Special Episode: Bill Kapoun’s Story (free download)

Nov 8, 2009 by

On Bill Kapoun's memorial card (courtesy of Judy Kapoun)

On Bill Kapoun’s memorial card (courtesy of Judy Kapoun)

This show was recorded on Thursday, November 5th, 2009.  In early 2008 the story of a teacher named Bill Kapoun and his Korean girlfriend succumbing to a fire in his apartment rattled the expat community awake.  It was the first time our lot actually banded together to help people in need and sparked a new era of community consciousness.

It has been almost two years since Bill and his girlfriend died and the family stopped accepting donations.  When Bill’s body left Korea, he left behind many mysteries.  Bill’s family has not spoken much until now.

This is his story.

PANELISTS

Judy Kapoun (Bill’s mother)

Stephanie White

LINKS


Bill Kapoun web site

Save Bill Kapoun on Facebook

The Save Bill Kapoun Blog

iVoice (foreignersvoice.co.uk)

Related Posts

Tags

Share This

  • Mike Ebertz

    Foreigners, including more than teachers, need to band together to battle this evil that is the Korean mindset. This place creates a ‘me first’ mentality among us. We need to organize in the same way (but with real reason) that Koreans do against Korean beef, or for Dokdo. It isn’t just sitting on our asses. It’s sending out letters to all newspapers, hometown, and national, to apprise everyone of the lack of any protection that we see daily. Even those who haven’t faced problems, know exactly what is going on here. It isn’t about culture. It’s about dumping the bullshit and education the masses.

    Mike

  • Mike Ebertz

    Foreigners, including more than teachers, need to band together to battle this evil that is the Korean mindset. This place creates a ‘me first’ mentality among us. We need to organize in the same way (but with real reason) that Koreans do against Korean beef, or for Dokdo. It isn’t just sitting on our asses. It’s sending out letters to all newspapers, hometown, and national, to apprise everyone of the lack of any protection that we see daily. Even those who haven’t faced problems, know exactly what is going on here. It isn’t about culture. It’s about dumping the bullshit and education the masses.

    Mike

  • http://zenkimchi.com/ Joe

    That’s a good idea.

  • http://briandeutsch.blogspot.com Brian

    I’ll try and get something about this posted later today.

    Joe, or Stafford or Jen, or anyone else, what about writing something up for the Herald about these deaths, these unanswered questions, what they mean for other expatriates, etc.?

  • http://briandeutsch.blogspot.com Brian

    I’ll try and get something about this posted later today.

    Joe, or Stafford or Jen, or anyone else, what about writing something up for the Herald about these deaths, these unanswered questions, what they mean for other expatriates, etc.?

  • http://zenkimchi.com/ Joe

    That’s a good idea.

  • John Brennan

    I am Billy’s cousin. Judy Kapoun is my godmother, Billy will always be remembered for who he was, thank you for all the wonderful people that helped out our family. Thank you for all the people that knew Billy.

  • John Brennan

    I am Billy’s cousin. Judy Kapoun is my godmother, Billy will always be remembered for who he was, thank you for all the wonderful people that helped out our family. Thank you for all the people that knew Billy.

  • Denise

    I didn’t know about Bill’s story before (I heard the other one), and I can’t imagine how horrifying that must have been for all involved, especially since there is still such a mystery connected to it.

    However, I wanted to comment on something Stephanie said, about how we should not be here and we’re not safe. No one is absolutely safe anywhere. There is safer, but even in your home country (US, Canada, England, NZ), you’re not safe. I don’t think the solution is “stay out of Korea”. That, to me, is like saying “just stay home. Don’t leave your home state/province, don’t take risks.”

  • Denise

    I didn’t know about Bill’s story before (I heard the other one), and I can’t imagine how horrifying that must have been for all involved, especially since there is still such a mystery connected to it.

    However, I wanted to comment on something Stephanie said, about how we should not be here and we’re not safe. No one is absolutely safe anywhere. There is safer, but even in your home country (US, Canada, England, NZ), you’re not safe. I don’t think the solution is “stay out of Korea”. That, to me, is like saying “just stay home. Don’t leave your home state/province, don’t take risks.”

  • http://www.mightiemike.com Stephannie

    Denise,

    Yes, it is technically true that we are not 100% safe anywhere in the world.

    But it is also true that we are no where near 100% safe here. yes, EMT do exist here… did you know their highest level of certification is CPR and they will be reluctant to do it for a foreigner?

    Did you know that if you are in an accident/victim of a crime, your visa sponsor has no legal responsibility to help you unless the impact of your situation prevents you from teaching. And if it does prevent you from teaching, they can choose to release you from your contract/visa instead of helping you? And there’s no legal recourse for you.

    All I ment by that statement on the show, was that there are LOTS of hidden ‘hotspots’ in Korea and there’s not a lot of help if you fall into one. In that sense, no, Korea is not the safest choice that can be made for an ESL career and it’s important for expats to know the odds before coming here… rather than be fed a bunch of sugarcoated “Korea sparkling” lies.

  • http://www.mightiemike.com Stephannie

    Denise,

    Yes, it is technically true that we are not 100% safe anywhere in the world.

    But it is also true that we are no where near 100% safe here. yes, EMT do exist here… did you know their highest level of certification is CPR and they will be reluctant to do it for a foreigner?

    Did you know that if you are in an accident/victim of a crime, your visa sponsor has no legal responsibility to help you unless the impact of your situation prevents you from teaching. And if it does prevent you from teaching, they can choose to release you from your contract/visa instead of helping you? And there’s no legal recourse for you.

    All I ment by that statement on the show, was that there are LOTS of hidden ‘hotspots’ in Korea and there’s not a lot of help if you fall into one. In that sense, no, Korea is not the safest choice that can be made for an ESL career and it’s important for expats to know the odds before coming here… rather than be fed a bunch of sugarcoated “Korea sparkling” lies.

  • Judy Kapoun

    Billy’s landlord even walked away with his security deposit. Seems so inconsequential now, but just one more slap.

    Make sure all of you there – that your family members hold their own valid passports. One never thinks about a trip, on a moment’s notice – like we had to make. It complicated things TREMENDOUSLY that Dan’s passport had expired.

  • Judy Kapoun

    Billy’s landlord even walked away with his security deposit. Seems so inconsequential now, but just one more slap.

    Make sure all of you there – that your family members hold their own valid passports. One never thinks about a trip, on a moment’s notice – like we had to make. It complicated things TREMENDOUSLY that Dan’s passport had expired.

  • Stuart Scott

    I came to Korea in 2002 and less than a month later I was lying in a hospital bed fighting for my life. My disease at that time was unknown and a precurser to SARS. My contract stated that medical insurance would be provided by the school but because of the quick nature of my illness, the school had not had an opportunity to get coverage yet. Unfortunately they did not tell me that coverage would commence about 1 month into my contract. However my school was fantastic about doing anything they could for me or my brother who travelled to Korea to be at my bedside or as the Canadian embassy warned him, take the body home. Fortunately for me, the doctors who much like many Canadian doctors didn’t speak a foreign language were able to save my life. The hospital did everything possible to reduce my bill to allow me to pay it. After 24 days in ICU, I took an ambulance to Incheon airport and with medical teams on standby at every stop, I was able to return to Canada. After a few days in hospital in canada, I was released and slowly regained the massive weight loss that i had incurred from a month in hospital. Eighteen months later I returned to Korea with the same school. Unlike some others experiences, I have nothing but good things to say about the people involved in this horrific ordeal. Six months later the SARS epidemic broke out in Canada. When travelling to a foreign country remember, emergency medical. Especially if you a travelling to the USA. It is one of the hardest countries to get medical treatment if you are not insured. I am still in Korea, In Jeonju, a city in the North Jeolla province. I work at a university now. Our community here has been well linked for years. We had a fundraiser for the victims of the Tsunami years ago and raise money annually for three children who have no parents. Seoul, like any big city has its share of problems but like everything we have to take responsibility for our own actions. Ask the right questions and verity the answers. Remember we are guests in their country, respect their culture, and their laws. We wouldn’t let guests in our country tell us how to do things or learn Polish so our Polish guests dont have to learn English. I am very saddened by this story and my heart goes out to Bill’s family and friends. May God bless.

  • Stuart Scott

    I came to Korea in 2002 and less than a month later I was lying in a hospital bed fighting for my life. My disease at that time was unknown and a precurser to SARS. My contract stated that medical insurance would be provided by the school but because of the quick nature of my illness, the school had not had an opportunity to get coverage yet. Unfortunately they did not tell me that coverage would commence about 1 month into my contract. However my school was fantastic about doing anything they could for me or my brother who travelled to Korea to be at my bedside or as the Canadian embassy warned him, take the body home. Fortunately for me, the doctors who much like many Canadian doctors didn’t speak a foreign language were able to save my life. The hospital did everything possible to reduce my bill to allow me to pay it. After 24 days in ICU, I took an ambulance to Incheon airport and with medical teams on standby at every stop, I was able to return to Canada. After a few days in hospital in canada, I was released and slowly regained the massive weight loss that i had incurred from a month in hospital. Eighteen months later I returned to Korea with the same school. Unlike some others experiences, I have nothing but good things to say about the people involved in this horrific ordeal. Six months later the SARS epidemic broke out in Canada. When travelling to a foreign country remember, emergency medical. Especially if you a travelling to the USA. It is one of the hardest countries to get medical treatment if you are not insured. I am still in Korea, In Jeonju, a city in the North Jeolla province. I work at a university now. Our community here has been well linked for years. We had a fundraiser for the victims of the Tsunami years ago and raise money annually for three children who have no parents. Seoul, like any big city has its share of problems but like everything we have to take responsibility for our own actions. Ask the right questions and verity the answers. Remember we are guests in their country, respect their culture, and their laws. We wouldn’t let guests in our country tell us how to do things or learn Polish so our Polish guests dont have to learn English. I am very saddened by this story and my heart goes out to Bill’s family and friends. May God bless.

  • http://briandeutsch.blogspot.com Brian

    For me, I do feel safer in Korea than back home. And I know about all the dangers, all the underreported crimes in English, and all the distortions that feed the myth of safety, but nonetheless I feel free to walk through any neighborhood at any time of day.

    However, the problem is should anything happen to you, you have nowhere to go, no recourse. Should you be assaulted or something, there’s nothing you can do. I think the rape case out of Ulsan, with the cooperative cops, is an extreme exception, because for the most part you can’t go to them, you can’t expect them to do anything, and you certainly can’t expect any sort of justice.

  • http://briandeutsch.blogspot.com Brian

    For me, I do feel safer in Korea than back home. And I know about all the dangers, all the underreported crimes in English, and all the distortions that feed the myth of safety, but nonetheless I feel free to walk through any neighborhood at any time of day.

    However, the problem is should anything happen to you, you have nowhere to go, no recourse. Should you be assaulted or something, there’s nothing you can do. I think the rape case out of Ulsan, with the cooperative cops, is an extreme exception, because for the most part you can’t go to them, you can’t expect them to do anything, and you certainly can’t expect any sort of justice.

  • amethyst

    Stephanie, I did not know that about EMT. My experiences with the hospital here have been mostly okay – I broke a bone in my hand, had to have surgery twice. Of course with that, I was still able to get myself to a hospital and I had some Korean people helping me out.

    I know there are some really crappy, appalling things about this place. I’m sometimes scared to be here.

  • amethyst

    Stephanie, I did not know that about EMT. My experiences with the hospital here have been mostly okay – I broke a bone in my hand, had to have surgery twice. Of course with that, I was still able to get myself to a hospital and I had some Korean people helping me out.

    I know there are some really crappy, appalling things about this place. I’m sometimes scared to be here.

  • thoreau

    For those who are scared – you know you can leave today right? I mean right now you can pack your bags – get into a taxi – and fly home. You don’t need permission. You don’t have to fill out any paperwork. You can just get up and go.

    But you won’t.

    You’d rather bitch and moan and be miserable and say things like ‘we’re not safe.’

    Why would you stay in a place that isn’t safe? It’s not like your economically destitute and forced to raise 3 kids in the ghetto.

    So the question is, if you don’t feel safe, why haven’t you left?

    • http://zenkimchi.com/ Joe

      Like it or not, this is my home. It’s my choice to try to make it a better place. I don’t pack my bags and go. That’s the coward’s way out.

  • thoreau

    For those who are scared – you know you can leave today right? I mean right now you can pack your bags – get into a taxi – and fly home. You don’t need permission. You don’t have to fill out any paperwork. You can just get up and go.

    But you won’t.

    You’d rather bitch and moan and be miserable and say things like ‘we’re not safe.’

    Why would you stay in a place that isn’t safe? It’s not like your economically destitute and forced to raise 3 kids in the ghetto.

    So the question is, if you don’t feel safe, why haven’t you left?

    • http://zenkimchi.com/ Joe

      Like it or not, this is my home. It’s my choice to try to make it a better place. I don’t pack my bags and go. That’s the coward’s way out.

  • Judy Kapoun

    Thoreau – I’m not “bitching and moaning”. My son is DEAD.
    He wasn’t afraid – didn’t know the meaning of the word. But he was the victim of a hate crime and deliberate cover up. It is my duty to spread the word.

  • Judy Kapoun

    Thoreau – I’m not “bitching and moaning”. My son is DEAD.
    He wasn’t afraid – didn’t know the meaning of the word. But he was the victim of a hate crime and deliberate cover up. It is my duty to spread the word.

  • tom pars

    That girl DJ is ridiculous. Have you ever heard a more affected person ever? ESL teachers are the intelligentsia?! sure right after the Texas Hold Em tourney.

  • tom pars

    That girl DJ is ridiculous. Have you ever heard a more affected person ever? ESL teachers are the intelligentsia?! sure right after the Texas Hold Em tourney.

  • livinginseoul

    What evidence is there of the fire being a “hate crime”? Tragedy, but listening to the podcast I only hear speculation. No facts. I find it hard to believe that only ONE couple involving a Western man living with a Korean girl got targetted for some fire bombing. That area, Haebangchon, is FULL of Wrsterners wandering around with some Korean girlfriend. Why them?

    However the girlfriend’s background sounds somewhat questionable although that part is also hearsay (about the girl’s brother being the victim of a kidnapping hoax). It’s possible that she was the real target - IF this was indeed a deliberate arson attack upon that specific couple. There was a roommate living there right? Although he was away on vacation, is it not possible that HE could have been the intended victim of the (alleged – no proof or evidence at all) attack. Therefore, it could not be said emphatically that this is a hate crime committed by Koreans. Of course, nobody saw any Korean suspiciously attempting to open Bill’s window etc – so hw does anyone know it was someone Korean? If it was someone Western who – let’s say, started the fire – would people be crying “hate crime”? Again zero evidence. Flammable liquid under the couch – does not show who put it there or even how much or what type of liquid. It could have been a cigarette lighter that a visitor (possibly even the roommate’s visitors, or the roommate) lost under the couch.

    Without facts to support even a vague scenario, it’s irresponsible to suggest it was a hate crime committed (by inference) by Koreans. Please note that more hate crimes have occurred in Western, white countries against non-white/non-Anglos/non-Westerners. Britain? Check. USA (where lynching first occurred)? Check. Several European countries? Check. There seems to be a lot of shouting (from other expats, am not referring to Bill’s family etc.) about Korea being a haven of hate crimes against Westerners.

    Bill’s mother keeps mentioning Christmas lights not being evident in the apartment – however, that does not mean that something else would not have started a fire. Initial combustion may not have come from an electrical short or overheated device. it could have been a chemical reaction of some kind. No offence but Bill’s mother is not an expert, or fire investigator  – simply looking at a burnt apartment and seeing no Chrismas lights does not mean anything.

    The investigation appears to have perhaps not been properly carried out however, it is not for the family to point the finger at Koreans committing hate crimes against Westerners.

  • livinginseoul

    It should be noted that quite a few  – not generalizing – shady Koreans live around Itaewon and Haebangchon.  Its’s possible Bill’s girlfriend is from this kind of “shady” family. It’s well-known many Korean gangsters run nightclubs such as ones in Itaewon, and of course, it’s an area for prostitution. In fact, that’s how many other Koreans view that area – full of Korean gangsters, club owners, prostitutes and pimps etc. They wouldn’t live there because of the stigma (I’m talking middle-class or in fact many working class Koreans as well).

    It’s also speculation but if Bill’s girlfriend is from say, a family involved with gangsters or in trouble with them, owes money etc – she could well be the one that someone would want to hurt or scare, not Bill. Remember that she died as well. Atually, most Korean families would highly disapprove of a daughter (said to be young, in the podcast) living with a man – and in this case, a foreigner – in an area with a very bad reputation amongst many Koreans. But of course, if their family was involved in gangster-type activities, they wouldn’t be concerned about that stuff. That seems to indicate something about the girl’s family. If this DID involve some gangsters, perhaps that was the reason for the lack of police interest in vigorously investigating the incident, and not because a Westerner was ONE of the 2 victims.

    Also why didn’t any of Bill’s friends bring someone to interpret? They’ve been living and working in Korea and yet they can’t get a single Korean or even non-Korean friend who could adequately interpret Korean to English? It is often the case that many hospitals in Korea do not have doctors/staff who speak English well. They are not responsible for having such staff just as the Western country in which I lived does not have a duty to have stafff that speak other languages besides English.

    Good point raised however that foreigners should be aware of differences in laws and customs in Korea. For example, the “blood money” thing is how many cases involving Koreans are settlled. It’s a culturally accepted thing, possibly in other Asian countries as well.

    Also there are comments about how Westerners are given sugar-coated lies about working in Korea – yet Bill was persuaded by another Westerner who had lived in Korea to come here. In fact, I’ve personally heard how many Westerners were first introduced to the idea of coming here by their friends, aquaintaces in college etc. to get the “easy jobs, good pay for easy work, lots of vacation ” etc. Their own (Western) friends etc did not warn them of the pitfalls, even though they’d experienced living and working in Korea. One can not only  blame recruites (ie Koreans) for the misinformation and unrealistic promises. Actually I’ve met lots of people who’ve stayed over a year, or several years, and yes, have expreienced problems with employers etc – yet they continue to renew contracts or go search for jobs with better conditions, year after year after year. Why? Priobably because their home countries fail to provide them with attractive enough jobs for their levels of qualitfications and job skills, even though these people consider the working conditions, rights, legal rights etc better in their home countries. That is the failure of these Western countries, not Korea.

    Korea – and other countries but particularly Asian ones such as China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan – provide handy valves for Western countires especially America with its economy being hammered the way it is, to relieve job competition and pressure among young people. Many unemployed yet educated (have univ. degrees) young people unhappy about no jobs or low-paid jobs in say, America would lead to some unrest – not to mention higher jobless rate- which govts do not want. They are more than pleased to have these graduates go off to another country. Perhaps there are secret policies for embassies to do nothing lest they get in bad with the host (job -providing) countries. You can bet it’s much worse in China – and that’s why Korea is the preferred destination for EFL. I don’t know whether the American embassy does much for Americans in China – but I doubt they do. So many foreigners seem to have so many grievances/complaints about Korea and yet, the number of them coming here is surging, and many of them stay here quite a few years. Nobody points out how their own country has failed to give them job opportunities and the kind of high savings that allow them to pay off student debt. Instead there’s a lot of blaming Korea and criticizing Koreans.

  • livinginseoul

    Also the comment Bill’s mother made about Bill’s landlord keeping the deposit on the apartment lease: the circumstances are not explained, but from personal experience and speaking to other Koreans, it would seem that tenancy lawas distinctly lean towards the landlord. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a foreigner, a Westerner or Korean.

    And in that area, there are probably more than a few rather unscrupulous and greedy landlords. He probably felt that this was due to him since a fire had wrecked the place. Nothing at all to do with Bill not being Korean. I sense that this is becoming an anti-Korean thing, when in fact several things – including the questionable investigation etc – are really just things which happen with some regularity to ordinary Koreans.

  • livinginseoul

    It’s sad that Bill’s mother feels it is her duty to go about saying”spreading the word” that Bill was the victim of a hate crime. She has shown no evidence ofthis supposed hate crime and it is not even clear that is was NOT some kind of accident. No witnesses it would seem, and the fact that no attept appears to have been made to extinguish the fire means little. Fires within a typical home could produce plenty of highly toxic vapors which could overcome a person in a matter os seconds. In fact, most people die of inhalation of smoke (and poisons) which disables them first. 

    It would be better if she simply highlighted the kinds of accidents or dangers that can befall a person working in another country and get more people to be aware of the need to check their insurance etc.  

  • Pingback: Keep the candle burning | This Blog()

  • Judy Kapoun, Billy’s mom

    I haven’t been back to this website for two years, so I have not seen the posts since then.  All of the press reported the case (initially) as  an arson fire.  Regardless of whether Bill was the intended victim, or Sejin, is a mute point.  When we went to the police station with his death certificate after his death, we were told that an autopsy would be necessary for an investigation to continue.  I am a nurse, I know WHAT HE DIED OF, I just didn’t know what caused the fire.  Billy’s destroyed body deserved some final respect.  I was not going to subject it to the mutilation of an autopsy.  I did not expect the hospital to provide interpreters, but I did expect the American Embassy to be more helpful.  And whoever said that translation services are not available in an American Hospital is totally wrong.  Even the smallest hospitals here have a translation line available to patients.  Yes, Billy did have some Korean-speaking friends.  But they were obviously not available at the times we needed them – of course they worked.  Back to the evidence.  It was caused by a flammable liquid, which began UNDER a couch.  They were asleep in another room.  The only explanation would be something tossed in through the window which had an open walkway outside of it – accessible to anyone. 

    Hope you never lose a son.   

    And yes, all of your comments about the nature of the area, and the “shady” background of Sejin – are also irrelevant.  Does that make their death any less tragic?  Something to be expected, for the officials to ignore?