Imagine sharing a ride to Disneyland in a granny van with the Koreas, Japan, and China. Now, imagine wanting to shoot yourself. Those are basically the same two experiences.
Japan sat in the back, content with blocking out the world via sound-canceling earbuds and techno-pop. North Korea and South Korea shared the middle row of seats. (“I’m not sitting by him.” “Well, do you want to sit by Japan?” “Ugh.”). China was in the passenger seat because he’d been drinking in preparation for this. Taiwan manned the wheel, because she was the only sane one. According to her.
It wasn’t too long before the Koreas started fighting. North Korea’s cell battery drained faster than he’d expected, leaving him without anything to distract from his general displeasure with the world and everyone in it.
He asked, “Who wants to hear a joke?”
“Let’s hear it,” China said in a cool voice as he rolled down the window and lit a cigarette. Taiwan gripped the wheel tighter.
“Walt Disney. He epitomizes American imperialism. He’s a crook. And what do they do? They dedicate a pleasure ground in his honor.”
China blew smoke into the air rushing by. He watched through the rear-view mirror as North Korea coughed softly. “What did I tell you about calling them ‘pleasure grounds’?”
“When have I ever listened to you?”
“China’s right,” South Korea said, jumping in.”‘Pleasure ground’ sounds sexual.”
North Korea’s jaw tightened. “Perverts. You’re both perverts.”
She continued. “And don’t you like Disneyland? You had Micky Mouse up there on stage for one your nutty TV programs.”
“I admire strong characters in fiction, regardless of their origins.”
“I dunno. It looked like you were trying too hard to be cool.”
Taiwan turned up the radio a notch or two without saying a word. She kept her eyes on the road and kept a brave smile on her face. Then China changed the station.
“I liked that song,” she said, still staring ahead.
“Sorry.” He wasn’t, but back to the middle row.
“I have no interest in looking cool,” North Korea insisted.
“Please! You wear American jeans because you think they make you look fashionable.”
“They’re not American jeans. They come from China.”
The man himself interjected. “It’s an American brand regardless. They say Levi Strauss on the back. It’s right there.”
North Korea’s words came out heavy and incriminating.”Why are you looking at my backside, China?”
South Korea sneered, then looked right at her brother. “The point is, you’re a loser.”
“How is that the point? And if I’m a loser, what are you?”
There was that sneer again, but this time it was amused. “You really want to go there? Okay. I’m one of the greatest success stories in modern history. Boom.”
“By ‘success story’ do you mean ‘humiliating sellout?'”
“Yeah, okay. You sound kind of jealous, bro. You know, you could be rich and popular just like me if you hadn’t screwed yourself over so much with communism.” She saw hot anger flash in her brother’s eyes. For just a second, and only a second, she was worried.
“You’re a slave to foreign power. There’s nothing desirable about that.”
She looked at him like he was stupid, shot a quick glance toward the front, then back to him. “You sure I’m the only one?”
“Besides,” he continued, as if he hadn’t even heard the remark, “capitalism is a poisonous seed that sows inequality, class strife, and poverty. I would never envy that.”
“South Koreans are some of the richest people in the world. Thank you.”
“There’s no poverty in my country.”
“It’s true. You think you’re so good? Try providing free housing and education for all your people.”
“Try making enough money to get your GDP out of the shithole.”
From the corner of her eye, Taiwan saw China smile ever so faintly before taking a long drag. She chewed the inside of her cheek. “Can I get a smoke?” She asked finally.
He pulled one from his case–a fancy gold thing with a dragon embossed on the front. So typical. “I thought you quit.”
“I did,” she said with a cigarette between her teeth.
North Korea began to rant about how the statistics on his GDP were all a US-funded fabrication–Western propaganda aimed to erase the prosperity of his thriving nation. Nobody was listening.
Soon a comforting silence settled in. North Korea resigned to staring out the window and his sister browsed on her phone. Occasionally she’d cackle at something or other–probably memes. Of course, the peace never did last long.
Out of nowhere, South Korea yelped. She turned around. “Did you just kick my seat?” Japan scrambled to pause her music.
“You kicked me.”
“I did not.”
“Yeah, you did.”
South Korea groaned and turned back around.”China!”
“Yes?” Both China and Taiwan answered at the same time. Instantly the atmosphere tensed. The two stared at each other with narrowed, cold eyes before Taiwan realized what she was doing and looked at the road. No one said a word.
South Korea picked up after the tension was gone. “Japan kicked my seat.”
China brought a palm to his forehead. “Japan, just say you’re sorry.” He rubbed at the creeping headache. Taiwan then realized she’d gotten head pains too. “It’s not that difficult.”
“But I didn’t do anything.”
“Oh, so I just imagined a force hitting the back of my seat?”
“I’m not apologizing for something I never did.”
“Which means you’ll be apologizing for kicking my seat, because you totally did that.”
“You did kick her,” North Korea said quietly, never looking away from the window. “I felt it too.”
Japan sat there and silently chewed on bitterness. Then she caved. “Sorry.”
“That was so half-assed.”
“Who’s hungry?” Taiwan said in a loud voice, putting on a smile as she looked back to the passengers.
“I have a bad craving for french fries,” South Korea said. “Let’s do McDonald’s.”
That pulled her brother’s attention away from the landscape. “Absolutely not. First you drag me to Disneyland, then you force me to eat at McDonald’s? This is abuse.”
“You told me you were so excited to go,” China said with a spiteful smile. “You told me you’d been looking forward to this for months!”
North Korea reddened. “Liar! You don’t have proof. You can’t prove that without proof. Stop lying.”
“Guys,” Japan said softly, “I think there’s someone back there.” Nobody heard her over the new argument. “There’s something in the back. Guys?”
Just then Mongolia popped up from behind Japan’s seat. “Actually, can we do Arby’s?”
So here’s East Asia geopolitics explained through a family road trip.It’s a lot more complex than this, but I think I was able to fit in some of the biggest concepts.
According to sources, South Korea has the 13th highest GDP in the world as of 2016. Maybe that’s enough to convince you that South Koreans are pretty rich. And if you’re not convinced, then maybe it helps to say that people often inflate their facts when in an argument.
Why did China and Taiwan answer to the same name? The place we call China is officially the People’s Republic of China and the place we call Taiwan is officially the Republic of China. After the communists took over mainland China and established the PRC, the leaders of the ROC were ousted (more or less) to the island we know as Taiwan. There, they reestablished the ROC. Both China and Taiwan claim to be the one and only China, even though Taiwan is not globally recognized as such in most cases.
Why wouldn’t Japan apologize? This is an allusion to the controversy surrounding Japan’s apologies for its WW2 war crimes. The issue is whether or not Japan’s statements of remorse are genuine formal apologizes or not. South Koreans, in particular, don’t seem satisfied with them.
Further, many believe that Japan continuously denies that it ever committed such war crimes. Here’s an interesting article that sheds some light on the Japanese perspective (for the sake of fairness, and all).