by Stu Russell
We had been informed on many and numerous occasions that Kim Il Sung's Four Point Program for the Modernization of the Countryside (Mechanization, Chemicalization, Electrification and Irrigation) had turned the rural workers' surroundings into a Paradise on Earth, just like he did for the folks in town. It was unbelievable that the Robot could deliver this with a straight face, because we could look over his shoulder as he spoke and see the peasants engaged in back breaking toil in their fields outside the window. They carried water with a yoke and two buckets. This was in spite the movies we saw about labor heroes who had put a tractor in every garage. We saw none of that in the rice paddies surrounding us. Although room 5 pointed these inconsistencies out to the Robot and suffered for it, we thought it would be a breech of etiquette to call him a bold faced liar. Without the much needed chemicalization, the mosquitoes from the paddies didn't come as any kind of surprise. Naturally this was our fault, as with the flies, they never had mosquitoes until we arrived.
The solution to this problem was to give us a lecture. The Robot told us how Kim Il Sung himself was concerned about our well being and how he gave "on the spot" spot guidance to some poor dumb shit who forgot to order the mosquito nets. But Kim got it all fixed up and the nets had now arrived. Even Kim could have a bad day, the nets were designed to cover three beds, not four. What with his planning the reunification of the Fatherland, we figured that he was entitled to a mistake once in a while. We would have to push the beds together if we were all to receive benefit from the netting.
Normally they wouldn't give us a lecture to prepare for something, but this time it was good that they did. Shortly after the lecture on the netting four guards came to our room, two carrying four crosses each and the other two carrying what appeared to be shroud material. Now let's face it, we weren't on real solid ground mentally as is was and if we hadn't had the lecture on the netting we would have assumed that they were going to take us out via crucifixion.
We shoved our beds together, four on each side of the room. The guards gave us some line to lash the crosses to the beds so we could drape the netting over the uprights. the netting hung to the floor. We were instructed to tuck it under the mattresses. Now our room looked like a hospital ward. In order to get in bed, the four on my side of the room had to crawl to our beds by entering from Steve's bed. Brad first, Schilling second, me third and Steve last. He would then close the netting by tucking it under his mattress and God help us if there was to be an emergency bathroom run during the night.
About the second week of this, I decided it was time to have a spot of fun. After we were all tucked in, I asked Schilling if he had heard about the kulot snake found only in North Korea. He said he had, just to go along with whatever was going to happened next. Crowe offered that the Robot mentioned it in a lecture to Lamantia's room. Someone else in the dark wanted to know what the hell we were talking about. I told him it was a little snake about a quarter inch in diameter and five to six inches long. It could crawl and hang from things and its bite was fatal. Death followed in a matter of seconds. While I was telling this I was working the draw string out of my left pant leg. Once it was out, I dropped it on Steve's face. I didn't know he had a thing about snakes. He was up, out of the netting and headed for Seoul by the time we stopped him, just short of the door. The guards didn't hear us. We were able to restore order in the room and get things fixed back up. Ellis was pretty pissed about this for several days, but true to the gentleman he was, he never tried to get even for what we did to him.
During this period, it was pretty quiet as far as the official beatings went, but the guards had been raised to hate our guts and they would torment us when they could get away with it. Night time was the worst due to the fact that only one officer was on duty and he stayed on the second floor. For those of us onthe third floor, trips to the head were to be avoided whenever possible. One means to stay out of the hall was to urinate in our cleaning buckets. They had to be rinsed out in the morning before we cleaned our floors, so it wasn't a health hazard. The secret to successful night time urination was to bring the bucket back to the room with the water about one inch from the top. This way you could go under water and not make any noise. Chuck Ayling forgot this little nicety on July 4th. The sound of a cow pissing on a flat rock brought Cheeks running to Room 7. Ayling was unable to halt in midstream, so to speak, and Checks went ballistic. The Duty Officer was ummoned and gave the room a royal ass chewing. The rest of us heard about it at breakfast. Another group lecture was not far off.
The Colonel was in his glory. The Americans were barbarians and had no culture. The were pigs. He was able to preach on these themes for several hours before he turned the meeting into a "lets be critical session". We were asked what we thought of Ayling and his crude behavior. We tried to outdo each other in heaping insults on Room 7. The Colonel always was surprised at the vituperative quality of our remarks and had to head them off by turning the discussion to consideration of the proper punishment for the crimes committed. Once again excess was the norm of day and it was finally resolved that the members of Room 7 be executed. The Colonel thanked us for our input and put the room on permanent bathroom duty. This made Room 5 very happy, at long last they were off that detail.
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An example of mosquito netting.The North Korean version was a large net mounted on bamboo poles that covered three beds.