The Korean Fiasco

James Randi --- Wizard (
Thu, 20 Jul 1995 18:58:00 -0400


A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to visit Seoul, Korea, for the
purpose of doing a TV program there. My agent, myself, and a representative
of "Guinness World Record Korea" exchanged endless faxes to arrange the
details of the contract, and experienced considerable problems with language
differences. Those we suffered through via fax were nothing compared to
what my friend Vikash and I were to undergo once we were in Seoul.

Nothing, but nothing, took place as planned. People would call, arrange to
meet me, and never show up. There was little, if any, understanding of what
I was there to do, though I'd gone into exquisite detail on the faxes. It
took us two days to discover that the Big Producer, Mr. Kim*, had been
misinformed; he thought I was a genuine psychic!

Well, that posed a major problem. I'd outlined 16 tricks-of-the-psychics I
would do, along with explanations. And I did them all at the production
meetings, to establish that they'd work. Everyone oooohed and ahhhhed, but
Kim was quite troubled. He finally announced that I would wear a silver
robe and hat, and declare it all to be the real thing. I counter-announced
that I'd do no such thing, and he could only get that costume onto my
corpse. Kim suggested that I say that some of what I did was fake, but most
of it was real. I said no. He told me I could say that most of what I did
was fake, but some was real. Nyet, nein, no, non. We were not at all happy
with each other, and Kim kept saying that the Korean people like to believe
that psychic stuff is real, and they would expect me to say that it is.

Note: Mr. Kim wasn't at all interested in the truth of the matter, but only
in what the Korean public wanted to hear. His lack of respect for their
dignity really annoyed me. And his confident declarations of psychic powers
that were, he said, part of the lives of Koreans, really depressed me. When
he ran on about a Korean girl who could read sealed envelopes -- and had
been "tested by scientists!" -- I offered to give her my fee for the
engagement if she could do it for me, just ONCE, but he waved away that
suggestion. We have an exprssion that involves putting up or shutting up,
but I think it would have been lost on the man.

Well, we did the show. The same tired old spoon-bending, ESP, compass-
moving, sealed-envelope reading, etc., and at the end I asked the audience --
through the interpreter -- how many believed that what they'd seen was
genuine. Most of the hands went up. I told them that it had all been
tricks, and there was a hush. MNind you, I THINK that's what was told them
by the interpreter, but I can't be sure. I'll get a report after the show
is aired September 9th.

I was supposed to have been paid immediately following the taping, but
someone had forgotten to go to the bank. As I'd suspected for two days,
they were going to try to stiff me for the money. Well, this old trouper
didn't get into the business yesterday, and that wasn't going to work.

The next day, as usual, those who were supposed to show up at the hotel
didn't make an appearance. I wasn't at all surprised. We were taken to the
airport to await the money. Let me take you back to the night before, when
I managed to discover (I have ways) that the Guinness chap had bank checks
in the exact, correct and full amount, on his person. That same young man
now sat with us awaiting a person who we all knew would never appear. He
finally announced, 45 minutes before the flight, that he had some money for
me, but that only half of it was there. Gee, what a pity. I told him that
I would postpone my flight until the following day, and wait at the hotel
for the rest of the payment. That didn't seem to be too acceptable to him,
but he just didn't seem to know where he'd get the rest of the money. I
suggested he look carefully in his memo case (where I already knew the rest
of it was), and lo! he found it. I accepted the rest of my money, and we
headed for the aircraft.

Not a good experience, at all. Korea is deeply into supernatural beliefs,
and the press supports that angle shamelessly. After the department store
collapse a few weeks ago, dowsers and other fakers were called in to find
bodies, alive and dead. Everyone was shaking sticks and pendulums all over
the place, and when one of the indicated spots yielded a person, everyone
got excited. They ignored the hundreds of bad guesses and the subsequent
waste of time and effort.

I can't picture my going back to Korea in the near future.

James Randi.


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