In Pursuit of the Jeonju Jew

by Gord Sellar

People stopped me in the street
to suggest to me this Jeonbuk treat,
they say it to everyone who’s new,
“You gotta visit the Jeonju Jew.”

I saw him in my mind, a lone Jew, all Hasidic:
ringlets and interjections, acerbically acidic;
walking through the shijangs, emitting shouts of “Oy!”
The Jeonju Jew won’t notice me,
I’m just another bloody goy.

It took a while to penetrate
the accent, but I got it straight
a few weeks later. Then I knew
they meant not Jew but Jeonju zoo.

They took me there in soopah style,
inside an airconn’d Tiko, while
the weather was both bright and fair.
I wish they’d never brought me there.

An elephant without a trunk,
a balding obese chimpanzee,
two tigers sulking, in a funk,
nothing much to see.

A wolf lacking a lower jaw,
a quadriplegic polar bear,
one featherless, schitzoid macaw,
you’re better off not going there.

It’s not good for you…! (x3)
To go to the Jeonju Zoo!

I’d rather go to Gyeongijeong
when I’ve got nowt to do,
and wander through the crowd down there,
and hunt for the Jeonju Jew.

I see him in my mind, a lone Jew, all Hasidic… etc.
… emitting shouts of joy…

It’s just not good for you. (x3)
To go to the Jeonju Zoo.

– 2003, Jeonju, South Korea

Before taking offense, allow me to explain one pertinent detail: the Korean language lacks the “z” phoneme we take for granted in English. Therefore, when Koreans attempt to pronounce the word “zoo” it often sounds like “Jew.” After I was asked a few times whether I’d visited the Jeonju Jew, I realized people were talking about a zoo. Which, by its reputation, I truly did not want to visit.

This poem was turned into the lyrics for a song which was recorded and often performed by the band I was in at the time, Dabang Band. You can hear the song here, or see the song lyric version here.

February 2, 2012

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