Some Poetic License Is Needed on Both Sides of the Ocean

To: Park Seh Jik


Olympic Organizing Committee

Seoul, South Korea


Dear Mr. Park:

The Republic of Korea did a superb job in the organization and execution of the XXIV Olympic Games, so please, do not concern yourself about that boxing business, and pretty please, try to forget that stolen-mask business, and pretty please with sugar on it, as we Americans say, do not resign from your position.

Pat yourself on the back instead.

Korea can be proud today.


All Koreans.

Even if North Korea chose not to come to the party, all Koreans can be proud today. Including those in America.

I consider myself honored to have spent some time in your country, to have met some of your people, and to have watched and worked at Olympic events in your remarkably modern facilities.

The architecture, the art works in the public squares, the flowers planted along the streets, they made me realize just how beautiful a big city can be, and just how drab some of the United States’ big cities continue to be.

OK, not everything and everybody was perfect. Where is such a thing possible? We met Koreans who were inconsiderate and incompetent. So what? We meet Americans like that every day. We met far more Koreans who were kind and efficient, diligent in their work, helpful beyond expectation. Wonderful people, whom I shall miss.

OK, so the scents of Seoul are not the same as those of, say, Los Angeles. I will trade you our smog, even up. I love the smell of kimchi in the morning. It smells like victory.

Mr. Park, please forgive and forget NBC television’s coverage of your regrettable boxing incident. Remember, that was such an unfortunate occurrence. In America, we have an expression: Stuff happens. (That’s not exactly how it goes.) It means, we must take the bad with the good, because, well, stuff happens.

NBC carried 170-some hours of Olympic coverage, and could not have occupied more than 1 hour’s worth with the boxing affair. NBC was not being negative. NBC was reporting something unusual, something unexpected, something ugly that had captured, for an hour’s worth, at least, the world’s attention.


We know you were upset that equal attention was not paid to the American gold-medal swimmers who stole the art object from one of your hotels. All we can say, Mr. Park, is that we far too casually accept some of our people’s belief that being an American means you do not have to understand the languages, customs and subtleties of other cultures, so long as they accept ours. Mr. Park, we apologize.

Please do understand our sense of humor, as we attempt to understand that of Koreans.

For instance, during the Olympics, we made small jokes at your expense. They were not meant with disrespect. They were meant merely for our own amusement.

Jokes such as:

Q. Who is Park Seh Jik?

A. Host of Korean version of “Wheel of Fortune.”


Q. Who is Queen of Seoul?


A. Aretha Franklin.

Sorry, Mr. Park. These are insignificant little jests, mildly amusing to the Americans who understand them.

You understand our jokes no better than we understand, for example, your poetry.

I recently read one called “The Table Settled on the Blank,” by Kim Yeong Tai.

It goes:

Dropwort Gimchi, Fried food, And perilla leaves mixed with seasoning. An eighth note, (I want to eat a cucumber with some cut brown-seaweed without seasoning.) Eat it in hard and yellow green of uncookedness. Adding no mayonnaise. Lying curved on a white china dish, Thou art Like the spreading line of the armpit, Winding aromatically At the moment of stretching one’s body Just after one’s waking from sleep.” I had to ask three different interpreters before I was positive that this wasn’t from a cookbook.

Oh, well. You probably didn’t understand it when one of our great American artists became famous for painting a Campbell’s soup can.

As you well know, Mr. Park, there can be contrasts and conflicts between nations, yet fellowship and patience between friends.

Be patient with us. Be patient with those of us who were not patient with you. With those of us who behaved like fools, Americans and Koreans alike.

And do us one last favor.

Warn Spain.

Komapsumnida very much,

From us from the U.S.