Language Guide
by Cathy Park Hong


The language spoken in the Desert is an amalgamation of some 300 languages and dialects imported into this country, a rapidly evolving lingua franca. The language, while borrowing the inner structures of English grammar, also borrows from existing and extinct English dialects and other languages. In the Desert, civilian accents morph so quickly that their accents betray who they talked to that day rather than their cultural roots. Fluency is also a matter of opinion. There is no tuning fork to one's twang. Still, dialects differ greatly depending on region. In the Southern Region, they debate whether they should even call their language English since it has transformed so completely as to be rendered unrecognizable from its origin. Following is an excerpt of a brief conversation overhead at the hotel bar.

1. Dimfo me am him.
Let me tell you about him.

2.Burblim frum im
He said

3. withe Blodhued mout,
With his red mouth (or bloody mouth.)

5.G'won now, Shi'bal bato
Leave, you homosexual asshole.

6. So din he lip dim clout.
So then he punched him in the mouth.

7. Bar goons kerrim off. Exeunt.
Bar security kicked him out.

You will find that the customer at the bar speaks in a thicker brogue while the guide interviewed for this book has a more expansive vocabulary. I suspect that in the guide's line of work, she gathers slang, idioms, and argot like data, appropriating them from other tour guides and tourists (which does not explain her use of the Middle English.)

Lastly, I've had difficulty deciding whether to transcribe her words exactly as said or to translate it to a more "proper" English. I decided on a compromise-preserving her diction in certain sections while translating her words to a proper English when I felt clarification was needed. I must also admit that some of her stories may be inexact due to technical glitches During one unfateful day, I left my cassette tapes out in my patio during a rainstorm. It has not caused irreparable damage but the static has obscured parts of the recording so there may be some lapses to her testimonials. I have marked such lapses with ellipses.

As you can see, I am something of an amateur linguist. I am also a historian of the Desert, the planned city of renewed wonders, city of state-of-the-art hotels modeled after the world's greatest capitals, city whose decree is there is difference only in degree. The Desert is the center of elsewhere. But perhaps that is not accurate. As the world shrinks, there is no elsewhere. The Desert is the petri dish of what is to come. It is the city of rest and unrest.

Revolutions used to exist in time capsules. Otherwise, revolutions always happened elsewhere. But we used to register elsewhere as background noise. Kwangju, for example. Kwangju is the provincial capital in the southern part of Korea. After a dictatorial takeover in 1980, the citizens of Kwangju rose up to protest the coup, only to be brutally massacred by the U.S. backed Korean government (friendly dictatorship is what the U.S. called the regime). This uprising is sometimes given global relevance by its comparison to a more major event. Kwangju was Korea's Tiananmen, for example.

The guide interviewed in this book was a part of this uprising. She had a pirated radio station that led thousands into the streets during the uprising. "Her radio speeches were pure and hypnotic in its urgency for us to rise up," according to one civilian. She has long since changed.

Revolution's movements have long since changed. No longer the act of propulsion, of anguished, woodcut soldiers marching in cohesion. Now its pulse works in ellipses, in canny acts of sabotage. As it works here in the Desert, a city despite its bright and bold progress, is still riddled by dissatisfied locals. I have come here to mark its movements, to record the frantic changes in its language. I will begin with my interviews with the guide.

This is how the guide presented herself when I slipped out of the airport's sliding doors and squinted in the late afternoon sun. I could not make out any form, only refracted lobes of sunlight and the shadow flittings of tourists who have just arrived. Then she emerged, wearing a ginger colored wig and a navy pinstriped suit, out of an air-conditioned town car and invited me in. I pressed my recorder. On the hour-long ride to the hotel, she was silent until the remains of my tape squealed to its end. She then smiled, clasped my hand and gave me a complementary swim cap. When I puzzled over this gift, she hushed my question. She will give me a tour first. She introduced herself. "Chun Sujin, lest name first, first name lest. Allatime known es Moonhead, Jangnim, o zoologist Henrietta wit falsetto slang. But you, you jus' call me guide."




Other poems by Cathy Park Hong in ActionYes #1:
St. Petersburg Hotel Series:
1. Services
2. Preparation for Winter in the St. Petersburg Arboretum
3. The Fountain Outside the Arboretum
Atop the St. Petersburg Dome