In 1953, North and South Korea signed an armistice.
In 1961, South Korea had an income per capita of just $80 per year.
In 1988, the Seoul Olympic Games prompted South Korea to import its first bottled water.
In 2006, Foreign Minister Ban-Ki Moon was appointed Secretary General of the United Nations.
In 2010, South Korea ranked 15th-highest on the Human Development Index.
And then, in 2013, South Korea had its first McRib season.
Typically a fall harvest in America, the McRib in Korea arrives sometime in December and runs to January 29th. It’s not known as a McRib, though. In Korean, it’s billed as the 행운버거 (pronounced “Haeng-Oon Buh-Guh”) which translates to “Luck Burger” or “Prosperity Burger.” The familiar US-style barbecue sauce is gone, replaced by different flavors each year. This year, it’s offered in two flavors: Gold flavored and Red flavored. Gold is described as having a “rich garlic sauce,” while Red has a “spicy chili tomato sauce.” Around 4:00 AM on January 1st, I order both and head back to a quiet lookout beside Seoul Station to wait for the first sunrise of 2016.
After buying a new blazer earlier in the day, I had set off to Seoul to meet up with other returned friends, cap-off the year and ring in an even brighter one. There was music, laughter, lights, dancing, cigarettes and booze-booze-booze-booze, as any good New Year’s Eve celebration tends to have. The bell rings, and we all take another shot. We pop a smuggled bottle of ten dollar champagne (sparkling wine?), and after a while, bleary-eyed, we bundle up and wander over to a convenience store to buy a few more drinks.
A few other friends partying in the area ask where I am and say they’re coming to meet us. These friends don’t really care for those friends, so they crush a final can and call it a night. Those other friends get distracted, phone batteries die, and they never show up. Around 4:00 AM, I take a cab to Seoul Station where there’s a 24 hour Korean sauna I can nap at, but first, I’m drunk and hungry, and McDonald’s has a large poster advertising a pair of Prosperity Burgers. What a better way for a lonely drunk to wash away any bad New Year’s Eve juju and prophesize well-being in the new year than a pair of foreign McRibs declaring themselves Prosperity Burgers?
The burgers have the familiar ladder shape of the McRib’s faux ribs, but to my almost horror, it’s made of beef (or a beef tasting substance) instead of pork (or a pork tasting substance). The Red is not spicy, and the Gold is more sickly sweet than garlicy, but the shape and composition is undeniable: they are McRibs. The bun and veggies are ultimately the same as an American McRib, which is both a relief and a disappointment.
But I’m spinning drunk at this point and GOD do they feel good. Chemically engineered in labs to hit all my pleasure zones, and the alcohol has left all of those zones wide open and waiting. A handful of fries and a coke and I’m not so much spinning drunk as swirling skyward on a savory, salty rocketship. “Wait,” I think, “I want to write about this later. What exactly do these taste like? How do they compare, how do they contrast? Perhaps a bite of one followed by a bite of the other and then back to the first,” but now my drunk-ass is just double fisting the Prosperity Burgers and washing them down with a coke balanced between my legs.
A homeless man walks by just as my hands get free. I immediately jump up and offer him the French fries in a celebratory spirit in an attempt to end my alcohol-laden mouth-hole’s caloric rampage. He only takes three, says thank you, and continues walking.
If the first few hours of the January 1st are supposed to be symbolic and indicative of the New Year, then between the night’s peak and trough, between Gold and Red Prosperity, between the old man’s three French fries, I have a lot to sift through and interpret.
The next morning, sitting dreary with a coffee outside of the sauna, I scroll through my Facebook feed. It’s filled with pictures of friends celebrating, hoping and making resolutions for the New Year. Many of them lament 2015. Globally, there’s been a lot to lament. Racism, bickering, internal squabbles, external squabbles, acts of injustice and acts of terrorism all over the world in the name of many different fucked up interpretations of creeds, religions and social media. “2016,” claimed many status updates, “is our year. Time to get real. 2016 will be different.”
In a way it won’t. As a society, we’ve left a lot of unfinished business and loose ends lying about in the run up to 2016. If anything, with the presidential election this year, passions and arguments will only intensify. But of course, it will be different. You can’t step in the same river twice, etc., etc. We know the challenges and have been given a clean slate with which to begin tackling them. Perhaps we will solve them. Perhaps we will end 2016 right where we ended 2015, with a better view and a whole lot of work to do. And perhaps we will find Prosperity in an unexpected way, at an unexpected hour, tasting like beef rather than pork, foreign yet familiar, and entirely satisfying.