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SATURDAY’S CHILD: All on the up and up


SATURDAY’S CHILD: All on the up and up

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THIS IS THE KIND of thing that would normally make prosecutors and police see red but we are talking about South and not North Korea, where anti-communist sentiments run high. 

Instead the officials in charge of ensuring that the members of the country’s Legislative Assembly are elected fairly and that there is no buying of votes or any other form of election fraud are, as we say in some Caribbean countries, “blue vex”. 

The reason is that one candidate in the district of Suwon (near Seoul) is believed to have given elderly men erectile dysfunction medication in return for their votes.  As one wit commented in a newspaper that ran the story, “it is a case of stand and deliver” or, as another contributor said, “stand up and be counted”. Another comment is also very valid: “Now let them *?!%# the politicians.”

It is true, however, that one of the candidates was found with a very large quantity of Pfizer’s sildenafil citrate (a.k.a. Viagra) tablets in his possession, more than would be required or even contemplated for personal use.  He claims that it was all on the up and up and not a breach of the law. 

However, the Suwon Prosecutors’ Office told the Agence France-Press (AFP) news agency, “We have yet to verify the allegations. If confirmed, this could constitute a breach of election law.” Anyone convicted of buying votes in South Korea faces a jail term of five years and an $8 750 fine. Also, a conviction for electoral fraud will strip the victor of his seat, while electors face a fine of 50 times the cash value of the gift they received. Fortunately, or unfortunately for that matter, while the penalty is relatively stiff, they will not be sentenced to hard labour.   

The major issues in the South Korean election are the country’s relationship with its northern neighbour, North Korea, and the nation’s underperforming economy. While the candidate for Suwon might not be able, by himself, to deal with Kim Jong-un except to sing the praises of the nearby South Korean capital city by uttering a heartfelt “Ah Seoul” whenever he sees Kim, he seems to have found a means of dealing with underperformance by one section of the human capital that constitutes and plays such a large role in any economy. No more Grumpy Old Men in that neck of the woods. 

There are people who see all Asians as being the same. They make fun of what they think is a shared inability to pronounce the letters “r” and “l” properly and mixing them up. I first heard from a lecturer who had fought in World War Two about using the password “lollipop” to trap Japanese infiltrators trying to get behind the American lines during the war. 

Interestingly, this use of a word to differentiate between members of “ingroups” and “outgroups” is called a shibboleth and Wikipedia has one example that supports what my lecturer said: “During World War II, some United States soldiers in the Pacific theatre used the word lollapalooza as a shibboleth to challenge unidentified persons, on the premise that Japanese people often pronounce the letter L as R or confuse Rs with Ls; the word is also an American colloquialism that even a foreign person fairly well versed in American English would probably mispronounce or be unfamiliar with.

In George Stimpson’s A Book About A Thousand Things, the author notes that, in the war, Japanese spies would often approach checkpoints posing as American or Filipino military personnel. A shibboleth such as “lollapalooza” would be used by the sentry, who, if the first two syllables come back as rorra, would “open fire without waiting to hear the remainder”. 

In the case of the Japanese the letters “L” and “R” do not exist in their language and this is why some might pronounce “rice” as “lice” or “balloon” as “baroon.” But many people believe this is shared in all those cultures. There is a story about President Nixon’s 1972 visit to China. When he met Chairman Mao, Nixon lamented China’s autocratic regime and the fact that China was not a democracy.  Chairman Mao, waving his Little Red Book, hotly disputed this. Nixon was his usual belligerent self. “If you’re democratic as you say, tell me, when was your last election?” To which Mao shouted, “Rast night.”

South Koreans do have some problems with the English language and there are evident signs of their inability to master what is perhaps the least logical and most difficult language of all. For example, one sign said, “Fried chicken with freaking sauce”, another advocated conservation “Don’t waste waste”, and one advertised their “Summer Bitch Festival.” In Korea you can buy yourself a “Shoots Crap Sandwich” or “Eye Remover” and to get back to the Viagra, there was a Samsung sign advertising the Galaxy Note with “The penis mightier than the finger”.

I am waiting for the day when this new-style campaigning replaces the “rum and roti” politics of Trinidad or whatever the current gifts and bribes are in the other countries of the region. Hard cash now seems to be inducement of choice but that may not last long, especially with older men. The statistics on voting by male senior citizens will go up, the Elections and Boundaries Commissions will rail against Viagra “gifts” until they’re blue in the face, but the good news is that there will no longer be complaints about low voter turnouts. You can bet that polls will be very, very high.   

Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the Starbucks in Seoul is selling a new hot beverage called Viagraccino. One cup and you’re up all night.