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Seoul Notebook--Hosts Earn a Thumbs-Up

October 03, 1988|RANDY HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

SEOUL — According to eyewitnesses, an American was robbed here Sunday. But there was some consolation. People of Seoul stopped Americans on the street near the city's sports complex to apologize for the decision that cost boxer Roy Jones of Pensacola, Fla., a gold medal.

There were similar reactions from Korean Broadcasting System commentators who criticized as unfair the 3-2 decision by non-Korean judges that Jones, 19, had lost to Korean boxer Park Si Hun in the 156-pound class.

Spectators at the match, most of them Korean, also seemed stunned when the referee raised Park's hand.

It all seemed to underline a point South Koreans had been trying to make for two weeks: They are not anti-American. But they are anti-bad judging.

And much of what had been perceived as anti-Americanism during the Seoul Olympics was also anti-NBCism. This was not the year of the peacock in South Korea.

It started at the boxing arena on the sixth day of the Games, when South Korean coaches, trainers, the team manager, spectators and perhaps even security personnel--incensed when a decision went against one of their fighters--charged into the ring and assaulted the New Zealand referee. He was punched, grabbed and kicked for several minutes before he was rescued.

Many South Koreans were embarrassed. The president of the Korean Olympic Committee, Kim Chong Ha, resigned, explaining that the actions of South Korean boxing officials in the incident caused him to lose face. But others blamed NBC, arguing that the network's coverage should have focused on the judging, which they contended was unfair, instead of the melee.

Irritated by Mask Theft

South Koreans were further irritated a few days later, when they felt that NBC paid too little attention to the theft of an $860 decorative mask from the wall of a Hyatt Hotel disco by three Americans, including two swimmers from a gold-medal-winning relay team.

After that, NBC could do little right in the eyes of South Koreans.

Early last week, unidentified NBC employees tried to have T-shirts made that read, "We're Boxing, We're Bad" on the front and "Chaos Tour '88" on the back, along with a sketch of two boxers superimposed on the South Korean flag.

The shopkeeper refused to serve them, arguing that, besides degrading the flag, the NBC employees insulted the host country by using the words "bad" and "chaos." He reported the incident to a Seoul newspaper.

Kevin Monaghan, an NBC spokesman, apologized on Korean television.

Fearing reprisals, NBC officials warned their employees to maintain a low profile for the remainder of the Games.

If an NBC employee had suffered bodily harm, he or she might have been treated less than cordially, if at all, by medical personnel. An American reporter visiting the first-aid station at the Main Press Center was asked if he worked for NBC. When he said that he didn't, he was treated.

"I no treat NBC people," the attendant said. "They excite passion of Korean people."

Another American reporter, trying to gain access to an arena without the proper credential, was told by the woman at the door that he could enter on two conditions.

The reporter had to give the woman six lapel pins from his newspaper and also promise to flatten the next person from NBC he met.

"You punch out," the woman said emphatically.

Signs on some stores in Itaewon, the most popular shopping area for Western tourists, said, "NBC Not Welcome."

All others were welcomed to Itaewon as long as they had South Korean currency in their pockets. Among the most popular items for Western shoppers were $12 Reeboks (known as Koreeboks), $25 Rolex watches and $15 Vuitton bags, all as artificially produced as Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson's muscles.

Many Americans felt at home in Itaewon, a favorite nighttime haunt for U.S. soldiers, where they were most likely to find a Kentucky Fried Chicken, a Pizza Hut or a Baskin-Robbins. There also are music clubs catering to heavy metal, rock, jazz or country and western fans.

Americans were greeted warmly in other areas of the city as well. Perhaps it was because many South Koreans couldn't tell Americans from other Caucasians. "You all look alike," said a businessman who mistook a Los Angeles newspaper reporter for a National Geographic photographer. "Big noses, small faces."

One young Korean woman on an outing at Olympic Park suddenly hooked her arm in the arm of a passing American and had her boyfriend take a picture of them together. A child, no more than 3 years old, stared at an American pedestrian from a bus window while stopped at a red light for several moments, then bowed very formally. Another American was approached on a sidewalk by teen-agers who asked him to sign their autograph books.

A taxi driver, speaking very deliberate but clear English, asked his American passenger if he were in a hurry. When the passenger said that he wasn't, the driver withdrew a journal from his glove compartment and asked the man to write his name, his hometown and his impressions of Seoul.

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