Occidentalism
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Korean couple die in US

June 7th, 2007 . by Matt

The JoongAng Daily has an article about a “Korean couple” that has died in an accident in the US. As is usual in the Korean media, whether they are Korean citizens with US permanent residency or US citizens is not made clear because we never know if “Korean” is referring to ethnicity or citizenship status.

The bodies of a Korean couple living in the United States were found Wednesday in the Trinity River here, two days after their car went down a boat ramp and into a river during a heavy rainstorm, according to Dallas police.
Better English skills might have saved their lives, police said.
Kim Young-hwan, 60, and his wife, Cho Sook-yeon, 57, called 911 three times on a cell phone after Kim, driving their silver Hyundai Sonata, got lost, police said. The Garland, Texas residents were heading to Sunnyvale, California to meet friends.
“My parents couldn’t speak English well,” said Eun-sun, Kim’s youngest daughter. “After their unsuccessful bid for help, they hung up the phone, and the 911 rescue squad couldn’t find them.”
While seeking help, the couple missed a sign saying a boat ramp was ahead of them, police said.
While the car was sinking, Kim called his friend on the phone and desperately sought to be rescued, only saying, “Water is coming in. Please help!”
Police, tracking cell-phone signals, found the area where the car was located in the river, where they recovered the two bodies.
The couple is presumed to have drowned, police said.
After emigrating to the United States in the mid-1980s, Kim had worked in a cleaning company, according to one of his friends.

This is going to sound harsh, but 20 years after emigrating to a country, you owe it to the people around you to at least learn the language to an intermediate level, if not advanced level. I think learning the local language of the country you emigrate to is the courteous thing to do, and a mark of respect to the locals. In this case, knowing how to communicate in English may have saved their lives.


32 Responses to “Korean couple die in US”

  1. comment number 1 by: 輝夜姬

    I agree with you.
    Yes, they’ve lived there for 20 yrs.
    Ther’s no excuse.

    One more, it’s dangerous to marry between the same mother-tongue users.

  2. comment number 2 by: 輝夜姬

    No, this is better,
    http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/0607dnmetmissingcouple.1f033c19.html

    Korean equlvalent is full of sensationalism.

  3. comment number 3 by: dogbert

    It’s a tragic story. I feel for their children.

    One thing that was strange — the Joongang Ilbo article said the couple was driving (from Texas) to Sunnyvale, California, a drive that would take days.

    The U.S. newspaper article says they were headed to a restaurant on a Sunnyvale St. in the town in which they lived.

  4. comment number 4 by: Ken

    It would take around 4 days from Texas to California.
    I had rented a car at Las Vegas, Nev to drive around 700 miles to Poenix, AZ.
    The girl at car return was surprised even with by turns with 3 men.
    They would be driving with dozing off with fatigue.
    Nevertheless, having driven such a long way without fundamental English ability is more fearful.

  5. comment number 5 by: dogbert

    The girl at car return was surprised even with by turns with 3 men.

    I’ll bet she was!

  6. comment number 6 by: dogbert

    Back on topic, it could be too that the couple had a decent grasp of English, but in a situation in which they were panicked, reverted to their native language.

  7. comment number 7 by: egg

    I think spending 2 decades in America and still not good at English is strange. They might have neglected improving their English skills. If that is the case, this tragedy may only be their own fault.
    But still I feel sorry for them. I wish their souls rest in peace.

  8. comment number 8 by: AG

    Not interacting with other English speakers,
    working and living in an environment that
    requires minimal English, living “there” for
    even twenty years may be of little help.
    Their age and the panic they must have been
    in wouldn’t help, either.

    When I was at a court for some traffic violation,
    there were about 30 or so people, and one Korean guy and a Mexican guy had to wait for the translator to assist them. The Korean guy might have thought that he didn’t need a translator, but as he didn’t even understand the plea, the judge suggested him to wait till the afternoon to get some help.
    I was impressed that the small local court can accomodate Korean language translator so soon, and that someone who doesn’t understand English driving around and violating the rules.

    If the coulple really were going to California, I wonder why they didn’t just get some cheap flights. The gas is so expensive nowadays and you could cut the motel cost, too. If they were going to a restaurant as dogbert says, how could they get lost in their own town?

  9. comment number 9 by: Phil2Musashi

    I agree that when living in(or even visiting) another country, that it is polite to do your best to speak the native language.

    But, if these people immigrated in their 40’s I can understand how picking up a new language would be difficult. However, they must have had a pretty good understanding of the language to be able to do business, and interact and travel throughout Texas.

    I know a lot of people who despite having a very advanced level of English (including scholars whose own writings in English are published), find themselves at a loss in many social situations. The phone in particular is especially a difficult place to communicate for non native speakers, because there is no body language or facial expressions that can be used to help reach an understanding.

    Anybody out there learning a second (or third, fourth) language should take heed. And pray they don’t wind up in a similiar situation one day.

  10. comment number 10 by: GarlicBreath

    Reminds me of that part in the movie 25 th Hour:

    Ed Norton:

    the Koreans who’ve never bothered to learn anything but pidgin English. …

    If you want to be a Korean citizen you need to take a language test. The same should be true for Korean immigrating to the US.

    how could they get lost in their own town?

    Koreans are some of the worst drivers in the world.

    it has been identified thatKorea has been highly ranked in terms of frequency,fatality, and injury severity among OECD members

    .

    Oh and here is the PDF .

  11. comment number 11 by: kjeff

    Matt,

    In this case, knowing how to communicate in English may have saved their lives.

    I think it is “harsh” and unwarranted. From the articles, it seems like they had only minutes, if not seconds, to communicate where they were. I think I have at least a moderate level grasp of English, and even so, I remember having difficulties communicating -to AAA- where I was when my car stalled in rural Virginia. Moreover, I only had a ‘nagging’ wife next to me, and not the deafening rainstorm and rushing water in the background. Oh, I forgot, they were lost, and I’m assuming that it was not some interstate with convenient mile marking. Oh yeah, they were drowning. I wonder how ‘well’ we’d all be in their situation. Should they have had better English? Sure, don’t we all. Would it have mattered? Probably not. Language learning, as often the case, is situational-based. We’re better at situations that we commonly encounter. How often can we say that we are lost and drowning inside a car on a boat ramp during a heavy thunderstorm? How often do we practice ‘that’? Show some respect, give them a break…

    As is usual in the Korean media, whether they are Korean citizens with US permanent residency or US citizens is not made clear because we never know if “Korean” is referring to ethnicity or citizenship status.

    And that is important because…? Is it not enough knowing that they emigrated?
    Having said the above, there’s no denying that immigrants should make an effort…no, that’s not the right words…they should do better in learning the common language of their adopted country. However, this tragic incident is not a proper platform to make such point.

  12. comment number 12 by: kjeff

    GarlicBreath,
    What’s your name?

  13. comment number 13 by: GarlicBreath

    This is a very strange story. First why did they drive in the river. It turns out that they were missionaries too.

    They were committed to mission work

    So who were they trying to convert in America? without speaking any English? Sound like frauds to me.

    Why didn’t they get out of their Hyundai after they drove in the river. They had time to call a friend and 911, so why not get out of their car.
    I can only guess that they were drunk on soju.

    this tragic incident is not a proper platform to make such point

    .

    Actually tragic incidents are often the best time and platform to make points. The tragic incident is used as an example to drive home a point. Would you rather use an example where their inabilty to speak their adopted nations tounge got them the wrong type of pizza delivered? No. Safety is a very good reason why people should learn the language of where they call home.

  14. comment number 14 by: GarlicBreath

    Speaking of rain ruining your day. It looks like Jungje Hoon is AKA “Bi” wont tour American. I will be interested to see how the Korean press blames the US for this.

  15. comment number 15 by: toadface

    Leave it to Garlicbreath to turn a tragic post into an anti-Korea rant.

    You suck Garlicbreath, people like you are killing this blog….

  16. comment number 16 by: GarlicBreath

    Piling on too toady? If it were up to YOU TOADFACE this blog would be closed down. YOU TOADFACE and your friends helped Gerry Bevers lose his job. YOU TOADFACE run a blog that does not allow comments, like this one. YOU TOADFACE have been caught many times posting libel about Mr Bevers under other names.

  17. comment number 17 by: toadface

    zzzzzzzzzzzz.

  18. comment number 18 by: GarlicBreath

    Not a big suprise, but the Korean community is already protesting. One Korean community leader is interviewed, but its very difficult to understand what he is saying. I guess his protest would have more impact he he learned English.

  19. comment number 19 by: bad_moon_rising

    The primary reason the Korean couple didn’t get assistance from the 911 operator is that Young Hwan Kim hung up before the operator could provide assistance. If Mr. Kim had stayed on the line, the operator would have put him in touch with a Korean speaker.

    Most cities in North Texas, including Dallas, subscribe to a service called “Language Line” for situations just like the Kims.

    “Language Line quickly identifies the needed language or dialect and within seconds connects the operator to an interpreter who will facilitate a three-way communication between the operator and the caller,” said an administrator from the service.

    See Language barrier complicates 911 crisis

    Language Line provides services in Cantonese, Russian, Japanese, Spanish, Korean, Tagalog, Mandarin and Vietnamese.

    So why did Mr. Kim hang up? We will never really know for sure because Mr. Kim and his wife are dead. However, there is evidence suggesting that Mr. Kim hung up because he took offense at being mistaken for Chinese.

    “What language are you speaking?” the operator asked Kim. “Are you speaking Chinese or something?”

    Before the operator got an answer, the phone line went dead.

    Mr. Kim had only to say “Korean” and he would have been saved. Instead he cut the line and in doing so cut short not only his own life but the life of his wife. As a result of this exchange, Mr. Kim might have become preoccupied with what he perceived as the ignorance of the operator at confusing Korean with Chinese and paid less attention to his driving, with tragic consequences.

    This is going to sound harsh, but 20 years after emigrating to a country, you owe it to the people around you to at least learn the language to an intermediate level, if not advanced level. I think learning the local language of the country you emigrate to is the courteous thing to do, and a mark of respect to the locals.

    On a more lighthearted note, Jin Au-Yeung, a Chinese American rapper, suggests we all learn Chinese. Jin – Learn Chinese

    Ya’ll gonna learn Chinese
    Ya’ll gonna learn Chinese
    Ya’ll gonna learn Chinese
    When the pumps come out, ya’ll gon’ speak Chinese

    Ya’ll gonna learn Chinese
    Ya’ll gonna wanna be Chinese
    Ya’ll gonna learn Chinese
    When the pumps go off, ya’ll gon’ speak Chinese

    Too bad Mr. Kim doesn’t appear to have shared the same sentiment.

  20. comment number 20 by: GarlicBreath

    Kim had only to say “Korean” and he would have been saved. Instead he cut the line and in doing so cut short not only his own life but the life of his wife. As a result of this exchange, Kim might have become preoccupied with what he perceived as the ignorance of the operator at confusing Korean with Chinese and paid less attention to his driving, with tragic consequences.

    I think your theory is possible BadMoon.

    Koreans are very offended by this question, which was parodied in this absolutely hilarious scene in Falling Down.

  21. comment number 21 by: kjeff

    bad_moon_rising,
    Hmmm…to prevent myself from using harsher words, I will just say, silly, silly, and…silly.
    Mr. Kim was using a cell-phone. That meant unless he knew exactly where he was(and, people who are lost tend to not know where they are), even if Mr. Kim were an English professor, the help wouldn’t have come in time because the 911 operator would need to contact the cell carrier to triangulate Mr. Kim’s position, and that would take some time. (Have you tried to contact your carrier recently?)
    If you actually read the articles, you’d see that “A woman, presumably Mrs. Kim, can be heard screaming in the background. The sound of what appears to be rushing water can also be heard.” And given that Mr. Kim was found “partially in the backseat, stretched out, trying to find a way for him and his wife to escape murky waters that swept into their silver Hyundai Sonata,” the logical conclusion should have been that Mr. Kim had to hang up(or, more likely, the line went dead in the water) in a last effort to save himself and his wife. I find that your theory(if one can call that such),

    Instead he cut the line and in doing so cut short not only his own life but the life of his wife. As a result of this exchange, Mr. Kim might have become preoccupied with what he perceived as the ignorance of the operator at confusing Korean with Chinese and paid less attention to his driving, with tragic consequences.

    silly, silly, and silly. Do you really think you’d ‘care’ that the 911 operator mistakenly thought of you as Chinese in when facing a life-and-death situation? Stop speaking ill of the dead…shame on you.

  22. comment number 22 by: bad_moon_rising

    kjeff,

    My original comment stated:

    So why did Mr. Kim hang up? We will never really know for sure because Mr. Kim and his wife are dead.

    Comments by Mr. Kim’s daughter suggest that Mr. Kim hung up the on the operator and not that the cellphone became inoperable.

    “My parents couldn’t speak English well,” said Eun-sun, Kim’s youngest daughter. “After their unsuccessful bid for help, they hung up the phone, and the 911 rescue squad couldn’t find them.”

    “The thing is, they don’t speak English. So they just hung up, so 911 didn’t start looking for them,” said Danielle Kim.

    Mr. Kim hung up when the operator asked him “What language are you speaking?” “Are you speaking Chinese or something?”

    Under the supposition that Mr. Kim hung up on the operator, I find it strange that Mr. Kim hung up when the word “Chinese” was mentioned. Mr. Kim was only seconds away from being connected to a Korean speaker. Yet he hung up on the operator. I have yet to find an article that mentions that the cellphone went dead because it became submerged in the water. Had Mr. Kim stayed on the line he would have received help that night instead of police looking for the couple in the morning.

    When the Kims didn’t report for work at a maintenance company Tuesday morning, their family knew something was terribly wrong. Authorities were contacted. Police said they drove the route that would have been taken by the couple and did not find the car.

    Whether police would have come in time is another matter. However had Mr. Kim stayed on the line long enough, a Korean speaker would have been able to relay instructions to the Kims as to how to escape from the car with instructions similar to those provided by Mr. Hamilton below.

    Depending on the method of escaping from a submerged vehicle, experts said, some patience may be required. The first step always is to release the seat belt.

    “When you go in the water, you immediately want to take off your seat belts or shoulder straps,” Mr. Hamilton said. “A car isn’t going to sink right away, but the main thing is if you can get out immediately, do it.”

    Once the car enters the water, it will likely float for a minute or so, during which the electric windows should work. If so, escape is as simple as rolling down the window and swimming out. If not, exiting will be a little harder.

    “You’ve got to wait until it settles, to see if it will sit on its side,” Mr. Hamilton said. “If the doors and windows jam, you’re going to have to break a window out, but the first thing I’d do is be sure to close your eyes, take a deep breath, then do it.”

    Mr. Hamilton recommended using an item with a strong, pointed tip to shatter a side window. Rescue tools, such as a pointed hammer than should shatter the window as well as a seat belt cutter, are available for purchase for about $5 at home improvement stores.

    “They’re real cheap, and [everyone] should keep one in their glove compartment,” he said.

    If one of these tools is not at hand, a screwdriver or a ballpoint pen is capable of breaking a window, if enough force is applied. The windshield has a layer of plastic in the middle that likely would prevent breakage, so choose a side or back window.

    If the window can’t be opened or shattered, the car must fill with water before escape.

    “As long as it’s not stuck in the mud, or there’s not something blocking it, you stand a lot better chance of opening it then than you do while the car is filling,” said Capt. Garry Collins of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Dallas district.

    Wait for the car to fill completely. The pressure must be equal between the inside and outside of the vehicle to allow the door to open. Assess the passengers’ clothing and remove any items that could hold down an escapee. Denim and boots become extremely heavy when wet, for example.

    The door should open with a firm push, allowing passengers to swim to the surface.

    “Anybody can do it,” Mr. Hamilton said. “You’ve just got to take your time, you’ve got to think and if you get excited or get scared, it’s not going to happen. Take your time.”

    Why Mr. Kim hung up we’ll never know for sure. What we do know is Mr. Kim did not get any assistance because he hung up on the 911 operator and Mr. Kim hung up when the operator mentioned the word “Chinese.” It’s not a theory that Mr. Kim hung up because he was offended at being mistaken for Chinese. It is only speculation because there is no way to test the hypothesis. But in the absence of any information to the contrary, it is not “silly” to suggest that the word “Chinese” had something to do with Mr. Kim hanging up.

    In the end Mr. Kim and his wife died because they did not know how to escape from a submerged vehicle and there was no one there to assist them.

  23. comment number 23 by: GarlicBreath

    BadMoon, I like the theory. I think its possible, but its more likely that he just got frustrated in general because the 911 couldn’t understand his pigeon english, and water was rushing in.

    But on the other hand he did have enough time to make three phone calls. One of the calls to a pizza dude. Kim didn’t seem to impress the pizza guy that Kim felt that there was a life and death situation. I assume he was speaking in Korea to each other.

    But Min wasn’t overly alarmed

    Again this is a valuable lesson to those that immigrate to a foreign land and then steadfast refuse to adopt the tongue. There are many many programmes that assist in helping people learn the language when they immigrate. However, its clear that they didn’t want to assimilate. I hope the untimely death of the Kim’s will encourage other Koreans who have lived in the USA for 10-30+ to learn the English language.

  24. comment number 24 by: kjeff

    bad_moon_rising,
    Your “speculation” is based on one very large assumption, that Mr. Kim is hyper-sensitive to being called Chinese(of speaking Chinese to be exact) to the point of willing to endanger his life and that of his wife. I frankly don’t know anyone who’s like that, and I doubt that even the grumpy store clerk in GarlicBreath’s video link is. I’m assuming that you didn’t know the Kims personally… A silly assumption breeds a silly speculation.
    BTW, Mr. Kim was in his sixties, and if you ever watch any Fear Factor episodes(those were in a swimming pool, and not a river during a storm) involving water submersion, you’ll find that Mr. Hamilton’s advices are easier said than done. This was an unfortunate incident. It’s easy to suggest that Mr. Kim should have done this or that…and frankly, I imagined how I would have reacted differently under similar circumstances. Then again, I’m decades younger, workout regularly, have better command of English(having come earlier in life to the U.S.), a fan of Amazing Videos, and have a small glass-shattering hammer in his keychain.

  25. comment number 25 by: HanComplex

    First, my condolences to the Kims. A horrible tragedy indeed.
    badmoon,
    I don’t find your speculation silly at all. Knowing how Koreans in general–the older generation especially–tend to be overly sensitive and proud of their race, it’s possible he took offense at being mistaken for Chinese. Whether this was indeed the case we’ll never know. All we can do is speculate.
    One this is for certain, though: Had at least one of them bothered to learn English they would at least have had a better chance of surviving that incident. Having lived in the US for 20 years you’d think that would be a given. This goes not just for them but for any immigrant ethnic group whose native tongue is not English. Hopefully it won’t take another incident like this for immigrants in the US like the Kims to understand the value of being able to communicate with people outside your ethnic group. It may just save your life.

  26. comment number 26 by: HanComplex

    LOL That link is from the cult classic “Falling Down.” Haven’t heard of that movie in years. Un-PC and so damn funny.

  27. comment number 27 by: General Tiger

    Sad to see people not knowing English when they lived in the US for so long.

  28. comment number 28 by: byungshin

    its not like they didnt deserve it. Seriously, its just like a korean to be a complete a-hole and brush off learning english in the first place

  29. comment number 29 by: consoleman

    I though 911 also have translator service, may be US should have spent their war $$$ on 911 service would have save them. Poor ppl.

    I bet English language issue wasn’t the case why they died. It’s probadly 911 service failed to reach them on time and they were injured. I know most emergency services blame on language difficulties or communication problems that failing to provide services. Yet they never deploy technilogies that enable them to clear communication problems. This is typically same for nearly every emergency services around the world.

  30. comment number 30 by: GarlicBreath

    I bet English language issue wasn’t the case why they died

    They died by drowning. But had they spoke some english they may have been helped and lived.

  31. comment number 31 by: screwyou

    I bet all of you who are commenting on this article are white trash honky mother fuckers. You say it may have saved their lives if they learned english. Well if you’re in a situation where you know you’re going to die…you will be not be thinking this way. You fucking honkies need to fucking die and rot. White trash mother fucking incestuous fools.

  32. comment number 32 by: screwyou

    go screw yourselves HONKY mother FUCKERS!