We've been doing our best this summer to keep up to date with the news from back home. We note that it's been a bit rainy in Blighty. Oh, and apparently there's a new prime minister. Gordon Brown is of course unelected, as America's George Bush was in 2000. We're confident that this minor detail will not stop our country's continuing campaigns to export democracy to other parts of the world though—do as we say, not as we do.
Anyway, we digress. Among all the shenanigans we missed a slightly bizarre story. It would never have come to our attention at all had a British work colleague not mentioned it when he found out that we were from Wiltshire. Now, not a lot usually happens in Wiltshire. At the moment there's a threat from a cloud of smoke following a barn fire, apparently, and changes to the proposed plans for the old Ushers Brewery site in Trowbridge. Last week the M4 motorway got a bit flooded. Wow. So given that nothing of global importance ever happens in Wiltshire, imagine our surprise when our colleague said "That's where the North Korean athletes are going to be staying for the 2012 Olympics!"
What? Huh? Sorry? Must've missed that one! So we googled it and yes, there is some truth to the rumour. Basically Chippenham, our old home town and the second largest town in Wiltshire, decided it would like to be one of the host towns for the preparation period before the 2012 Olympics. Chippenham was never going to attract a big-league sporting nation like the US or Russia. But undeterred, the 2012 committee (or whoever) contacted some smaller countries and received a prompt reply from the DPRK! So, assuming they manage to put a deal together and nothing changes in the intervening five years (regime change, reunification, all out war), what can Wiltshire do to make the athletes' stay more pleasant? Our suggestions are presented below, for the benefit of the residents of Chippenham.
In theory, North Koreans speak the same language as their brothers in the South, but in practice there has been a lot of evolution over the past fifty years. Apart from spelling and pronunciation changes, the North's regime has worked tirelessly to rid their language of the Chinese characters which are still occasionally sprinkled in among the Korean ones in the South.
Also, in South Korea, Japanese and English loanwords are everywhere. Opening our (South) Korean–English dictionary at random, we find that the word for 'trampoline' is 'tu-raem-poel-leen'. And 'table' has a pure Korean translation of 'shiktag', but a more common word, especially amongst younger Koreans is 'tae-ee-bul'. And if you want a nice English cup of tea with milk, you will need to ask for a 'mil-kuh-tee' rather than using the Korean words for milk and tea. But in the North, all these loanwords have either been expunged, or were never introduced in the first place.
So, people of Chippenham: if you're considering giving a welcome speech or having any signs made, be very careful to ask for the right kind of Korean translation, or you risk offending your guests with the 'coquettish and decadent' language of the South.
If you need any pointers on hospitality, speak to the residents of Middlesbrough who hosted the North Korean side during the 1966 Football World Cup (US: Soccer) and followed the team up and down the country cheering them on in all their games—football fans from the DPRK were of course not allowed to travel to support their national team. The fate of the players after they returned to the DPRK has been the subject of some speculation. Some sources claim that the team were sent to the gulag on their return, as punishment for indulging in the capitalist pursuit of getting very drunk after their stunning one-nil victory over the Italians. In a (government sanctioned) film released in 2002, the surviving team members vehemently denied the story. In fact, they claimed the opposite is true—they are still hailed as heroes to this day. Whatever the truth, it is worth noting for 2012 that cider is a soft drink in Korea. The differences between their idea of cider and the famous local Wiltshire 'scrumpy' should be pointed out clearly and unambiguously. It's for their own good.
Food and drink
This brings us to the subject of food and drink. You should have no problem at all getting authentic kimchi, mandu and ramyun noodles in the UK. There are Korean supermarkets in many cities, and wholesalers deliver imported Korean products countrywide. Kimchi (very spicy, fermented cabbage) is especially prized. It is reputed to cure bird flu and many other ailments and will no doubt be part of the DPRK's strategy to win Olympic gold. Kimchi is part of every meal in Korea and could easily be incorporated into some traditional British dishes to Koreanise them. Wiltshire pubs could offer kimchi ploughman's lunch, steak and kimchi pie, or bangers and kimchi…
Okay, 2012 is a long way off, but it never hurts to be prepared. The North Koreans were very welcoming to us when we visited their country. Hopefully we'll get the opportunity to reciprocate with some Wiltshire hospitality.