Thursday, September 22, 2011

This is about the only reason that Korean unification might be possible

People often ask me where I learned Korean and I mumble something about overhearing students and storefront signs. That is a big part of it, but the subway is another big part of it. There are lots of signs on trains and in stations, you see them repeatedly, and there's often nothing else to do but to translate them using the dictionary in your cell phone.

Of course, a normal person ignores all the gibberish, but I'm someone who thrives on marketing Korean. Most people who have learned to speak Korean well come from either an academic background or a social background. I, unfortunately, have neither. I can neither read a textbook, nor can I watch a drama or understand slang. I can, however, quote marketing campaigns from a few years ago.

Anyway, I once translated this sign and almost vomited.

About two years ago, the Korean government began a campaign to get people to walk on the right. This ad from the subway reads: "Walking on the right! Walking on the right side is beautiful." Translated more literally, it reads "you who walk on the right are beautiful". I used to think about that every time I saw it for about a year: why does walking on the right make you beautiful?

Today I saw two North Korean propaganda posters. One similarity between the two Koreas is the over-the-top government advertising, what you'd call propaganda in the North. While it's not propaganda in the South (anymore), government advertising is often over-the-top syrupy to the point of absurdity, as we saw above.

This North Korean propaganda poster, charitably translated, says "Let's turn Pyongyang, the capital of revolution, into a global city".

What's that? A Korean capital city wants to be known globally? Well, let's go back to last year, when these two ads were all over Seoul.

This ad was seen around last November's G20 summit in Seoul. It boasts, or maybe promises, that "the world is taking notice of South Korea".

This one, which I actually liked for its depictions of historical Seoul, says "Welcome to Seoul, the city the world wants to go and see".

The smaller text reads: "The city that captivates the world with its endless enjoyment.
The city that the world wants to invest and live in.
The city where dynamic tourism is producing economic vigour and employment.
The world comes to our Seoul to learn about it.
Now welcome the guests with your smile."

Here's another North Korean propaganda poster of late:

The site that reported on these posters translates this one as “Let us all go for harvesting!”, but that's not entirely accurate because it leaves out the last word in the slogan. It's probably better translated as "Let's all go to the battle of the fall harvest".

This one promotes the highly controversial Four Rivers Project. It says, "Smile big, rivers of Korea!" There was one with a stronger message, one as upbeat as the criticisms of the project are dire and depressing, that I saw on a bus yesterday but I can't find it.

It's true, of course, that languages don't translate well, but I don't think I've ever been in a city that promotes itself so much as Seoul. Nor is it the case that floral, dramatic language is going to get anyone to take you seriously. All it does, I feel, erode trust and prevent people from taking the government seriously when they should do so, as we saw after the sinking of the Cheonan last year.


Anonymous said...

lol, just lol

Anonymous said...

아름답다 doesn't just mean beautiful in the conventional sense. It can also refers to the quality of your actions.

This is the second meaning according to naver:
하는 일이나 마음씨 따위가 훌륭하고 갸륵한 데가 있다.