the Gypsy Tea Room "Affair"
by Stu Russell
The area south of the main building at the Farm was taken up by an athletic field where we were permitted the opportunity to participate in sports activities. The field area itself was bare of even weeds and was surrounded by a track which seemed to be of good construction. Across the field area were several buildings. One which we could not see from our room housed the guards. Judging from the number of guards and the size of their quarters, they were jammed in tighter than we were. That might have explained the number of black eyes we saw the guard sport on occasion. It appeared that they used the same form of discipline on themselves as they did on us. Ellis and I had been in the other two story building, which we could see from our room, for the first press conference or the "Yawn Fired 'Round the World". It also served as the studio for the second press conference. To our knowledge, other than that the building had not been used. This changed in October, when we started seeing Christmas and Easter, the woman cooks, carry crates over to the building. This occurred several times a day for several days. Naturally this caused a lot of speculation amongst us and the guys in the other rooms.
Late one afternoon we saw the dust of a vehicle headed south down the road to the compound. In that our hosts liked to keep their comings and goings secret from us spy types and used the cover of darkness to slink in and out of the compound, this up coming visitation was a break from the boredom of sitting on our thumbs. As with everything else we tried to figure out what was going on. We all blew it on this one. As the dust cloud grew closer, we could see that it came from the back end of a 1957 black Dodge convertible. You'll have to accept this as the truth. Into the compound drove one of the ultimate capitalistic symbols of all time and sitting in it were four Generals of the People's Army. These guys drove below our window looking like king ?????. The car was parked outside long enough for one of the guys to spot a box of Marlboros on the back seat. (Looks like the fruits of the People might not be the best for everyone in the system). The car was soon garaged, never to be seen again. We assumed that the ultimate set of KORCOM wheels took off in the dark after the Fantastic Four completed their mission. We did not have long to wait to find out about this one. The event that came to be known as the Gypsy Tea Room Affair was about to begin.
About four in the afternoon a guard came to get Doc. This caused no great alarm because things had been pretty quiet and their Doctor sometimes like to shoot the breeze with Doc, but we just about died when Shingleton announced that they were leading Doc across the compound. We rushed to the windows just in time to see Doc disappear into the building. Doc was gone for over an hour when the guard came to call us dinner, and we filed into the mess hall without him. Our whole side of the building had seen Doc go and assumed we knew what was going on but we were unable to shed any light on this mystery. Doc answered some of our questions by stumbling into the mess hall, taking his usual stool at the head of the table and announcing that he was blasted. In fact that was all he could share with us at the time, because he turned over his bowl muttering that he didn't have to eat that crap, walked into the hall way and announced to the guard that he was going back to his room. The guard just stared at Doc, he knew about as much as what was going on as we did. The meal was finally over and we got to go back to the room to find out about Doc. He was sitting at the table, collar undone, smoking a cigarette and looking very relaxed. He explained, as best as he could, that this was some kind of a sincerity check. Those four generals were in suits and said that they had come from town to learn about our treatment and our attitudes. Doc said there were tables loaded with fruits, cookies, cold cuts, beer and even filtered cigarettes. He said that he stared at it as soon as he sat down and just spewed out the regular propaganda as they asked him the questions. The door opened and a guard with a smile on his face asked for Ellis to come out. Steve was a good guy, but drinking was not high on his hobby list and he was also smart enough not to smoke. He did however give it his best shot, most of which he left on the stair well on his return. I was number three.
I was escorted into a room that looked like something out of the Arabian nights. Food! Beer! Smokes! Fresh fruit! Cookies! It was everything Doc said it was and more. In the last eight months I had had two beers, one for the 20th Anniversary of the Korean Peoples Army and one for Easter. And these weren't even two of my favorite drinking days. Now before me was a veritable feast. I did as Doc suggested and dug in without an invite. I popped an iced cold beer and lit up a filtered cigarette. It was only then that I surveyed my new drinking companions. They weren't drinking and despite their pasted on smiles, I knew we would never be close. We chatted about the weather, then got down to the business at hand. Did I know who they were? Sure the officers we had seen in the convertible. Wrong. They were not with the army, only concerned citizens from the capital who came down to see how we were doing. I wondered if I really looked that stupid or had these guys had their stuff swallowed for so long they just figured everyone would. I told them it made no never mind to me who they were, I was willing to talk to them. Open beer two.
They asked me what I thought of Korea. I said that what I had seen was nice but that my chances of getting out there and really visiting places like Mt. Kumgang??? had been out of the question. They rephrased the question, what did I think about the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea? I responded that the DPRK was an area which received little if any attention in the schools in the United States, even at the university level. I thought that this was a real shame because how are we ever going to get to be friends if the only time we meet is across a DMZ.
They mulled this over for a moment and asked me the about the ardent desire of the 40 million Korean people? I replied that since being in Korea, I had been informed that it was the ardent desire of the Korean people to have their land reunited under one government. "And what government would that be Mr. Russell?" I told them that I didn't know, it would be my recommendation that an international group of progressive minded leaders come to Korea and establish a commission to have an organized election on both sides of the border and ask the people what they want. "Pak Jung Hi and his puppet group would never permit such a thing." I shook my head to express my concern, but also to disguise my grab for beer number three.
"How do you feel about your crimes against our people, surely you have had much time to think about the reality of your acts." "I just feel awful about what I did. I mean my crimes consisted of helping the cooks feed the spies and I didn't even know they were spies until our own officers confessed their crimes. So I feel doubly bad about what's happened, I helped spy and was too stupid to try to find out what we were doing. I'm sure glad that we got caught before we had done some real serious shit, excuse me it must be the beer, but really this whole spy thing is a real pisser. Let's face it you guys don't have the wherewithal to bother us so why should we spy on you?"
I was seated in a chair, on both my left and my right were small divans on which sat two of the generals, their interpreter sat opposite me. Small tables were in front of all of us, but it seemed that I was the only one drinking. I reached for beer number four and the conversation continued, I thought these guys were the Korean equivalent of the KGB but it seemed too incredible that any one would be so stupid to get American sailors drunk to see if they were sincere. By the time beer five and six were history, I thought maybe I should be too, but the interpreter who looked like Odd Job from the Bond movie handed me a small bottle of "Wild Kongee Grape -Export Quality Wine". I think it said 20% but the print was small.
I drank that then wandered off to the head with Odd Job who tried to act as if he had too much drink, which was dumb, since he hadn't had anything. I figure he could and would kill me with his bare hands if he got the order and here we are pissing our guts out as if we were old buddies. When I returned they gave me a pencil and paper to write a note. Even with one eye closed it was difficult to keep it on the same page. They wanted me to say I would accept one of their people at my house. I wrote I would and I hope he could bring his whole family and we could go to Disney Land and Knott's Berry farm and something about TJ. They told me I must not speak to anyone about my visit.
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