Dr. Rodney T. Hard

                              PICK POCKETS

By:  Dr. Rodney T. Hard

Growing up as a missionary's son in post-war Korea, I learned to become acutely aware of my surroundings and the people around me.  One reason for this was because many people were hungry and desperate enough to steal other people's stuff.  It was not uncommon to get your pocket picked while shopping in a crowded market.

The American soldiers on weekend passes with money-to-burn in their pockets were favorite targets of the thieves.  The GIs called them “slicky boys” and would be pretty merciless with them if they caught the slicky boy in the act.

The pick pockets were very ingenious.  One ploy was to put up a public sign in English that said, "Watch out for pick pockets."  If you were a foreigner and saw this sign, you instinctively reached for the pocket and touched it to see if your wallet was safely intact.  A pick pocket in the crowded market that was watching the foreigner would now be cued in to which pocket the wallet was in.

My father was once walking downtown in a crowded market place in Pusan when a wallet came flying through the air and landed at his feet.  He picked it up and discovered that it was his wallet.  The money was missing but all his cards and identification papers were still in it.  The pick pocket evidently had a conscience and did not want to inflict unnecessary inconvenience on the foreigner.

The now ubiquitous ball point pen had not been invented yet, so, owning a nice ink pen was important.  They were also costly.  The pick pockets got adept at using a piece of wire or woven horse tail hairs to reach inside a victim's coat pocket and flick their pen out.

Another technique they employed was to use a very sharp razor blade to cut a pocket or the bottom of a purse and remove the contents.  This was often done when you were distracted by the pick pocket’s cohort as he bumped against you in the crowd.

One of the missionaries, Bruce Hunt, had his leather briefcase slit open on a crowded boat and lost several expensive pens as well as many important papers.  From then on, he carried an aluminum briefcase everywhere he went.

When I was about eleven years old, my older brother Sterling and I were walking in a bad neighborhood with a friend of ours, Robert Wright.  Sterling and I suddenly took off running.  We were chasing a young pick pocket that had just lifted Robert's wallet.  As we gained on him, he got scared, so, he dropped the wallet and kept running.

When we returned to Robert, he asked us why we ran off.  He was still not aware of the fact that his wallet was missing, and he was very bewildered and pleased to see it when we handed it back to him.

I was standing in a crowded bus when I was sixteen years old and felt a hand go into my pocket where my wallet was.  I quickly grabbed the hand and was about to use a martial arts move to snap the person’s wrist when I paused.  Somehow the hand and wrist felt awfully frail.  I turned my head and visually followed the arm back to its owner.  It was a frail little old lady in her late seventies and her eyes were wide with fear.

I released her hand and said to her, “If you are that desperately in need, why don’t you just ask?”  I gave her a little money and I got off at my stop we had just pulled up to.  

The memory of the fear and desperation in her eyes haunted me for many years.  I can still remember that day like it happened yesterday.

An old Korean woman not unlike the one that tried to pick my pocket.  She is living in a makeshift house made of straw mats, and she is so poor that she is preparing a meal on a rock on the dirt floor of her shack.

A crowded shopping district much like the one in which my father's pocket got picked.

The rough neighborhood where Robert Wright got his pocket picked.  This neighborhood was literally one street  over from my house.