Any Return

– This article was serialized in the bi-monthly <People who knock on the world> No. 55.

One morning in early February. I left the house earlier than the other day. Unlike usual, the car headed for the industrial complex in the early morning. Passing the winding alleyway, I stopped the car and opened the door to the semi-basement room of the shabby detached house. There, Bangladeshi workers from night shifts were busy getting ready to go to bed, while neatly dressed Ronnie (pseudonym) was carrying a large luggage bag. That day was the day Ronnie returned to her home country of Bangladesh to get married after 10 years of living in Korea. Three luggage bags were placed in front of Ronnie. The size of the bag is unusual. However, it was too short for the burden of organizing 10 years of life.

I met Ronnie 1 year and 6 months ago. It was through the introduction of the GM Daewoo non-regular branch chairman Shin Hyun-chang. Chairman Shin said he had a Bangladeshi younger brother who lived next door to him for 5 years and asked to see him. That’s how I met Ronnie, and I got a little involved in his life. Ronnie, who came to Korea as an industrial trainee 10 years ago, left the factory six months after working. It was because the six-month trainee period was very different from the life Ronnie had envisioned, including salaries far below the contract terms, habitual late payment of wages, and abusive language from the Korean president and employees. In order to live a humane life, Ronnie abandoned her stable residence visa and chose to stay unregistered. Since then, he has been working in a factory in Bupyeong, Incheon, and has been living as a good friend to Bangladeshi workers, as well as as a nimble little brother and a strong older brother.

Ronnie caught a cold and greeted me with a blank face. Ronnie, who had worked in a factory for 9 years during her 10 years of living in Korea, was hurt by the cold reaction of the factory manager and wife recently. In the meantime, he was expecting a warm farewell from the president’s family, who had all the bad feelings, and they sent him to him, rather than giving him 15 days’ worth of unpaid wages, rather than expressing their gratitude for the past nine years. Ronnie, who believed that the president’s family would deliver her luggage to the airport, did not leave the country for a few days, but was upset and spent time drinking with her friends. The temperature dropped to such a weakened body that he caught a cold. Ronnie greeted me with a hug, who came to see me off to the airport on behalf of the president.

Ronnie and I packed our bags and left the room. Ronnie’s room was newly acquired at the end of last year. Not long ago, Ronnie and her friends moved to this place as if they were being kicked out of the room they had been living in for over 5 years. Because the new Korean who moved in next door told Ronnie that he would report it to the police. Ronnie, an undocumented sojourner without a residence visa, packed up her belongings and moved to this place after moving from home to friends. The Korean, who could have been a good neighbor like the branch president Shin Hyun-chang, used tremendous violence against Ronnie regardless of his intentions. Leaving the room, Ronnie patted the wall of the house with her hand.

I loaded my bag into the car and left the alley again and headed out onto the main road. When he saw a sign at the pharmacy, Ronnie asked to stop the car. He said he was going to go buy some painkillers, etc. We stopped the car and entered the pharmacy together. To Ronnie, who asked for medicine, the pharmacist and his wife said that they spoke Korean very well at first. After saying a few words, the pharmacist and his wife began to speak in a semi-speaking manner, as most Koreans treat migrant workers with courtesy.

“Yes, how many years have you been in Korea?”
“Ten years. I am going to Korea today.”
“You speak so well, are you leaving already?”

The conversation between the pharmacist and Ronnie continued like this. Ronnie also answers the questions that Koreans have been getting so many times that they don’t care. Ronnie said as she left the pharmacy.

“I’ve been here a few times, and they think it’s strange that I speak Korean well every day.”

On the way to the airport, Ronnie talked about the upcoming wedding, a request for a diabetic friend she left behind in Korea, and stories about the good people she met in Korea. So the car was on the road leading to the airport.

“Doesn’t the road look different from the cars you’ve always seen?”

I spoke to Ronnie. And soon Ronnie’s long silence began. Ronnie just stared out the window with a distant gaze.

Ronnie had a screening of a movie she had made a week before departure. It was a film that summarized his 10 years of life in Korea by participating in media education for migrant workers for the past 7 months. In the first scene of the video titled ‘Passing Korean Life’, Ronnie goes back to when she first set foot in Korea. He seemed to be living once again at a time when he could not tell the difference between a hammer and a spanner because he did not speak Korean and could not even eat Korean food. And in the next scene that immediately followed, there was the present Ronnie, who was smiling while reading a newspaper and asking her co-workers what the reason for Park Chan-ho’s return to Korea from Japan was. His 10 years of life cannot be fully explained by such a break and leap. For the rest of the time hidden in the video, Ronnie looked out the window and seemed to be reminiscing.

Arriving at the airport, we headed to the Incheon Airport Immigration Office. This is because undocumented sojourners have to go through the voluntary reporting process when leaving the country. Before entering there, Ronnie looked a little nervous. For Ronnie over the past decade or so, the immigration office has been literally a fearsome object. As such, Ronnie has been living a life of thin ice, where if immigration is cracked down, she has to be arrested, imprisoned, and deported regardless of her will. Reassuring Ronnie, we entered the immigration office.

The immigration officer looked at us with suspicious eyes. When he said that he had come to report voluntarily, the staff confirmed the identities of us accompanying Ronnie as if he knew it would be the case. When he revealed his identity, his demeanor became even more blunt. I have a question for you, so go sit down and ask Ronnie a question in an irritated tone.

“Give me your ID card. do not have? So what did you do in Korea? Where have you been?”

Ronnie answered with a nervous voice. After a while, the immigration officer handed me a piece of paper. The document contained violations of the Immigration Control Act, and below it was written that the fine would be waived. After signing the paperwork, he told Ronnie to come over here for a while.

Following the instructions, the immigration officer stopped Ronnie, who went to the side of the office, in front of the camera. After the photo was taken, Ronnie went to the fingerprint machine next door. Immigration officials carefully took Ronnie’s ten finger prints. I had told Ronnie beforehand that I would be fingerprinted, but when that happened, Ronnie seemed very embarrassed. The immigration officer who finished the office work said that it was now over and he could go. Ronnie’s photos and fingerprints, which will be safely stored in the immigration computer network for a long time, would prevent Ronnie from setting foot on Korean soil again for the sake of ‘safety of Korean society (?)’.

“I am not going! It’s dirty and disrespectful, so I won’t go!”

As she left the immigration office, in front of the violence of having her photos taken regardless of whether she consented or not, and her fingerprints being stamped, Ronnie spit out a grim word. However, we queued up at the airline desk to check-in. Finally, it was Ronnie’s turn to load the luggage onto the conveyor belt. The luggage weighed a whopping 46 kilograms, and the airline staff said that they would have to pay an additional 350,000 won for the excess fare. It was almost half of the ticket price. Reluctantly, we decided to mail the rest of the luggage, except for a handbag Ronnie would bring on the plane, a backpack, and a suit to change into at the stopover. I went to the post office on the second floor of the airport, sent my luggage by airmail, and then headed to the departure gate. It was a sad parting moment. However, the airport staff stopped Ronnie from entering the gate with hesitation. Airport officials weighed Ronnie’s bag and said it was too heavy to let through. The airport staff told me to go to the airline desk and get directions again. So I went to the airline desk again, but there was no point in the way. We already spent 110,000 won to send our luggage by mail, so we decided to organize our luggage once again. First of all, to reduce the burden, I decided to wear a suit that I was going to change at the stopover. While Ronnie tucked herself into her tight-fitting suit, she looked at his luggage. It was filled with old clothes from Korea, soap for the bride to be married, chocolate for her nephews, and tall insoles that the short Ronnie gave to use at the wedding. Among the burdens that contained Ronnie’s past, present, and future, we took an appropriate amount little by little in proportion to its size. The old clothes were removed first, and the soap was put back in by removing the wrapping paper. I persuaded that it was better to buy chocolate at the duty-free shop, so I removed it from the luggage and arranged the insoles to reduce the size of the luggage. While I was organizing my luggage, I caught my eye on the passengers passing through the gate on the other side. They appear to be Koreans, and they were passing through the gate without restraint, even carrying luggage the same size as Ronnie. The airport staff didn’t even weigh their luggage and gave them a light nod.

After collecting our luggage, we went to the gate staff and protested, referring to the scene we had witnessed. The employee said this is because each airline has different baggage allowances. However, in the scene I witnessed, the staff did not check the passengers’ tickets, nor did they set their eyes on them. Even mentioning such a problem, the employee took a step back, saying that he would be able to go out even if he was a little overweight. After re-weighing the newly organized bag, Ronnie was allowed to pass through the gate.

Ronnie, who had been frantically wandering here and there, burst into tears as if she had realized parting only when she heard that she could enter the departure hall.

“I don’t know when we will meet again.”
“I always met him in my life. Be careful and see you.”

He said while hugging Ronnie, who had become thick by putting on a suit.

Ronnie passed through the gate like that and left Korea. On the way home from Ronnie, the last words of the video came to mind again. He said this at the end of the video and in conversations with the audience.

“I am leaving now, but I hope that my friends who do not have a visa remaining can live with dignity. If I had lived in Europe for 10 years, I would have been there. But I have lived in Korea for 10 years, but I cannot be Korean.”

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