The first hunger strike I encountered was in Romania right after the Romanian revolution. I had worked behind he scenes to resolve the strike. I seem to have a very soft heart that just can’t stand to see people suffer. In the first one, my friend, the man who was in the hunger strike, had won the right for people not to be put out of their houses into the streets. I was involved because I had figure out how to make the strike come to and end and make things work the way my friend wanted because I agreed with him. You can do things peacefully and make things turn out right if you want. I have a very soft heart and a brain that constantly works trying to figure out how to help bad situations, and in this story, I encountered another hunger strike.
The second time I encounters a hunger strike was in S. Korea. First, I will tell you the events leading up to the hunger strike. I was at a school retreat. The Korean teachers were having a meeting with their bosses. I wasn’t supposed to know what the meeting was about, but people have a tendency to tell me things. I usually attended all the meetings, but they didn’t want any foreigners in the meeting. Several of the Korean professor had been let go. Their friends were fighting it out in the meeting with their bosses.
When we went back to the university and began teaching our classes, everyday, there were teachers out front with billboards. The ones who had been let go were not allowed on school property, so they were protesting in front of the school. Their friends who still had jobs were protesting in front of the main building.
The S. Korean government was responsible. S. Korea is overflowing with small universities everywhere. At one time, they needed that many universities to support the population, but the population had shrunk, so the S. Korean government was trying to close several small universities. They were refusing to give money to them that they had received in the past, so the universities were having to let professors go to make up the difference in the budget. They even touched me with it. I wasn’t allowed to get my paycheck until I signed papers saying that the school could take money out of my paycheck to contribute to the school. As a foreigner, i was making a fraction of the amount of money the Korean professors were making, and they were leaning on me for money. If I wanted my paycheck, I had to sign part of it away. They were struggling to stay open.
They let go a professor who had at one point been president of the university, and he wasn’t going to take it. He told them that if Haskell Cheshire, the first president of the university who had been an American was still alive, he would not let them fire him. They all disagreed and fired him anyway. This professor decided to do more than stand outside with a sign. He went on a hunger strike demanding his job back.
He took up residence in the main lobby of the main building. He sat there with water not eating. He was not going to eat until they gave his job back. There were actually three presidents at the university at that point. One was the actual president of the university. Another was the Korean head of the board of the university, and the other was an American head of the board who came occasionally just for visits. She was simply a figure head, but she didn’t realize it. She was the wife of one of the original missionaries who had begun the university. No one was going to budge and give the man his job back.
I walked by him everyday on my way to class. He got thinner and thinner. He got weaker and weaker. After a bit, he was no longer sitting, but laying in the floor on a pillow under a blanket. I felt bad for him, but I didn’t know how to help him. I talked to the American woman who was the figure head hoping that she would listen and try to resolve the strike, and she told me to stay out of it. I just couldn’t see him starving himself to death. He had lost weight and was noticeably smaller. No one was going to give in to him. I was afraid he would die.
I stopped to talk to him one day just to see if there was any way I could think to stop the nonsense. He told me that Haskell Cheshire could stop it, but that Haskell Cheshire was dead. I asked him if he would listen to anyone else. He said Haskell Cheshire’s son came to Korea occasionally, and he would talk to him. I didn’t know how to contact Haskell Cheshire’s son. He was in America. I didn’t have his name or any contact information.
I went to the resident missionary’s office because I figured he would know who Haskell Cheshire’s son was. I thought perhaps he could get him a message to come and help before this guy died. The resident missionary didn’t give me much hope. I left feeling like I had failed because I didn’t know how else to stop the craziness. However, after I left, the resident missionary contacted Haskell Cheshire’s son in America.
The next think you know, I met Haskell Cheshire’s son at church. He said had come for some project having to do with his work. The next day, I went to the university, and the professor who had been on strike was gone. People said the strike was over.
A few weeks afterward, I was sitting next to the man who had been on the hunger strike in chapel. He was still noticeably smaller. I asked him if he was teaching again, and he said he was, but he was planning on retiring. He said he had been in the hospital since the hunger strike. I asked him how the hunger strike had been resolved. He said that Haskell Cheshire’s son had come to S. Korea. He met Haskell Cheshire’s son and the head of the board in a hotel room. They had had a big meeting and worked things out. I had been told to stay out of it, but I was glad I had called for the son of Haskell Cheshire to come and help.