I’m sitting here, trying to Google Translate “Please help! My neighbor is beating his wife. I can hear her screaming.” I can’t speak Korean, not under the circumstances. I want to call the police. I can’t. I’m powerless.
I consider the absurd notion of playing the Google Translate robot into my cell phone.
I yelled out the window, “Oye! Basta!” It ripped forth from my lungs in my language of confrontation, Spanish, nonsensical in Korea but universal in its tone. I aimed the hardest edge of my voice at the illuminated window below, one floor down and across the alley. I could hear him hitting her. I could hear the blows landing on soft flesh. She screamed.
I couldn’t just leave her there without even trying to call the police. 112.
“Yoboseyo?” came the Korean, thick and impenetrable on the other line. I tried a “hello,” hopeful that the dispatcher might speak English. I can’t even say my address, much less explain what I am hearing. The dispatcher asked me if I spoke Korean. I hung up.
I can’t even be sure that anyone would consider a woman being beaten to be a police-worthy situation in this country. It smacks of the sense of futility I felt in Chile, where pointless suffering and powerlessness often interrupted my sleep. There’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to close my eyes tonight. I feel as though I have to keep vigil, to stay awake for my anonymous neighbor. I have to bear witness.
Eventually, all I can do is weep with her.