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!”
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.”
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.”
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.)