Posted by: rbbadger | August 25, 2010

Stupid foreigner tricks

The Marmot’s Hole blog sometimes features stupid things foreigners do whilst in the Land of the Morning Calm.  Drugs offenses are sadly not unheard of.  In the 1990s, an American English teacher by the name of Cullen Thomas was arrested by the Korean police for having sent a large amount of marijuana to himself by mail from The Philippines whilst on vacation.  When he showed up at the central post office in Myeong-dong to pick it up, the police pounced on him.  He ended up spending three years and six months in various Korean prisons.  He wrote a memoir about it.  It is rather fascinating, given that it gives a picture of what Korean prisons were like in the 1990s. 

Unfortunately, since that time, various foreigners have not been afraid to try that stunt.  I really wonder why they try, given that Korea Post is pretty thorough about scanning all incoming mail from foreign countries for these very things.  When I was in Gwangju, a stupid foreigner at another academy tried this very stunt.  One of our teachers, a Korean who also had a law degree, was called in by the prosecutor’s office to translate for the foreigner as well as for the prosecutor.  He found it all very draining and was grateful when they found another translator for the trial. 

It seems that another foreigner has tried it again.  The courts on the island of Jeju sentenced a 25 year-old woman to three years in prison and four years of probation for sending cake, weighing some 388 grams, which contained a large amount of marijuana inside.  She was an English teacher.

You have to be stupid to try these stunts in foreign countries.  In the case of Korea, there are no formal jury trials as yet.  Instead, you have to convince a panel of three judges that you are truly innocent.  They’ve likely heard it all before, too.   Things have changed in South Korea for the better.  Confessions obtained by the police are no longer admissable in South Korean courts.  They can only be made to prosecutors.  However, Korean attorneys do not enjoy high aquittal rates, either. (South Korea is not the only country which lacks jury trials.  Japan has never had them and Germany abolished them in the 1920s.  Germany also sees no reason to reinstate them.)

She is lucky that she was not in Singapore.  Importing marijuana in the amount of 500 grams or more consitutes trafficking under Singaprorean law and is punishable by hanging.  And as Australia found out, Singapore will execute all foreign nationals found in possession of significant amounts of illicit drugs no matter how loudly the foreigner’s home country may object.  Taiwan’s laws also provide for the death penalty for drug traffickers, too.  An English teacher from Canada was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for his role in trafficking drugs in Taiwan.  (It was a side job of his.)  He is really lucky he didn’t get executed.



  1. Stupid indeed, but lucky not to have been Singapore (as you mentioned) or Indonesia (the case of a Mr. Rush I believe is currently in the news) or Malaysia.

    Personally, I’m for the decriminalization (not legalization) of drugs, but pragmatically, I’m for following the laws of whatever country you find yourself in.

    About juries, is is not true that most countries do not have trial by jury? Isn’t is a legacy of our Anglo-Saxon Common Law, and limited only to what some call the Anglosphere? I see it as one of our greatest heritages.

    • Stupid things foreigners do here in Korea tend to enrage me. I sort of take the view that those of us who are foreigners, especially E-2 Visa holders, are guests of the Republic of Korea and it is our duty to conduct ourselves in that manner. I have no pity for those who do such stupid things. They deserve every day of their prison terms.

      Singapore law is based somewhat off of British Common Law. However, juries were abolished in 1969 and replaced with the three judge panel. A further reform enabled capital cases to be decided by a single judge. While death row inmates are guaranteed appeals under Singaporean law, the Supreme Court is unlikely to be swayed by any appeals to the defendant’s poor family background or history of psychological problems.

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