Friday, January 14, 2011

Bumper Stickers

Daejeon is covered in bumper stickers. They don’t read, “Honk if you’re Horny,” and they’re not slapped on the backs of their Hondas. Instead, the same idea of multi-colored, poly-vinyl strips of advertising is bolted onto the facades of office buildings. Entire blocks look like the back of a hippie’s Volkswagen. But instead of Save the Whales, stick figures that look like pine trees without their needles are letting you know that Daniel Wong is the best accountant in the city.  This is a blunt city. Signs in English say things like, “Super Fun Sexy Dress Bar No. 1,” or, “Marine Boy Casual Man Bar.” They don’t think anything about cramming in “Come,” and “On Me,” in the same sign. They just think they are letting you know every possible fun thing about their establishment.
This is an innocent city with no sense of double entendres. There are no hidden meanings in, “Double Ball Blast,” the writing on the menu just means there are two dumplings in the soup. If you read a sign that says, “Come in the back door,” and if someone sees you giggling, they’ll never understand the explanation. They lack the international savvy of Seoul or Busan. They are still fascinated by white people, black people, and Americans in general. Yet, they lack any understanding of American culture and social graces. They’ll ask you your age, how old you are, and try to compliment you in a manner we would call a back handed compliment. “You usually look ugly, but today you look handsome,” wouldn’t have any insult added to it in Korea. They mean in comparison to the shitty way you usually look, you beat the odds and pulled yourself together this morning. This blunt, and sometimes roundabout way of speaking adds to their gullibility.
            I told three Koreans my mother was Korean, and they all said, “Really??” dragging the letters as their jaws hung in shock.  They didn't notice my rounded eyes, reddish black hair, or height apparently. When I laughed they pursed their lips as if I'd lied to them. The non-existence of crime adds to their trusting nature. The police don’t carry guns, and most restaurants leave the register on the counter so you can make your own change. If you tip someone, they chase you for blocks trying to give you your money back. They should close the borders, and not allow any more cynical foreigners in with their jaded stories of junkies walking through the streets pant-less holding a pistol, or talking about how they’ve been carjacked three times, or telling stories about stealing bread and beer from the local Costco. These illuminations about other cultures will only damage Korea’s national innocence.

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