A Random Reference to the ’80s Dominates my Memory of the Seoul Zoo


It’s hard to say with any real accuracy if my girlfriend understands much of the nonsense that comes out of my mouth. English is her 2nd language, and yet I talk to her like she’s coauthored the dictionary or translated Shakespeare. I wonder if she understands any of it.  If I had to make an estimate, I’d say she gets roughly 40% and the rest is just a jumble of sounds slapped together haphazardly and impossible to decipher, like the way my father views rap music. In truth, though, she isn’t missing out on much.  I fear that if her English improves and she begins understanding more of what I say, the relationship will be over.

“You know what I like about the meerkat?” I asked her on a warm Sunday afternoon, walking through the Seoul Zoo.  “I like their posture.  These meerkats have God damn excellent posture.  I’m a big sloucher, myself.  When I was a kid, people used to say, ‘Sit up straight like a soldier.’  That didn’t work for me.  I didn’t want to be a soldier.  Maybe that’s why I slouch so much.  I didn’t want anyone to think my sitting up straight meant that I had interest in the armed forces.  But I think if people said ‘Sit up straight like a meerkat,’ I would’ve dug that.  Why do soldiers have to be the role models for good posture?  Soldiers don’t inspire kids.  Not all of ’em at least.  Now a meerkat…that’s inspiring!”

The marten…it’s amazing

And she looked at me blankly.  We walked onwards and saw the bears and the monkeys, the seals and some animal called a marten that I liked a lot.  We also saw lots of shirts with English words on them.  It’s a well known fact that here in Korea, people will wear shirts that have English words on them without knowing what they mean. You know how a white person will get a tattoo with Asian characters and won’t know for sure what it says?  Well, in Korea, the people do the exact same thing, only they go for t-shirts instead of tattoos.  Just as I’m sure there’s some blond out there with an ankle tattoo that’s totally meaningless, the majority of the “Konglish” t-shirts people wear consist of nothing more than a bunch of random words.  They are, often times, hilarious.  Then again, for all I know, the shirts that have phrases in Korean might be the same way.  Maybe Koreans just enjoy wearing shirts that say things like, “Music Love Dance Chicken Jupiter.”

Who will bell the cat? Only fluent speakers of Konglish know for sure.

Every so often my girlfriend would ask me what a shirt meant.  I’d read it and laugh and say that it didn’t mean anything.  Around the cage that kept the sadly named “lesser panda,” she pointed to a girl in an English shirt.  “Do you know what it means?” she asked.

I read the shirt and at first it didn’t register.  “I Would’ve Chosen Duckie.”  I was about to say it was more jibberish when suddenly it struck me.

“Duckie!” I shouted, joyously.  “Pretty in Pink!  It’s a Pretty in Pink reference!”  Then I started telling her all about Duckie and how everyone liked him better than Andrew McCarthy but Molly Ringwald went ahead and chose rich preppy McCarthy at the end anyways.  Poor Duckie.  Everyone felt bad for him.

“I wonder if she knows?” I said out loud.  I wanted to ask her but was too shy.  Better yet, I could’ve run up to her and, without a hint of warning, burst into “Tenderness.”

Duckie wants you to try a little tenderness.

Our zoo trip was about two weeks ago.  I don’t remember a whole lot about it.  For the entirety of that day, spent walking through the expansive Seoul Zoo, my most vivid memory is of a girl wearing a shirt that referenced an ’80s movie.  My story telling selectivity has chosen that as the story to tell.  Why?  I don’t know.  It’s not particularly interesting.  And yet, any time I think of the Seoul Zoo, I’ll think of Pretty in Pink.  I guess certain things stand out for no real reason.  They’re forgettable moments that defy memory’s odds, and end up as little stories we tell our friends three years after all the good ones have already been told.


(Update: It’s been brought to my attention that apparently “Bell the cat” is a well-known phrase and reference to a fable about rats who want to put a bell around a cat’s neck.  News to me!  I’m happy to have learned something new and will be sure to use the phrase the next time I want to sound smart.)


13 thoughts on “A Random Reference to the ’80s Dominates my Memory of the Seoul Zoo

    • They absorb sunlight? I don’t really know much about them. What are they, plants? That’s really cool. Two thumbs up to that. Thanks for the meerkat 411, Mornings!

  1. What I’ll take away from this post is that you’d pick Duckie over Blane. I know it sucks that it seems like Molly Ringwald just went for the money, but hey Duckie wasn’t the right guy for her – unlike in Some Kind of Wonderful, where it was obvious from the beginning that Mary Stuart Masterson was the right girl for Eric Stoltz.

    Actually, I’m sure that Korean girl probably didn’t get the reference… but in her defense, there are so so sooooo many people out there who wear band t-shirts without owning a single album from that band.

    • Yeah, true story about the band shirts. Drives me nuts. If I see another kid in a Velvet Underground shirt, I’m gonna kill somebody.

      Anyways, yeah, I suppose you’re right. Not the right one for her. The spark just wasn’t there. Same with “Reality Bites,” where I really wanted her to end up with Ben Stiller but, hey, Ethan Hawke was grunge and had sexy bangs. That Ethan Hawke character in Reality Bites was the ’90s Blane.

      Actually, I think NOT getting the Pretty in Pink reference might make one cooler than getting it.

  2. Last week I had a female patient wearing a tshirt that said “there are 3 types of men. Small, medium and ‘oh, my god'” I work in Saudi and my patient was a fully kitted out (abaya/hijab/niqab/gloves) Saudi girl. She had no idea. I’ll never wear anything untranslated…

    Fun blog!

    • Thanks Anastasia! That’s a great story. “Fully kilted out” haha. Did you, um, inform her that she was wearing a penis reference? Would’ve been enjoyable to see her reaction, I would think!

      Appreciate the comment and the compliment. : )

  3. thanks for the heads up on the American tees trend 😉 makes me feel a little better about our US tramp stamp epidemic in Asian/”symbolic” lettering, and whatever foreign fascination is going on there (although, still leaves the question what percentage say ‘strength, wisdom, and world peace’ and how many simply read “Insert here”)

    Sigh.  Fun with foreign tongues.  

    While I don’t have a Panama City license plate, or cool zoo story to tell, have managed awkward non-English magic various other ways… Once told a new college Spanish prof that I was late because I took the shuttle from the stadium parking lot.  Not particularly scandalous, right?  He kicked me out of class.  Turns out “tomar” (the verb for “to take” taught in typical Mexican-US espanol) has a sexual connotation in Spain.  This guy was from Madrid.  So, between the verb confusion and my being a hot mess, he thought I came running in and said I’d either just humped or been humped on the bus.  A+.  

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