I was out walking last night through a very warm and pleasant Spring evening, striding along the empty streets, singing and dancing and letting my inner dionysian loose, mostly to the music of John Lee Hooker, when I suddenly discovered that election season had come to Gyeongju.
The sign reads: “Hwak! Bakkooja! Gyeongju-ai Say-Lo-Oon Seontaek 7 Kim Seokgi”
Hwak! (what the hell does hwak mean?) Let’s Change! Gyeongju’s New Choice 7 Kim Seokgi
Now I usually try to refrain from making fun of people’s names in other cultures, particularly because I know that everyone’s names sound completely absurd to everyone else. Several woozy Cambodian women told me that my name meant sigh in the Khmer language; it’s also the name of the director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—but still, regardless, there’s a whole hell of a lotta Sucks in Korea, just as there are apparently a lot of Pornos in Thailand.
Usually rendered in English as Seok, but pronounced Suck, the sound is a fairly common component in men’s names, and comes from the Chinese 石, Shí (with a rising tone, as though you’re asking a question), stone. Three of the students in one of my conversation classes have this syllable in their personal names; yesterday one of them said “We’re the Suck Brothers”, almost certainly without any knowledge of how ridiculous he sounded. But here this unfortunate man has taken his unfortunate name to new heights. Kim Seokgi. Kim Sucky. Sucky Kim. Vote for Sucky Kim.
I then discovered this morning at around 9:30 that Sucky Kim had hired a truck to drive around town and blast slogans out at random innocents, a common practice in Korea, where your political success depends not so much on how many demagogic positions you take, but on how much raw attention you can grab.
In other parts of town there are truly enormous faces draped over the sides of buildings, possibly three or four stories tall, with similar shaven technocrats, some with glasses and suits, some without—but all possessing the same lubed-up Lee Myungbakian hairdo. And, as I wrote that, another truck just drove by the window, pounding and throbbing for a different candidate.
Even though I’m not eligible to vote here, and would have to renounce my American citizenship in order to run in a Korean election, I’ve often thought of plastering my face, Mao-like, to the sides of glassy Korean skyscrapers, alongside a simplistic slogan, something along the lines of, IAN IS GOOD! OTHERS ARE BAD! VOTE FOR IAN!
But I would go further than that. I would do far more than the average Korean hoobo, or candidate, to gain the attention of the masses. I would dive out of airplanes several times a day, weeks in advance of the election, and attack the city from the sky. I would sprint the streets during rush hour, throwing myself at as many speeding cars as I could find, screaming and howling my name and my number like a Viking berserker, eyes white, rolling, face contorting, as if possessed. I would break into every single building in the city and bite everyone I found inside hard enough to draw blood. I would attach a bright pink sash with my name and face on it, wear a backpack containing a huge megaphone hooked up to a looping tapedeck and a car battery, blast my name and my slogan continuously, and dive-tackle the tourists who had come to visit the city’s burial mounds. And I would desecrate those burial mounds, blanketing them with banners.
I would drape the city in banners, fill the sky with an air force of cropdusters, and force them to drop so many millions of leaflets on the denizens beneath, that they would mistake the Spring for the Winter, and the bright sunny days for blizzards. A vast tent with my face on it would rise from the mountains and eclipse the sky. Even the moon would get plastic surgery, and resemble me. I would realign all of the stars in the night to spell out my campaign platform, and then sabotage every power plant in the country, so that people could see.
Then I might win.