“Blah Blah Things”: Love on the Borderline

This is the story of Honey and Amberg.

Honey is a 23-year-old Korean tour guide. She studied for a year in South Carolina when she was at university. Since she graduated, she’s taken buses of mostly American tourists into the North-South Korean Demilitarized Zone for a big tourism company every two to three days. She liberally peppers her ungrammatical English with sprawling personal anecdotes and unwittingly tortured Americanisms.

Her favourite sentence endings are “blah blah things” and “sooooo…. yep”. She might say for example, imitating a North Korean soldier, “North Korea forever, I love North Korea, blah blah things”. When describing the delicately nuanced policy cycles that determine the loosening and tightening of migration controls between the North and the South, she may be heard to utter, “The railway was built to take people to North Korea, but since Geumgang they never let us to go there anymore, soooooo….. yep”.

Amberg is a United States Army officer, stationed on the limits of the DMZ at Camp Bonifas for three months. He will be there for another nine at least. Selected for a sensitive DMZ posting for his above-average aptitude and strong military record, he spends his days reciting painstakingly memorized history and politics lectures for tourists, and chaperoning those same tourists from camp to the Military Demarcation Line (the border). He sighs often and with considerable gusto.

Every two to three days, Honey and Amberg will cross paths for a few minutes, while the tourists file into Amberg’s lecture theatre and as they mill toward the buses after he’s said his lines. Honey takes the buses from Seoul to Camp Bonifas and Amberg takes them from camp to the border and back; no South Korean citizens are allowed in the DMZ unless they live there or have some special reason for entering the area.

As they exchange small talk near the bus, Honey will give Amberg a chocolate bar or a bag of lollies and strike him rather severely between the shoulderblades, lamenting, “You look tired. Are you tired?” Sometimes, between answering tourists’ questions in the small camp museum, Honey might have time to point out some peculiarity in a diorama of the 1976 axe murder of Captain Arthur G. Bonifas himself that she hasn’t noticed in her previous 500 trips to the camp. As a rule, Amberg has always had a ‘busy week’ and Honey has always spent the precious hours of her youth doing ‘not much’ and there is a lot of tight-lipped smiling and vigorous hand-rubbing (even in Summer).

One day, Amberg will be recalled to the States or maybe Honey might move on to another job even before that happens. It is highly likely that the relationship will not have progressed beyond the ‘small-scale smuggling of contraband foodstuffs’ stage. But, on reflection, many might say, with a shimmering wetness in their eyes, those small-scale smuggling times, they really were the best of times.

[Only some of this actually happened in the way that I say it did. Some of it happened in similar but different ways. Some of it didn’t happen at all. Some of it might happen in the future. I hope that most of it happens sometime soon, preferably with a bit-part to be played by John Malkovich as the psychotically scheming superior on base who eventually busts Honey and Amberg’s increasingly profitable Crunky Chocolate supply ring wide open.]

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