Archive for August, 2011
The Seoul-based musical talent booking agency ‘Super Color Super’ brought a touring party of five bands to play in Gwangju’s down town performance venue ‘Club Nevermind’ recently. I went to check it out.
The random range of people lounge around the dimly lit room. The lights are low and equipment is scattered in odd corners and spaces. The clock strikes eleven and a young man with long curly hair, blue shorts and suspenders, and two-tone leather shoes – red and blue – starts whacking his guitar strings hard and very fast. His guitar is coloured yellow on black, and has an angry bass layered with distortion, like buzzing bees on the attack, and yet the treble is sharp and slices like a sword.
Suddenly another colorfully dressed person thrashes two sticks on a drum – but is the musician male or female? Feminine facial features and dress style dare to distract from the listening to be had – the drumming is immaculate, precise, and extraordinarily intense. The guitarist wails into the microphone but his vocals are swallowed by the room and the crowd is drawn into the total sound as it grows and flows around the dark space until, with a final stab, the guitarist leaves a last chord ringing, and the audience standing, slightly stunned. But the applause is instant and echoes the intensity. The Seoul-based anti-folk power-pop duo ‘Wagwak’ have started the show.
As the clapping and cheering dies down a different sound begins. It is a warm, deep, electronic gurgle. The people turn their heads immediately, trying to follow like a dog does a smell. Eyes swivel and find newly lit lights across the room. A slight, slim woman in tiny micro-shorts and a tight wooly beanie is standing up on stage, focused down on a small platform of electronic gadgets. If the previous drummer is either gender, with her bright platinum blonde hair this performer is any nationality. The gurgle warps into a rhythmic warble which wanders into a wickedly quick robotic dance beat. As she twists and turns dials and steps on loop peddles, she sways, nods, and sings into the microphone placed low enough for her to continue looking down at her hands as they massage a mysterious magic from the black boxes. She moves with a confident boppy style unusual for Korean women.
Jane Ha performs as ‘Pika’. After the show she says she’s looking forward to when her friends from her regular band ‘Loro’s’ – for which she plays cello – can reunite following military service. Meantime, her lyrics are lost in the swirl of sound as it beeps and burps and floats between the mesmerized onlookers. When she finishes her piece the sudden silence is a rude awakening, like someone turned on the lights after sitting in a dark room. The crowd blinks once then cheers and claps, partly for her unique energy, and certainly for her sounds.
As the crowd grows quiet they start to look at a group of five teenagers all ready and waiting with instruments. It’s a conventional band set-up, with drums, lead guitar, bass guitar, and singer, but the bass guitarist is a girl so young-looking it’s like she’s just escaped from her first year middle-school class. Eventually they launch into an old Chilli Peppers number; it’s full-flight rock, raw and distinctly unpolished. The drummer loses the tempo within the rhythm three times, but, the band as a whole plays on with that developing confidence that is the excitement of learning music shared. The singer in particular leads, grabbing the mic stand and jumping up and down in time as he belts out his vocals. The Gwangju band ‘Biscat’ gets full applause and new fans for their effort.
A techno-tempo click-track starts zipping and sliding from the main speakers. People turn and walk over toward the sound-smith bent as if laboring over his buttons and dials. But seeing who actually is creating the layers of colorful zaps and bleets flitting around between the beats is difficult; he’s wearing a full-face welding mask with a dark-glass eye-slit. Like a medieval knight riding his sound-desk into a joust he gradually coaxes it to full speed, frantically pouring over the dials as the enticing trance-state envelops the crowd. Finally, fitfully, it fades, and the unsettled audience cheers again for the new audio-hero ‘Quarkpop.’
Suddenly the sound of two drumsticks snaps out a four-four beat: ‘Tatt! Tatt! Tatt! Tatt-’ and a new group back up on stage throws out a full band sound. It’s Gwangju’s own ‘Harp,’ with their seasoned guitarist, ultimate rock-chick bass player, uber-confident singer, and prodigal-genius young drummer Jung Ick Tae sitting up straight, loose and relaxed in his thin frame as he relaxes into the tight groove of a great rock number. He plays with a precision that continues to amaze; he undercuts the vast experience and proficiency of his band-mates. The group as a whole start the song okay, but as it continues suddenly they click together in a way that comes with years of practice, sharing each beat’s throbbing power until the blasting end.
Then the round starts off again; the weird duo ‘Wagwak’ start their second song but this time the drummer plays a tiny ukulele, and then hits the bass drum with a kick-peddle, and then plays a colorful kid’s-set xylophone, plinking a tune in time with the energetic guitarist strumming a tight tempo on his great old Gibson acoustic. The sound is a fast, fun, jaunty sweet number, and they play it so quick it’s like it’s for kids with ADHD.
And so the performers go around again, each act taking turns to play variations on their own styles of sound. As difficult as this must be for the musicians having to start and stop so often for the sake of one event’s performance, for the audience at least, the ‘Round Robin’ idea is a fun, interesting way of presenting a collection of new bands to a crowd.
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Wagwak, interview, c. April 26, 2011. Please scroll to the bottom of pop-out page.
Jane Ha, interview, c. November 1, 2010.
Jane Ha, interview c. May 6th, 2011.
At 4pm the thick torrential rain suddenly buckets down, hard. By 4.30 it stops, the sky clears, and the air is left cooler again, just right for a barbecue. Tents, tables, and sliced tomatoes are rushed out by the young ‘staff,’ ready for all the strange expat guests who start rolling through the gates. By 5pm they are a week late and yet right on time, as the children’s home event has already been postponed due to the rain the previous Sunday.
As the shadows slowly slip into the late afternoon, children and the child-like run around squealing, screetching, and smiling with pleasure as they clasp soft-drink bottles half-filled with water. They shake out the water and spray each other with their impromptu water-guns. Others of all ages and nationalities are sitting around eating and chatting, connecting and relaxing, enjoying the sunny end to the weekend.
When the sun finally fades beyond the city’s skyline the tables are rearranged into an informal outdoor theatre, a projector set up, and some recently made home movies play against a flat white wall. The first shows the travels of an older home leaver, an early twenty-something lad who made it to the USA to study and see more of the world. Then a ‘retelling’ of the popular animated movie Shrek is ingeniously divided into three sections, the first acted by children to introduce the father ‘reading’ the story to the ‘son’. The second section includes drawings and voice acting of the characters by the children, and the third has the moral of the story drawn out by subtitles in English and Korean. Overall it demonstrates their combined effort to produce a creative and substantial piece of instructive entertainment. The evening finishes with a large group of children singing a song together to farewell the audience, including the expat volunteers who have helped out regularly for many months, and sometimes years.
When I catch up with the ebullient young director of the Moodeung Dream Garden Children’s Home of Hak Dong in south east Gwangju, Mr. ‘Kang’ Eunkang Chung radiates a positive energy so strong it was probably what chased away the rain clouds earlier in the day. As the bigger children cooperate quickly to clean up the tents and tables again, he takes a minute to step aside and speak in his impeccably enthusiastic English: “At 4pm it was raining, but then it stopped and the whole time has just been so great.” Asked if the event went as well as he had planned, he admits, “We wanted to say thank you and sing more farewell songs to all the wonderful volunteers who are leaving to go home overseas this week.” I assure him that the memory of the event itself is probably an adequately fond farewell.
Asked about the history of the involvement of expats in the home, Kang starts by talking of his friends from Joongang Church, Jon and Emily Reezor. He says they have been like “secret Santas, they have been sponsors, and have offered help whenever we needed help.” He says they “told Amanda [Baker] what I do. She contacted me first, came to the center and started it all, about a year-and-a-half ago.” His appreciation for her continues, describing her as being “a loyal volunteer, and now a family member” and admitting that she has “made the big differences to the kids.”
Now, however, is the end of a semester, and by some cruel twist of fate, time seems to be leading the Reezors, Amanda, and other committed volunteers away back to their homelands all at the same time. Despite this though, Kang remains resolutely positive: “Whereas before them, it was just constant headaches whenever they heard the word ‘English’, but now, [the children] have a solid reason to study… so it’s not goodbye. Now, [the children] have friends and teachers abroad whom they can visit in the very near future.” Kang continues, sounding excited as he adds, “It’d be neat for the little kids that Amanda taught to go visit her in Canada one day, when they’re in college, or even earlier if possible!”
To volunteer at MDream Garden Children’s Home, email Chung ‘Kang’ Eunkang, at:
silverkang @ hotmail . com.
Please include in the subject field: ‘MD Volunteer’ (helps to spot junk mail)
On facebook: search for ‘MDream Garden’
Or online, see: www.mdream.org
I hope to be able to post information about other homes open to expat involvement here soon. (Please contact me with any information you may have about local homes, and I shall post it here.)
Click on photos to see larger, full-sized images.
Michael Simning (right), long-time volunteer and coordinator of other expats volunteering at Sungbin Children’s Home, meets Chung Eunkang (center) and his father, Mr. Chung (left), director of MDream Children’s Home.
Thanks again to the Chungs and the children of MDream Garden children’s home for the wonderful barbecue event evening, and to Sim Eunjung for the photographs.
Today was the last day of a seven-week-long intensive writing course. I only studied with the students for 3.5 weeks, and another teacher (I think it was Matthew Jenkins) worked with them for the first half. The students covered three whole units, about one within each week. That is a lot of pages they read and many exercises that they have written.
On Fridays, we also did a timed writing exercise. Students had 15 minutes to write as much as they could, and then another few minutes afterwards just to read and check their own writing. I think their third writing was much better than their first!
Here below you can read their writing. I am very happy to publish their good work, so everyone can see how well they think, and express themselves using English.
Please leave nice comments for the writers underneath. If you post it, I will publish it (if it’s nice..!)
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Summer Vacation Intensive English Course – Writing Class
Summer, 2011 – Matthew Jenkins/ Julian Warmington
Name: Lee Ae Young (Helen)
Writing #1, title: A Good Weekend Plan
I usually do several things on weekends such as swimming, playing badminton, hiking, and watching good movies with my family. Unless there are any events, in the early morning we plan what we’ll do and then we do it.
In addition, we eat out very often, because my kids really like it. Before we go somewhere, I search for good restaurants for kids.
My first daughter is a second grader in the middle school, so she always gets lots of stress from studying. That’s why I always try to reduce her stress, especially on weekends.
After the relaxation of the weekend, my family can start the following weekdays with a feeling of refreshment and pleasure. So good weekend plans are very important for us.
Writing #2, title: My Favorite Pet
I love dogs very much as pets. When I was young, my family kept dogs, so I played with them all the time.
Now I know a lot of things about dogs. They were part of my family.
A dog’s span of life is only about 10 years, so I had to let them go to heaven. Therefore I felt plenty of sorrow as much as I loved them.
Despite of the pain of loss, in the future if I purchase a house with big garden, I’m going to raise another dog anyway.
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Name : Hee Sun Kim (Amy)
Writing #1, title : My English Experience
My experience with English started when I was very young. As a daughter of a professor teaching English in a university, I had easy access to English. I didn’t know that it would influence my whole life back then! As my mother moved to the States for more studying, I naturally followed her and there’s where I started to dream of being an English teacher.
Actually, if someone asks me ‘why’ I want to be a person in the English educating industry, I don’t have much to say. I just want people to know how I studied (or learned) English and how easy it is for them to do so too.
Usually, the easiest part in English is listening and speaking for me. I am used to listening and speaking in English as I spent a long time doing so. However, the most difficult part in English for me is Grammar. When I solve grammar questions in exams, I usually know the answers but don’t know why it is the answer. Because of that, I used to have difficulty in the grammar based Korean English exams.
Writing #2, title: Credit Cards
These days, many people use credit cards. It is a very convenient way of paying for goods. But sometimes, because of the convenience, people forget about how dangerous it can be when used without planning.
I’ve seen many people in financial failure because of the abuse of credit cards. There has been news articles about people committing suicide because of their debt with it too.
I don’t have my own credit cards. I know that I am an impulsive person so I try to keep some distance from easily used money. Sometimes I borrow my mothers to buy things that cost a lot of money, but I usually try to use cash so that I can see how much I am spending in the moment. I am satisfied with my situation for now and I like my spending habits.
Credit cards are a convenient and fast way of paying for things, but it is also a dangerous way of spending all the money you have. Planning before the use of credit cards will help financially.
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Name: Young – sun
Writing #1, title: My Lovely Parents
[ * – pending – *]
Writing #2, title: History
My favorite subject in school is history. In fact, I’ve liked history since I was nine years old. To me, it was like reading interesting story books. History gave me advice and time to regret. Whenever I feel lonely, I read history books. Because my mother is an elementary school teacher I have no place to stay, so I have to go to the library at school to wait for her. History is an attractive subject. As we learn history, we can improve our viewpoint.
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Name: Sah Oh
Writing #1, title: Why am I Studying English?
Writing #2, title: A Special Classmate
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It is a steamy hot, blue-sky day near what should be the end of rainy season, about two weeks before the Seoul floods of July, 2011. I pay the taxi driver, pull the bike from behind the driver’s seat, smile back at the guards in their shiny white helmets and sunglasses at the front gate, and cycle up the side path. At the top of the slight rise the otherwise bland single story flat-roofed building presents a row of glass doors, and a mildly unsettling shade of pink paint around the top of the walls just beneath the roof.
Taking the left-most door I wheel the bike into a large open foyer with several rows of waiting seats facing the door, and several people sitting gazing at a large, loud television set. To the left is a row of pen-pushers behind a long counter and as I move towards them the first looks up and then to his left, alerting his coworkers. I follow the turn of heads and calls down to the end of the row and find a thirty-something guy with a younger face and a thick shock of black hair. His English is passable as he hands me the form and we use a mixture of languages to get it filled in and understood that I will have 15 minutes with Andre Michael Fisher, and I’m to wait until called. The time is ten minutes to four, and visiting hours are until four o’clock.
After enough time to go to the convenience store but not enough to eat the kimbap, he waves me back over and points out the door. Just through a gate we meet a guard with large glasses and a kindly late-thirties-something face, dressed in a uniform with a black neck-tie and a black hat, and after a few words of greeting and explanation I am waved onwards with him. We cross the open courtyard towards another flat single-story building set further back than the first, and a single heavy looking metal door with barred windows.
Through the door is a small plain waiting room on the left with a set of compact bag-sized lockers, and on the right is an office with a senior guard and a few junior office-staff, all wearing immaculate black and white uniforms with hats on or obviously nearby. Only one is a woman, young, sitting behind a computer. They all talk briskly a bit and then the guard asks me to wait in the small room on the other side, and shuts the door behind me. I have time to reflect on the other incidents involving taxi drivers I’ve heard of this year, both of them in Gwangju City, and both leading to legal action against expats who also had thought they were in the right. A minute or two later the guard re-appears and they again check my name, remind me I have fifteen minutes, and then buzz open an even heavier looking iron door.
We walk through and across a smaller court yard, along a hall and up some stairs. The hall is narrower and there are rows of doors off the other side of the hall wall. We turn to the right and he knocks on the last door, and on another door at the end of the hall. A shorter, slightly older guard appears from one, and my guard goes into the end room. I am ushered into an interview room to the left. There is a small table in the middle, with three comfortable arm chairs on the left-hand side, and two chairs on the right, in front of a door in that wall. Another chair is at the head of the table between the doors. I’m told to sit on the left.
Just as I start wondering about the person who will come through that door, the first door opens again and the guard reenters; behind him is another dressed in black and white and between them is a tall young man wearing light-blue, loose, rough looking pyjamas. His thick, solid frame nearly blocks the doorway, and his height lets him peer with an open curiosity over the guard’s shoulder at me. As he gazes and shuffles forward I realise he has no idea who I am, nor even that I was coming today.
The guard flaps about indicating seats, but we take an easy second to smile and shake, his hand being large, warm, and smooth. As he ambles to his side of the table I explain quickly who I am, where my funny accent is from, and how I’d seen his story online, contacted his sister and friend via facebook, and want to write about his situation if he approves. The smaller older guard with glasses sits down at the head of the table, and Andre agrees to a talk.
Given the chance to get any words to the world outside, Andre immediately offers a list of three things, numbering them off. “First, I want to thank all my supporters. I understand there’s a group growing online, back home and now here too. That’s amazing and I’m so thankful.” I look up from my notebook and see his eyes in the light from the window. He has a simple close-cut crop of dark brown hair over his head. His skin is a light, soft brown, but his eyes are a clear, pale honey-brown, and in the light they almost glow like gold.
He doesn’t blink, but smiles and ads with rhetorical emphasis and a hand action, “Second: I’m innocent!” Finally, he declares his love for his girlfriend, and asks me to add for her sake that he realizes why she was not able to visit him the other day, and that he knows that she tried and had wanted to see him. I make the promise and note her name.
I ask him if he would like visits from random well-wishing strangers. Sitting up almost straight with elbows on the table, Andre nods again and seems almost eager as he says they’re welcome on Wednesdays and Thursdays, as his own friends visit on other days of the week, and prison rules mean only one set of guests can visit per day.
Andre describes prison conditions as pretty fair, saying, “The guards try to treat us as good as they can.” He adds he has his own room, a television with limited channels, and he gets outside his room for four hours a day except Sundays when there’s no exercise hour, and Tuesdays when SOFA people come with food for the week, including eggs, sausages and bacon, and MRAs of which he’s eaten more than enough. His only complaints are the food and the boredom. He enjoys reading ESPN Sports magazine but otherwise has too much time to sit around ‘thinking way too much’.
I change the topic to his life in Korea before his visit to this building with all the guards, and Andre immediately brightens up. “I love Korea, especially the food, the culture, the weather; everyone’s friendly…” He catches himself, laughs a mild chuckle, and adds: “Well, most people! The same as most places.” He says his favourite Korean food is kimchi and rice, and he also enjoys kimbap.
Andre had been in Korea for 22 months before that strange night in mid-November 2010. He and his family didn’t seek support or think his time in prison a worry as they considered him innocent, and thought the lack of evidence sure to support that belief. As a result the conviction, when delivered in July, was a shock to them all, and signaled the start to a sudden scramble for support. The idea of his spending the rest of a two-year sentence in prison seems uncomfortably harsh to him and his faithful family and friends, especially for the sake of about 90,000 won which he continues to declare he did not take, even against the advice of his lawyer who had recommended he enter a plea of guilty.
When I tell Andre of the suggestion of a member of an online community who had read and interpreted the charges, he admits that he did cause damage to the police car when being arrested. He explains that had been surrounded by a ring of police late at night and had not seen any reason for going to the police station as he knew he had not done anything wrong, so yes, he resisted arrest, eventually even going so far as to kick out the back seat door window of the police car. “I apologized immediately and offered to pay for it though” he insists, looking straight at me with a look of earnest sincerity now on his face.
At about this stage of our conversation, our guard finally starts to speak up. Having been peering increasingly closely at my notebook and me, he finally asks how we know each other. I tell him I’m a family friend, thinking of my online connection with Andre’s sister and an old family friend of his. Andre agrees and nods at the guard, repeating “Family friend, yes.” We continue our conversation hurriedly, with only a couple of minutes to complete. I ask about the CCTV footage mentioned on one of the news channel’s clips available online. He tells me his friend and military buddy Joseph Johnson saw the original footage, and said that it showed someone wearing a hoodie obscuring their face, and wasn’t very clear at that.
I ask Andre if he was completely alone the night of his arrest, or if he had been out with others that evening. He looks to his right for a second, and then to his left as he starts to answer. He tells me that he was with a friend whom he’d ‘just met’ in a club. The friend was named ‘Jarrod Jeffry’, and as I start to write he spells the name carefully for me without my prompting. I note it dutifully, wondering at both the lack of final ‘e’ in the family name, and why Andre would need to know such a detail if they had ‘just met’. Andre continues, adding that he was probably aged about ‘twenty-two-ish” and that Jarrod had “told me he was an English teacher in Seoul.”
Describing the events of the evening immediately before the police arrived with the taxi driver who pointed him out, Andre says that Jarrod immediately started running as soon as he saw the police. Blinking, and sometimes glancing up ahead and other times down to the side, Andre adds that he didn’t see the need to run as he’d done nothing wrong, saying: “I was wondering why [Jarrod] was running when the police came up to me.”
Suddenly the guard is saying time is up and sounding quite serious about it. I glance at my watch and see he’s correct, so we nod and rise and head out the same door together, and I promise to contact his girlfriend and wish him well.
Back home via facebook I contact his sister again and find his girlfriend. Within a couple of weeks I see her online at the same time late one night, and we chat via instant messages. She fills in a few gaps in my understanding, including that she had managed to visit him in prison there a few times before the SOFA representatives decided not to allow her to continue. She speaks of the cab driver, saying: “I know back in the ‘States if you don’t show up to court they dismiss the case. The cab driver didn’t show up for like two or three times.” Then, when I ask her if she’s heard of one Jarrod Jeffry, she says yes, he was in the same company as her and Andre, but he had returned home to the USA sometime “a couple of months ago… because he finished his tour here”. She asks me how I know of him, and seems surprised and then suddenly quiet when I tell her that Andre had mentioned being with him that night.
I find that google lists no-one at all of that name, and facebook offers only one person with that surname and similar first name: a Jarred Jeffry, based in India, and with Indian friends. It is a curious trail leading to a dead-end.
Within a week from this time, I get no response from any of Fisher’s family or friends via facebook. Suddenly his sister, his old family friend, his girlfriend and his other company buddy, all of whom had responded to messages and queries within hours of the same days I’d sent them messages previously, have all stopped communicating with me.
Two weeks later and two days before the appeal hearing, Andre’s lawyer calls to inform me of the date, time and location of Andre’s court appearance. He asks me if I have any message for Andre, and then asks me if I know of anyone named Jarrod Jeffry. I apologize and say no, I do not know him.
Later that week and immediately following the appeal, the news emerges via the facebook ‘wall’ that there will be another court session to announce the results of the day’s hearing. The fact that there are results to announce is taken as a clearly positive sign, and many comments are jubilant and excited in tone. One previous stranger, a female who attended the hearing, confesses to being smitten with Andre, and the point that he again maintains his innocence in court seems of secondary importance. Within another day or so his girlfriend adds that she had managed to speak to Andre by phone and he was sounding positive and confident.
What to make of all this? The only thing that seems clear is that there is more to the story of what happened that night in November than Andre Michael Fisher is telling anyone. Does he know who did take the money from the cab? Does he or his friend Johnson know who was in the video? What role did Jarrod Jeffry play in the events that night? Why do Andre and his girlfriend’s descriptions of Jeffry not agree? Is Fisher protecting someone?
I want to believe Andre Michael Fisher is completely innocent of everything except maybe being a bit drunk, silly, and belligerent when apparently abandoned, alone, and arrested after midnight in a strange land. Hopefully, his reasons for not sharing the full truth are also as pure as his reputation as professed by his parents and supporters online.
The final court hearing to announce the Seoul High Court judge’s findings is on August 25th, 2011.
12th of August, 2011
On further reflection, the ‘I want to believe’ tone of my conclusion sounds a bit too overly cynical and bitter.
It is true that I don’t take being lied to very well, and it is one of the things I continue to find difficult about living in Korea where the ‘little white lie’ is common practise much more widely than in western society. Perhaps this is why I also find it all the more unimpressive when it comes from someone outside this society [of South Korea]; however, as that good television show character ‘House’ reminds us, “Everybody lies.” To whatever extent you or I agree with that statement, what with me being a complete stranger turning up out of the blue to ask him lots of bold questions, I certainly can’t hold a grudge against Andre for having a go, nor for being wary about trusting me.
In an updated conclusion then, and in a more considered tone stemming from having reflected more purely upon his very open demeanour and obviously unpractised ability at fooling anyone with either words or body language: I really do believe Andre is innocent of the orginal charge with regards the taxi driver and the money, and has confessed and apparently paid more than adequately for damages to the police car window. I think that the taxi driver probably did make what was possibly an innocent mistake in pointing him out, and, I do hope to see Andre released and free as soon as possible.
There is a very good saying we use in the west with regard the legal system: “Justice delayed is justice denied.” Even if Andre does know more to the story, and even if he thinks he is doing the right thing by protecting someone else, most of a year is a very long time to be denied freedom, and to be stuck in the one room waiting for a chance just to say “I’m innocent,” and finally be listened to, and believed.
Having said that, I need to acknowledge that I am not a trained expert at body language, psychology, and I am not even a well-practised liar. Whether this makes me more qualified to judge Andre’s body language or less so, I certainly admit it’s possible that my fifiteen minutes was not enough to get to the full truth of the story of Mr. Andre Michael Fisher.
16th of August, 2011