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It's Not the Koreans Who Do Not Understand
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post (pre-1997 Fulltext) - Washington, D.C.
Date: Oct 1, 1988
Start Page: d.01
Section: SPORTS

Whenever a U.S. boxer is introduced, he is booed by the Koreans. Whenever American flags are waved, they're booed by the Koreans. Whenever American fans break into the familiar, throaty "USA! USA!" chant, the Koreans shout them down. Boxers from the hated Japan, which occupied and oppressed Korea for so long, aren't booed. Boxers from the villainous Soviet Union, which shot down a Korean plane, aren't booed; indeed, at the basketball semifinal the Koreans cheered the Soviets against the Americans. A people who ordinarily restrain their emotions so as not to offend anyone, a people with no cultural history of openly demonstrating anger, are now lustily booing the Americans, who for 40 years were their liberators, their protectors, their best friends.

Since the boxing incident, brushfires have broken out all over the city. The Korean press has seized on them, inflating them, as befits their culture, in the same way the American media inflates things to befit theirs. An angry Johnny Gray kicked in the side of a Korean taxi. NBC boxing venue workers exacerbated a tense situation by trying to have T-shirts made that said "Chaos Tour '88" and "We're Bad!" a design that Koreans feel defaces their flag and insults their honor. Two U.S. swimmers stole a plaster lion's head from a hotel bar, and Korean authorities at first recommended prosecution before agreeing to expulsion. Many Americans thought the Koreans overreacted to what was essentially a fraternity prank. But what do Koreans know of fraternities? Stealing is a terrible crime here, so terrible that it almost never happens. The Americans stole. "But you are not in your home now," Mr. [Lee] said.

Yet there have been so many small moments of grace between us and the Koreans, so many tender mercies. I have foundered hopelessly in the Seoul subway, intimidated by Korean language maps and signs, and Koreans have literally led me by the hand to where I should have been. I have been on the streets without a clue how to get home, and Koreans have stopped for me and driven miles out of their way to take me to the press village, and refused to take any money for it. I have been unfailingly treated with politeness and friendliness and genuine warmth by police, security guards and Korean Olympic personnel. They give me flags and pins and small gifts to take home so I'll remember Korea. The anti-Americanism seems more an expression of hurt than anger.

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