etiquette demands it. More than that, though, the entire social structure requires it. Being nice is the glue that keeps society together. And, what’s more, it transcends one society, different nations, different cultures need to be nice to one another, too. If a nation is in power, it should be nice, considerate to the nation that comes to it asking for food. There needs to be mutual respect. If the nation asking for food feels disrespected it may go somewhere else to get what it needs.
“I think I know where this is going.”
I nodded. We removed our shoes and sat down. John and Kim and the man behind the bar were all being nice to each other. “OK, then I’ll come right out and say it. The US isn’t being very nice and that’s killing their reputation internationally.”
“It’s a rather simplistic foreign policy – ‘be nice’.”
“Simple can be very complex,” said Kim, speaking at length after near total silence through this exchange.
“Profound oriental wisdom,” said John in jest.
“Don’t be provocative,” Kim replied. They clearly had a close working relationship. They had to get along well to work seamlessly with international clients and local press.
We ordered our food, or rather Kim and John ordered, arguing over what I’d like best, questioning the guy behind the bar who, it turned out, was named Kim, as well. Over lunch the conversation returned to international politics, specifically US aggression and what that has done, how it destabilized the precarious balance which characterized the global map after the fall of the soviet state. As if at all other times the balance was in complete equilibrium (the world has always been in flux, chaos is the norm, wherever different groups of people meet there will be conflict). Kim did most of the talking now, although John frequently chimed in to clarify (Kim’s English was good, but far from perfect). For the sake of readability I’ll paraphrase here.
“The US thinks, or it has convinced itself, that it is the sole superpower, that because it has the military might it can do whatever it wants, make other people do what they want them to do. This is wrong thinking and it is dangerous. The US feels damaged, scorned, misunderstood. It is like a wife who has been cheated on or beaten, she feels the right for retribution, she feels others should be on her side, that the husband must be punished and anyone who doesn’t agree is also an enemy. It drives people to make alliances to pick sides. Weak nations will form alliances, and sometimes they have to form loose alliances with regimes they don’t necessarily respect but they do so out of political convenience.
There are several examples. Iran, for instance. Iran is backed into a corner. The US is in Iraq and Afghanistan. Think what the US would do if Iran or Russia or China sent troops to Mexico and Canada. What’s more this has all come after much inflammatory rhetoric from both sides. The US is still the Great Satan in Iran. Iran is part of the Axis of Evil. Not very nice.”
“No, not at all.”
“So, what is Iran going to do? It forms loose alliances with Russia and China while establishing its bona fides in the Muslim world.”
“It is reaching out to other constituencies while consolidating its base.”
“More or less. But, on a geopolitical level those loose alliances that you might see for short-term domestic electoral success take on added gravity. They aren’t fully understood perhaps even by the players involved.”
“Look at Korea. The south is inextricably linked (John translated this, I could only imagine Kim saying ‘inextricably’) to the US. The older generation or a large percentage of the older generation feels beholden to them, but the young don’t understand, they just see a bunch of GIs fucking their women and pissing in the streets. Pardon these crudities.”
“No problem. I see your point.”
“The issue is impossibly complex. The South doesn’t trust the North, but mostly they don’t trust Kim Jong Il (which?), they feel he might do anything, he’s crazy or maybe as the saying goes in the US, crazy like a fox. We don’t trust him, but we know people, people have family, we still speak the same language and have the same customs, we all eat kimchi (ha). The North, though, and the south, for the most part, hate the Japanese, or at least feel a competitive dislike for them. The Japanese look down on everyone. They would have turned Korea into a Japanese state if they could have and the only reason they didn’t was because of the US. So, the US pummels Japan, still the only instance of atomic weaponry used against a civilian population, by the way, and the Japanese are forced to succumb. Scratch the surface in Japan and you’ll find covert dislike, distrust, maybe hatred, maybe scorn of the US. They have been forced to pay obeisance, but trust me, they do not like it, still, to this day, they do not forget. I know men, American men, expatriates, who have worked in Japan for years and they tell me that people they’ve known for years, who have been kind and considerate, thoughtful people for years, who they worked with and ate with and shared family events. That in an instant, or certain instances they turned and showed a different side. They expose maybe just once when drunk or otherwise vulnerable or too honest. They showed a nationalist side, a rabid nationalism which is really a feeling of cultural supremacy. It really verges on a hatred of the US, a resentment. That feeling isn’t radically different from what exists among the young in Korea. The US is a gorilla. It is powerful and dangerous. Koreans north and south don’t like Japan. The Japanese don’t like the Koreans, they don’t like the Chinese. The Chinese don’t like, shit, they hate the Japanese and Korea is a useful tool. Mix all that up and you have a very complicated jigae – a stew. It’s hot, spicy and it will hurt the howlee ass in the morning.”
(This conversation is more suited to a drunk evening. I may need to break this up into two meetings, lunch with Kim then dinner drinks with Kim and the political folks. Radical fringe plus Billy – Billy’s contacts – a meeting with Billy/Jake’s contacts and then Billy Kim BC and Kim contacts and John. Work this out.)
What the Americans don’t understand or at least what the rhetoric doesn’t intimate they understand, is that all of this is subplot, and in addition to that subplot, in fact, mixed into it is purposefully inflammatory language designed specifically to appeal to the domestic audience. I used to think the same about US foreign policy, but now I don’t know. Reality has been confused with fiction. How in the world can you achieve any sort of working relationship, any pretense to order, to peace, to a defined global existence, if the power that has professed such a worship, such dedication to democracy, is off on wild gambits across the globe paying no heed to common decency. Any credibility they had is shot. They are hypocrites. Yamchae.(Eddie Haskell, John made the comparison). They are only out for themselves. No trust. And, no faith. No belief in their ability to act as reliable arbiters. It is sad. It is beyond sad. It is despicable. Dangerous. The world cannot afford right now a situation where a nation with the most might, the greatest capacity to inflict massive damage, it is disturbing in the extreme that such a nation is so unreliable. There must be more stability.
Kim was on a roll, visibly upset. He had worked himself into a frenzy. John was taken aback. I don’t think he had ever seen Kim like this, had not heard such language, indeed, did not know such thoughts existed in the mind of his long-time co-worker. I figured now was my opportunity to tell my story, to ask if Kim would meet my contacts and see what they were doing, how they were connected to the US movement Jake was orchestrating, or, at least that I thought he was orchestrating. I still did not know if Jake was reporting to someone else, and whether that someone else had a position of power. The further this progressed the more I felt the latter must be the case.
“Kim,” I began. “I don’t know how much John has told you about why I am here.”
“Not a lot,” he said. Without going into all the details again, here, I explained my situation, adding how I had been instructed to contact this person or group here in Seoul.
“This is a fascinating story, Billy,” Kim said when I had completed my convoluted tale. He looked at me suspiciously, searching for a trace of madness in my eyes, I felt.
“So, what is the name of this contact of yours?”
“The only name they gave me was ‘Kim’.”
“Of course. And you have an address?”
“Yes, although I’ve missed the meeting time, obviously, so I don’t know if that’s still the spot.”
“Let me see the address.”
I pulled out the folded piece of paper I’d been carrying since leaving my Canadian friends, stained from my sweaty hands and worn from much worrying (?). He examined it closely.
“You were lost.”
“Yes, I was clearly lost,” I noted the irony. I’d been lost for months. He folded the paper back up and tapped tapped it pensively on the table in front of him. After some moments of thoughtful deliberation during which he looked around the restaurant as if searching for a clue, some sign as to how he should treat me, how he should react to such a wild story. He appeared to be weighing deep thoughts, as if this spot, this little restaurant was somehow the answer, or an important piece of a puzzle. I’m expounding on this now because he talked to me about that moment later, how it really was a transformative moment for him. He stood on the edge of a new path and whether or not the path I’d laid out before him was going to be the path that took him where he was going was almost irrelevant, something had switched in his mind, and the convictions he had held deeply hidden but disclosed so animatedly just then before us could not now be placed back in their box. The tiger was out of the cage. Kim was a methodical man. He got things done. He was known for that in the agency. Were he to make this move, he was not going to do it half-heartedly. It was going to require a plan and a devotion to that plan. He told me later that as he sat looking around the restaurant he saw before him Korea. He saw all that he loved about his country, the customs, the food, the drink, and the comraderie, a joy in being, he put aside the bad and thought about John and I about America and Americans, he contemplated the North and power and people with too much power and what that can do to them and those they control. He did not enter this lightly then, he meant what he calmly looked at me and voiced his allegiance with the simple words, “I think I can help you.”
I felt the strength behind those words and looked to John to see his response. His surprise, the surprise on his face reinforced in me my belief that this step by Kim was of real significance.
“Great,” I said. “This is just great. How? How do you think you can help?”
“Let’s consider this. I need to know more about Jake, who is he, what connections does he have, why is he doing this?”
I tried to explain as best I could, but I still had very little information. I emphasized the part of the story where I had been recruited, the mood in America that could drive someone like me, an altogether average middle-class man to fall into a group like the one Max constructed. Then I elaborated on the double-cross, the entrapment, and what that meant for justice, not just in America but around the world. If people could not only be imprisoned without being charged, but fooled into committing crimes or put into a position where even the supposed planning of crimes, then what hope is there, where does this stop?
“We were both screwed, we’ve all been screwed,” I said. “He and I and I don’t know how many others, but he’s the real deal if that’s what you’re worried about. He has skin in the game, plenty, his whole skin I’d say.”
“But who else does he know? How high do his connections go?” To that question I had no honest answer. I explained Galt and Franklin and the Canadians and we discussed the network that this represented and how it might extend more deeply, more broadly, but that was speculation. It would have to be, why would they entrust such information with me?
“OK, let’s check with this Jake of yours. Let’s see if we can meet with Kim and then we’ll determine where we can go from there.”
This was decided and we had begun down the path that would lead us to a very strange place indeed.
(I need to figure out where this conversation took place in time, whether it was two conversations, one at lunch and one over drinks. If the former then he could go back to the office but the time difference puts Jake out of play. Somehow skip to the meeting of Kims, then what before then?)