[FOUNTAIN]License plates are a symbol of identity

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[FOUNTAIN]License plates are a symbol of identity

American license plates are adorned with a symbol of each state. Those issued by the state of Florida feature an orange, while Oregon has put pine trees on its plates, and Alaska’s license plates have bears on them.
The United States has created a unique tradition of expressing the characteristics of each state on its car license plates. If you pay extra, you can personalize the plates with your choice of phrase or number, such as “Barbie” or “Peach.” The Midwestern state of Missouri has put the state nickname, “Show Me State,” on the plates. If we were to follow the American way, landmarks such as Namdaemun or Gyeongbok Palace would be perfect choices to decorate license plates in Seoul. Or we could put the city’s slogan, “Hi, Seoul!” on them.
License plates reflect the cultures of a country or a continent. Plates issued in France, the first country to require license plates on vehicles beginning in 1893, and other European nations are a lot longer than the Korean version. Instead of having a two-line design, the plate number is put on one line. Generally, European license plates include a symbol or a character to indicate the nationality: “F” for France, “I” for Italy, or a Union Jack for Great Britain. The blue lines on both edges of the plates add a sophisticated feeling.
In contrast to the creative and personalized plates in Europe and the United States, Asian counterparts are more generic. Not just Korean plates, but also Japanese, Chinese and North Korean ones alike lack uniqueness and fun. They usually have black or white letters on white or green backgrounds. Having been under British rule for so long, Hong Kong is an exception in Asia, enabling plates to be personalized with a combination of letters and numbers.
As the South Korean government has come up with new license plate designs twice, the Ministry of Construction and Transportation is receiving complaints from the citizens. Many Koreans are demanding unique, eye-catching license plates that can express Korean characteristics as Americans and Europeans do on their license plates.
While the government remains in a little pond, the citizens already have international eyes. As poet Park Jong-hwa put it in “A Frog in a Well,” we might be a frog in a well, too afraid of giving up what we have.


by Lee Kyu-youn

The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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