The Jeonju Zoo (Song Version)

by Gord Sellar & Dabang Band

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
it took a while to penetrate
the accent but i got it straight
a few hours later then i knew
they meant not jew but jeonju zoo

Ringlets! Black hat!
Hasidic shouts of oy!
Torah in hand in this unpromised land!

verse 2:
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


sax solo

verse 3:
cages, cages, row on row,
persisting in my overflow
no matter what you make me do,
don’t take me to the jeonju zoo
i’d rather go to gyeongijeong
when I’ve got nowt to do,
and wander through the crowd down there,
hunting the jeonju jew

– Dabang Band, Product (2004)


This is the version of my poem (viewable here) which ended up on the Dabang Band album Product. To understand the song, it is necessary to know that in Korean pronunciation of English, there is no sound like the letter Z. Koreans therefore pronounce it as a “J” sound. On my arrival in Jeonju, I was constantly being asked whether I had visited the Jeonju Jew; the more I heard about the real Jeonju Zoo (the trunkless elephant was real), the more I preferred to imagine some Orthodox Jewish man in Jeonju whom I was supposed to visit instead.

The song was supposed to be titled “The Jeonju Jew” but in a fit of political correctness (not by me) it was changed to “The Jeonju Zoo.” (I have ignored this where I’ve posted the music online, but it all comes down to me.) It is not meant as a racist slur, as I imagine anyone who hears the song and understands the context would agree.

This song 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 original poem version here.

February 2, 2012

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