- Excerpt from Boy Genius
In the beginning there was His Excellency the Most Honorable President Park who created the heavens and the earth and saw that it was good. Then came the dragon, not an overweight Western dragon, but a magnificent fire-breathing dragon of the Orient, born of a snake who, through sheer will and stubbornness, outslithered death for 5,000 years. Nine months before my birth, Father dreamt that just such a dragon soared out of the East Korean Sea, flew six circles above Mount Nam, then disappeared under Mother’s satin hanbok.
Despite this magnificent vision, little in my first years distinguished me from the other infants in the peninsula. I cried when I was hungry and slept when I was tired. I cherished the warmth of my mother’s round nipple; and my first words, like those of every healthy baby in the land, were “Long Live His Excellency the Most Honorable President Park.”
Everything changed the summer I turned three, when His Excellency launched the Great Search for Genius Campaign. To identify future pillars of society who would help drive communists back to the Yalu, every child from the tiniest hamlet to the largest city was given the Great Search for Genius test. When my score proved to be the highest in the land, my photograph was featured [End Page 37] on the front pages of Korea Tomorrow, Korea Today, and Korea Yesterday and I was paraded before every living room through my own KBS television show, The Boy Genius Hour, brought to the people by Lotte Confectioners and Haitai Detergent. I starred in the show alongside Choco Joe, an American G.I. whose skin was as black and glistening as the shiniest eggplant. Wearing a pair of red boxing shorts he imitated animal sounds and played catchy melodies on his rusty harmonica. Together, we taught schoolchildren from Pusan to Seoul the A-B-C’s and English phrases like “Commie bastards must be killed without mercy,” “His Excellency the Most Honorable President Park speaks the will of the people,” and “The U.S.A. is our number-one friend and ally in everything.”
No one knew for sure just how old Choco Joe was or how he’d come to be at KBS. Not even Mr. K, the show’s producer who’d been at the station since the end of the Korean War, remembered the circumstances surrounding Choco Joe’s entry into Korean showbiz. But there were rumors. Some said he’d been a lounge singer in Hawaii who’d had to flee insurmountable gambling debts. Others claimed that he was a veteran of the Korean War who’d fallen under the spell of our nation’s breathtaking natural beauty. Still others intimated that Choco Joe was a CIA operative who’d been sent to monitor our actions. I didn’t pay these rumors any mind. I didn’t care how old Choco Joe was or how he’d come to be with us. To me, he was simply a friend, with whom I could smoke and curse freely.
Choco Joe and I spent many hours together during the long lulls in between taping in a forgotten basement storage room. There, we busied ourselves by reenacting elaborate fight sequences from chopsocky Hong Kong kung fu films. When we grew tired of that, Choco Joe taught me English idioms that couldn’t be found in the language tapes issued by the Education Ministry, like “motherfuckin ho,” “punk-ass bitch,” and “no-good honkey bastard.” [End Page 38]
One afternoon, after we’d finished taping the first half of a three-hour Christmas special, Choco Joe moved the old boxes that cluttered the storage room and cleared a small space the size of a practice seereum ring. Then, he turned to me solemnly and said, “Boy Genius, I think it’s time I showed you how to defend yourself against no-good punks if ever you find yourself stranded in a North American ghetto.”
He let out a loud taekwondo cry and jumped three feet straight up in the air. At the crest of this trajectory, he thrust his right...