Miniskirts and moms win soldiers’ loyaltyMy first pen pal was a soldier, whose name I can’t recall. No wonder the name is obliterated from my memory; I didn’t know it even when I penned the letters as a third grader. My teacher let me jot down any name from a list for the “writing consolatory letters to soldiers” lesson.
It was not much of a letter, whose tried-and-true form begins “Dear Mr. Soldier, how are you doing near the Demilitarized Zone? It must be cold up there, I guess.” It was more pain than pleasure, and ended up almost being my one-and-only shred of contact with soldiers.
This may explain why I never enjoyed watching “Ujeongui Mudae” (Stage of Friendship). The legendary program featured soldier talent shows, and rendezvous with mothers and girlfriends. Always more of a must-run rather than sure-fire ratings magnet, “Stage of Friendship” had ceased running. Last month, however, as a polemic arose over whether the singer Yoo Seung-joon had dodged mandatory army duty, another military-friendly program was resurrected.
“Cheongchun! Singohamnida” (Salute! We Are Young Soldiers), which airs at 7:30 p.m. Mondays on KBS1-TV, is a nice counterpart to its predecessor. This week’s episode featured a visit to the Korean Army’s Seven Stars Division. The audience of khaki-uniformed soldiers, all raising earsplitting cries and clapping hands in perfect unison, is a rather giddy spectacle.
I was about to tune into another program, but I soothed myself thinking, O.K., those guys at least deserve this, doing what they should do. The show emcee Yun In-gu, introduced himself as a proud sergeant, which earned him thunderous applause ― in perfect harmony, of course. Next to Mr. Yun was Kim Bin-u, the female emcee, and the only member of the gender on the scene. Ms. Kim had creatively thought to find a camouflage pattern for her tank top and itty-bitty miniskirt. She might as well have used the outfit at a hostess bar, dancing to a military-themed tango. But thousands of soldiers seemed enthralled.
I refrained again from changing the channel, to watch the show’s highlight as five lucky soldiers met their girlfriends. To get this far, the five young women (all in their finest threads) outdid others in giving speeches in some barracks on why they should meet their beau; a group of soldiers-cum-judges picked the best speaker.
Last Monday’s five candidates all shared heart-rending stories like “I want to win the favor of his parents” and burst into tears. It was a bit embarrassing to watch the camera close in on the girls’ faces, whose eyes were about to shed jet-black tears from their melting mascara. Soft pop music numbers like “I.O.U” rounded out the sappy mood.
When the tears dried up, talent shows followed such as “Finding the Private,” where a wanna-be pop star, of course female, in a provocative pink chiffon dress, came out as a guest. Just when I was at my limit came the “Dear Mother” section. I was thankful that by now, Ms. Kim, our indecent-exposure maniac, had covered some of her bare skin. But there were no surprises here, either. Strangely, watching a mother in her fine hanbok walk out and, in tears, utter her son’s name, I felt this dull tingling on my nose and eyes. Then the son, who supposedly did not know that his mother was coming, practically scampered onstage and held his mother’s hands. Well, I don’t have any brothers or friends serving in the army, and such a scene was more than predictable, but my eyes did moisten. That’s the reason such programs go on and on. After watching those heartfelt hugs of a mother and a son, I guess I could do a better job with my letter of sympathy, if only I got another chance.
by Chun Su-jin