Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Just last week, I had lunch with a very well-dressed North Korean guy who was super-nice. We'd met over lunch the week before, and he was very interested to meet a native English-speaker.

When I'd told him I was American, though, he was visibly deflated. "I can't be your friend very much," he said, "because our countries are enemies."

Nevertheless, he invited me to lunch at a fantastic spring roll restaurant near his university. I rolled in on my bike a minute late, to find him waiting for me in the traffic circle. I was sweaty and dressed in lycra; he was clean and dressed in a tuxedo shirt with brilliantly-pressed trousers.

The last time I met a North Korean was on a bullet train from Shenyang to Beijing, when this guy with his Chinese business partner accosted me and my then-girlfriend with friendly hellos. He'd been born in North Korea, he explained to us in quite adequate English, to ambassador parents who'd brought him to various African nations during his youth. In adulthood, he'd been living in China for 14+ years, so he presumably had see at least some world news.

That guy seemed very normal, but he turned out to be — in technical psychological terms — bat-shit crazy.

The second we climbed onto the bullet train, he pulled me to the food/beer car at the front, along with his Chinese business partner. My American girlfriend at the time didn't care to join us, so she stayed back in the train car missing all the fun.

Upon our arrival at the front  car, my Korean friend spent three increasingly drunken hours (he was an enthusiastic but unskilled beer drinker) explaining to me, 1) how America and North Korea should be friends; 2) how North Korea is planning to make war against China; then, 3) how North Korea would actually win that war, because 4) Kim Jung Il (who was still alive at that time) had personally invented a nuclear fusion device that would kill all 1.3 billion Chinese at a stroke; and 4) if only the fucking United States (his expression) and the fucking China (also his expression) would allow them to do so, the North Koreans would prove to the world that they had the most efficient and productive system. And then, 5) North Korea will nuke the whole United States with one single bomb that Kim Jong Il personally invented and that can kill all people in North America at a stroke.

As George Will might say... Well!

Let me remind you, that man had lived 14+ years in China, where he presumably had some access to world news, unlike in North Korea. That didn't help.

In the past three years or so, I've encountered not one North Korean who led me to believe that bat-shit-crazy was anything but the norm in their country. So when my nattily-dressed lunch partner confessed to being from that country, I was skeptical. But he seemed to be very nice, and his English was barely peccible, so I agreed to join him for lunch.

Within minutes, significantly before any of our food had arrived, my friend accosted me about America's attitude towards North Korea. "What do you think about my country?"

Fuck, man! I don't want to talk about your bat-shit crazy country. I want a damned spring roll. But okay, I for some reason, in a moment of weakness, agreed to this lunch, so here I am.

I told him, as I tell taxi drivers who want to know about America's relationship with Japan, that this is ultimately none of my business and I'd rather know about their feelings. That's more interesting to me.

"You are American, you like having a gun, right?" He asked me, a first since I'd been in Asia. Of course I had to say yeah, though I don't personally own guns I like the idea of them. "If you are North Korea, don't you want to own gun?"

You know, there were a whole lot of things I could have said at that point. I could have pointed out that communism is a ridiculous way to respond to the economic tensions of modernity; I could have told him that absorption into China would work better than crazy foreign policy; I could have told him that his nation's leaders should be locked into loony bins. However, I backed away from all of those possible answers, because none of them would have been particularly fruitful for me.

Instead, I just nodded and said "yeah."

The spring rolls at this restaurant, by the way, were extraordinarily good. I'd almost have promised world peace for another plate of tofu skins with green onions draped across the top, with barbecued pork strips. Ah! God, if you've not had that experience, you need to get to an Asian restaurant where they serve true spring rolls. It will make your life worthwhile.

My friend's Chinese friend, a skinny little guy in a gay pink shirt, begged off from lunch quickly. He is apparently involved in import/export business, and hence is essential to the business my Korean friend is engaged in.

At the end of lunch, with the Korean guy paid for — 230 rmb, akin to perhaps a $100 dinner back in the States — my new "friend" asked me to put him in touch with someone from England or Australia or New Zealand. "I want to work on my English," he explained, "but I can't be friends with an American when you are my country's enemy.

Well, that's sweet of you... Ahem... I'll try really hard to rustle up a friend for you who won't be an offensive American, because you're too loyal to your bat-shit crazy leadership to be friends with an American. Yeah! Tcheah.

The guy was really nice, so I'm going to give him a text message in a week or so and ask him to join me for lunch on my tab. If he can't do it, then that's on his nationalistic bullshit, and I don't really need to introduce him to a Canadian friend.


  1. Why didn't you tell him that all English speaking countries are enemies of North Korea? Another little tidbit would be that Americans give them food for free because they can't grow enough or afford to buy enough to feed their people. Also tell them about American's obesity problem. I don't think they have any of that in N. Korea. HA ha, we have an oversupply of food that makes 50% of the people overweight.

  2. Made me think of this, I read this evening.