When David Kim and his wife were brutally attacked by a group of gangsters and the police told him "This is Korea, and that`s how it is," he said he felt empty inside.
In a similar incident last year, Kim and two of his friends, Patrick Chitman and Richard Kim, both kyopo, or ethnic Koreans that grew up overseas, were verbally attacked by six ajeossi, or older men, that slung slurs at them because they were speaking English.
Richard Kim said that while they didn`t exactly handle the situation in an ideal manner -- he said the best thing to do is take the high road, ignore verbal insults and move on -- the slurs were especially insulting and inflammatory.
When the ajeossi`s words turned into physical violence against Chitman, and authorities were called, Richard said the police tried to force a cash settlement, which the ajeossi agreed to. He also said the ajeossi has yet to pay up, leaving Chitman with the whole hospital bill.
<**1>Near the end of November, in a case that received vast attention in the blogosphere, Michael Hurt, who is black, was shooting a short film in Seoul when an intoxicated man interrupted the production and verbally insulted him for an extended period of time.
When the police were called, Hurt, who speaks fluent Korean, was treated as if he had been in the wrong. The post on his blog, entitled "I got arrested for calling the police," received thousands of hits.
Said Hurt: "This stuff (racism) happens so rarely; one out of a thousand people maybe. But if you run into that thousandth person, you`re in the wrong place at the wrong time, and you happen to look at a gangster sideways and he doesn`t like the fact that you`re with a Korean woman -- you`re screwed."
The incidents, while not everyday occurrences, but by no means are they completely isolated, raise serious questions about getting justice in cases of prejudice against foreigners and social acceptance of non-whites in Korean society.
David Kim, 37, and his wife, Kim Yun-hee were out for what they described as a midnight snack in Dapsimni, eastern Seoul, when they were attacked by a group they described as four gangsters on March 9.
David said after eating they went to a singing room, where the gangsters confronted them in the lobby, attaching various slurs to the word "foreigner," then the couple was physically attacked. He said the attackers broke his jaw in half and tried to rape Yun-hee. His wife came away from the incident with bruises and broken teeth.
"When I came back to Korea, my motherland, I obviously hoped for belonging and acceptance -- but it`s really not there," said David.
"It`s tough for me because when I go back to Canada, I`m not accepted as a white person, and in Korea I`m not accepted as Korean. I had a tough time growing up in Canada because there was a lot of racism," he explained.
In an interview at the hospital, David said: "My jaw is split in two. My front teeth are gone. They dragged (Yun-hee) into a norebang room, were holding her down and said they were going to rape her."
But she managed to break away for long enough to call the police. By the time they arrived at the scene, three of the four attackers had fled, but David`s said his hope for justice didn`t last long.
"At the police station it was apparent they (the police and one of the attackers) knew each other. They asked me to sign a statement that was completely false. They weren`t concerned about my medical condition and no ambulance and no doctor was called, even though I had a broken jaw, and (Yun-hee) had been slapped around and almost raped."
What`s most amazing, David said, was when the police telephoned Yun-hee and told her that no charges were going to be placed.
"Two days later the police called my wife and said we should take a settlement."
He added that the police investigator has not taken statements from the victims, now over two weeks past the incident, and he worries about a just outcome when only one side has the ear of the police.
"We got attacked by gang members and the police actually told us, the victims, that they, the attackers, aren`t going to press charges. It`s amazing," said David.
David does not want to take the police-suggested cash settlement because, as he said, he wants the law enforced and the attackers to go to jail.
David was born in Korea but his family immigrated to Canada when he was young. His wife was born in Korea and grew up here. David explained that some kyopo feel they are not fully accepted in Korean society "because we`re not accepted there (in Canada) 100 percent, and not here (in Korea) 100 percent, either."
Richard Kim says that in Korea, there are some benefits that come with being kyopo, but that there are also some drawbacks. "I can get around Korea a lot easier than an overt foreigner; I can communicate and I know the culture. (But) I think we get treated differently for sure. It`s more in employment than anything."
He said that private English schools here tend to prefer white foreigners, even if others can speak just as well.
He added that he doesn`t let it bother him, "There`s nothing I can do," he said. "I just hope that for Korea to become an international participator -- it has really big dreams to become Asia`s best -- they kind of have to change their outlook on the way they treat people. Here, the exception is the rule, whereas back home there is no exception to the rule. There should be more consistency."
Hurt says that while racism does exist here, he doesn`t spend too much time worrying about it. "I don`t stress about it here too much, but if I was with a woman who was my wife -- and my life -- I would be extra careful, because we attract attention."
After being contacted by The Korea Herald on several occasions, the police refused to comment. The investigator did not return repeated phone calls.
By Matthew Lamers