Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Abducted by a Korean gangster

Oh, to be spring birding on the glorious Yellow Sea islands again...
  It's time to recount the wacky tale of that time when I was abducted on a small Korean island in the Yellow Sea. This was a few years back, and I was there to survey the glorious spring migration. They don't get too many foreigners on this island, and I suppose the locals were trying to figure out what I was all about. So one night, as I was about to sit down in my hotel (I use that term loosely) to my daily dose of dreaded spicy fish head soup, this big dude showed up and pulled me out the door by the arm. He dragged me to his humble house in the hills, where his wife had laid out an epic dinner.
  I have my suspicions that this guy was the head honcho on the island, as the locals seemed to fear/respect him, and I'd seen him a few times at the docks in the pre-dawn gloom, up to no good. Once I saw him and the one cop on the island meet there, and an envelope changed hands while something was hurriedly offloaded from a trawler. The 'one cop on the island being tight with the one honcho on the island' thing seemed to be the rule, rather than the exception on these remote islands.
  At first he was basically interrogating me, asking me all manner of personal questions. As the dinner wore on, he warmed to me, and bellowed at his wife in Korean "Wife! Bring the Tree!" She popped out of the back room where she had been hiding out, carrying a massive vessel filled with liquor, with bits of tree floating around inside. We hit the Tree pretty hard, and were soon singing karaoke songs and giggling like ninnies. There was much red-faced back-slapping. I don't remember getting back to my hotel, but from the evidence I was able to piece together in the morning, I suspect that four to six Korean men broke into my bathroom and vomited everywhere. And a little bit near where I was sleeping.
  As I shakily headed out for my birding circuit the next morning, Big Boy came down and gave me a big bear-hug in front of some of the other townsfolk. After that, I was a made guy on the island. Instead of glaring at me suspiciously from doorways, folks would run out and offer me coffee and snacks. That's the power of the Tree.
  Being kidnapped by a Korean fellow was a bit stressful at first, but not quite as stressful as the time I was accused of espionage on an island within sight of North Korea. Twice. Incidents like these are what I'll miss about birding in Korea.

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