Monday, March 1, 2010

The Queen and I

This country is in love.

Kim Yu-na (whose name, by the way, is actually pronounced "Kim Yawn-ah", as nearly as it can be put into Western characters) has fifty million people in the palm of her hand. Although it's hard to tell with the language barrier and the fact that virtually all  Koreans have three one-syllable names and most of them are Kims, Parks, or Lees, I think she was already, before the Olympics, the best-known and most popular person in the country: Queen Yu-na, indeed.

She is in ads all over the place, for everything. The one they show the most is for Samsung cell phones; at the end she makes that 007 shooting gesture, and one person after another clutches his or her heart, leaning back and smiling ear-to-ear. That's exactly how everyone here feels about her. 

The country practically stopped on Friday while she skated. I scrambled at school to find a way to watch it, and finally found the website of SBS, the channel covering the Olympics. As my classes went on, I glanced every ten minutes or so to see if the competition had reached the leaders. Finally, at 2:30, my American Lit Honors class came in and said she'd already won; for some reason, SBS wasn't running it live online. They'd seen it on some other site.

But of course, since then Korean tv has shown both of her gorgeous performances over and over and over and... heck, they're still showing their speed skaters' races- heats, too, not just finals- from ten days ago. For that matter, sometimes they still show Korea's Olympic baseball games from two years ago.

I went to COEX, the huge mall under the Seoul World Trade Center, on Saturday to buy a couple of books, and saw, on the walkway up from the subway, a couple thousand square feet of murals: Yu-na skating, Yu-na stretching, Yu-na thinking, all for Nike.

This is an amazingly tenuous and tangential leap, but my personal gold medal came on that same visit: when I went into the pharmacy at COEX and said in Korean, "Hello... ibupropen, please... thank you," the pharmacist said my Korean pronunciation was perfect. (Little did he know that I had just used most of my vocabulary.)

I guess all of the times I tried to brighten a local's day by saying his or her English was excellent paid off; I practically glowed at the compliment. It's not really a gold medal, but then I didn't have to shave my legs to get it.

P.S. I've got the tv on silently in the background; they just showed Yu-na's Samsung ad and now they're showing her long program again.

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