Friday, October 06, 2006

Buy a T-shirt.

I saw this in Itaewon and just could not believe it. Be very very quiet, I'm hunting Americans. (Tip of the hat to Elmer Fudd)

Alleyway T-shirt vendors in the Itaewon district have a new competitor. The new must-have shirts read “I’m not migook” on the front, and on the back in Korean, “I am not an American.” Since the shirts first turned up at a shop in front of the neighborhood Starbucks in the middle of last month, more than 100 of the shirts have been sold every five days. The man who brought the thoughtful product into the world is a 31-year-old named Michael Kenny who would like to make it clear that he is Canadian.

Kenny hatched the idea of starting up his own business only two months ago. “When I started out, it was just to help make money for a trip my girlfriend and I were taking to South America and Australia,” he recalls. He found an untapped niche market: non-American Caucasians in Korea, with their fears of being thrown in the same pot with U.S. citizens. Kenny’s idea paid off. The going price of W15,000 is a little steep for a T-shirt, but that hasn’t stopped droves of European tourists and Canadian and Australian English instructors -- fed up with the “everything white is an American” attitude -- from snapping up every last one of the shirts. He has already recouped his investment, and from here on out, it’s pure profit for the entrepreneur. His Korean girlfriend says, “We’ve seen for ourselves just how many non-American Caucasians there really are in Korea.”

Michael spends his Fridays and Saturdays out on the Itaewoon sidewalk hawking his goods. A spinoff of his original best-seller -- “I’m waygook” on one side and “Foreigner” on the back -- also sells well. “I’ve been to Korea six times now, and there are always Koreans who assume that I’m an American and come up speaking only English to me,” said one German traveler who bought a shirt the moment he saw it. “What I’ve always wanted to say is written right there.” There are even Americans who see the fun in the shirt and purchase one for themselves. Kenny is only waiting for his first Korean customer.

But though things are going well, he still has two things to fret about. First, he is concerned about knockoffs. The flood of cheap copies inundating outlets in Itaewon is one of the things it is best known for, so Kenny decided to apply for a patent for his T-shirt design with the Korean Intellectual Property Office. But the complicated procedures involved are giving him a headache. Worry no. 2 is that people tend to associate the shirts with anti-Americanism. He says quite a few people have challenged him about the message. But his response is: “Oh, there’s nothing to it. It’s all just good fun. American whites are Caucasians, but that doesn’t mean all Caucasians are Americans. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if Koreans knew that too?”

I have alot of friends from Canada here in Korea so this is not directed at them ,but, as Robert said, "I’m in the market for a “I’m Not a Low-Quality Canadian English Teacher (who hates America and feels sad because they are great and we hate them)" jeogori if anyone’s got ‘em.

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