Tharp On: Danger
Tharp addresses the concerns of family and friends about the "danger" of living abroad over here in Korea and the sad state of American knowledge of things outside their borders.
BUSAN, South Korea - When I originally told people I was coming to Korea to teach English, many were concerned, if not outright horrified: “Is it safe there?” “Aren’t you afraid of terrorists?” “Are you sure this is the best time to be living outside of the USA?”
Bear in mind, this was over six years ago, during the reign of modern history’s most untraveled U.S. president, George W. Bush. This was the post-9/11 world, where many Americans considered anywhere outside of the fat-lined womb of our borders to be a dangerous place, swarming with hateful brown people ignited by the magnesium flame of anti-Americanism. To leave the States was not just considered reckless, but suicidal, even.
But anti-Americanism? Really? I’ve been travelling in Asia for years now, and still have yet to experience full-on nastiness hurled my way. This has been true even in a place like Vietnam, a country where after we leveled all the buildings, we just started blowing up the trees.
Sure, I’ve run into the odd pretentious European who has wagged his nicotine-stained finger in my face and lectured me on how, “You Americans not zee culture and are always starting zee wars,” but rabid anti-Americanism? Not yet anyway. That’s not to say that it doesn’t exist — I’m absolutely sure that many, many people do hate Americans, but most of them have the common decency to hate us behind our backs.
Most Americans know little of the actual goings on outside of our borders. After all, only one in four of us even own passports, a point much derided by the other Westerners I meet abroad. We are a kind people, but a lot of us possess the same level of international awareness as, let’s say, a large mouth bass. Yet, despite such ignorance, people’s concern for my safety abroad generally comes from a good place. It’s because they care about me and love me, right? I could have said, “Hey, guess what? I’m going to volunteer in an Ebola hospital in the Congo,” and my friends could have said, “Seize the day!” But that’s not the case. People were worried. They were so concerned that many of them, with serious expressions on their face, would ask me:
“Are you going to teach in North Korea?” To which I would respond: “You guessed it. Not only that, I’m defecting. I’ve received a personal invitation from Kim Jong-il. We’re going to swap hair tips.”
This concern really illuminates the American character. It shows that one: we’re really nice people at heart, and two: we don’t know crap about the rest of the world.
Cut to now, early 2011. It turns out that my fellow country folks’ fears weren’t so unfounded after all. Last March, the South Korean naval ship Cheonan was sunk by what appears to have been a North Korean torpedo, and November saw the shelling of the South’s Yeonpyeong Island, resulting in the deaths of both civilians and soldiers. Both of these events brought the peninsula right to the edge of the gaping maw of war. The proverbial dung nearly hit the fan, proving once and for all that said appliance can actually result in the loss of human life.
Recently I was up in Seoul, where I took the DMZ tour. For once, I was glib to our northern expat brethren, boasting to them about the relative safety of Busan. “Have fun when the war breaks out,” I told them. “You all are screwed. While you’re stuck in the gulag memorizing the Complete Works of Kim Il-Sung, I’ll be in Japan, eating tuna belly sushi, drinking Asahi on draft, and banging Cosplay girls.”
And what of the DMZ tour? I went, and yes, it was weird, but in the end the whole thing was a bit anti-climactic. How sad is it when your country’s number one tourist attraction is just five guys staring at each other?
President Lee Myung-bak, in response to the sinking of the Cheonan, said that the South will once again set up loudspeakers along the DMZ to broadcast anti-North propaganda. Do you really think that will work?
“Come to the South! You will be free!”
This will have no effect on the hardened, brainwashed Northern troops. What they should do instead is construct hundreds of kilometers of samgyeopsal grills along the whole of the
border and throw a load of dwaeji gogi on it. Then, they should arm the whole of the South Korean army with leaf blowers, shooting that smoke across the DMZ. Those Northern soldiers will come staggering across the minefields with more determination than zombies in a Roger Corman movie.
“Aigo!!!” BOOM! “Kim Jong-il is die!!!” BOOM! “Pig eating many the want!!!” BOOM! You really want to finish ‘em off?
Then hit ‘em where it hurts.
Illustration by Russell McConnell
You can check out Tharp's blog, Homely Planet.
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