Archive for November, 2011

samulnori and other adventures

Posted: November 28, 2011 in stories

The last three weeks have been filled with fun. Let’s review.

It all started when my co-worker asked me to come over for dinner with her family. I went and we had a great time, eating and talking. I met a new teacher from another school and we watched kun-heung’s video of his students doing Nanta! and Heung Bu Nol Bu. Nanta!, you can Google. Like a Korean stew, it contains little bits of everything: music (percussive), dance, martial arts, audience participation, and FOOD! The way these students did it, though, they used some traditional Korean instruments, including a two-sided drum called a janggu (pictured below).

by *hattori-hanzo-2010

Heung Bu Nol Bu is a Korean folk tale about two brothers. Heung Bu is poor, and Nol Bu is wealthy. Heung Bu saves a bird from a snake in his garden one day. He binds the bird’s broken leg and is rewarded with a magic seed. The seed grows into a great gourd with treasure inside. Seeking to replicate the experiment, Nol Bu breaks a bird’s leg and ties it together, hoping for the same magic seed. The bird instead gives him a seed for a gourd filled with demons.

The next day, we went together to see a play with my co-worker’s extended family. Her sister had written and acted in this play about three brothers who meet their ends and exact revenge on the evil queen who killed them. It’s a kid’s play. The second play we saw was the tale of Oneri, who searches everywhere for her parents. The small theater was packed! The costumes were bright and beautiful, and I got my picture taken with the cast! I slept in Daejon that night after a game of pool with kun-heung and chagun-heung. The next day, the family made us a wonderful breakfast and I set out by train to Seoul to meet with my friends from St. Louis, Baltimore and Houston.

The next Friday, our samulnori team performed. We had been practicing for months, and it all came down to two performances at the Jinpo elementary school festival. I was one of the janggu players. At the previous practice, my teacher asked me, “do you think you played well?” I answered, “No. At first I did not miss a beat. The second time, I started making mistakes. The third time my arms were so tired I could barely play.” She told me: “Did you notice? You are playing too hard. You need to relax more.” Story of my life!

We ate delicious food after the performance. It consisted of some nice seafood and galbi in a kind of spicy broth with many vegetables.

After that, I went to the house of my “Korean family”. There I had a second dinner. It was so tasty that I told them, “My stomach is saying ha-ji-mah! ha-ji-mah!(translation: stop! stop!) but my mouth is saying mah-shi-tah! mah-shi-ta!(translation: delicious! delicious!) They all had a good laugh about that.

For Saturday and Sunday, I  just wrote. It was nice. I finished a contest (see previous post) but I don’t want to lose momentum. Now that my life is matching my previous aspirations, reading and writing have become easier and more interesting for me.

On Wednesday, our teachers went on a road trip to the temple in Gochang. On the ride up, my co-worker told me, “on field trips, the teachers become like students.” And they did!

We hiked up to the temple in the cold and passed a very important bridge. Around the temple there are Camillia trees, big bushy trees with perennial dark green leaves and red flowers that bloom either in spring, autumn or winter. We saw some chu-baek (autumn bloomers). In the middle of the temple there is a persimmons tree that, I was told, is “only for the bird’s snack.” There are some very large golden Buddhas inside, and incredible old paintings on the walls, mostly of dragons. It was explained to me that the Buddhists originated the term “samulnori”, and the sitting style of playing these instruments is very new. The traditional Korean style is to march or stand while others dance with head ribbons.

This weekend I went to a murder mystery theater show put on by a chapter of the world’s largest African-American sorority. It was a held at the military base in Ichon. The show was ridiculously funny. I didn’t know murder mystery was supposed to be so funny, or so interactive! The setting was a high school reunion, so the entire audience became grads of 1991. As soon as we came in the door, we were greeted by enthusiastic people pretending to be in our grad class. Lots of “What have you been up to?” Our table didn’t choose the right killer because the secret clue was “Elizabeth Taylor” and I must confess I don’t think about her too often.

This brings us to Saturday night. I went to the jimjilbang (sauna and hot tub house) with a couple friends and met an interesting fellow, a former Marine, who was sort of hiding from the Western world here. He had a handful of years left of his career and was looking to find a home in Asia, either in Japan or Korea.

One aspect of Korea he liked was the “respect for authority” that seems to be missing in the States. I wonder about these things. Is the respect for authority enforced heavily, or does it come naturally? Is there really more obedience in Korea than in the US?

Given the cultural activities I have participated in, I wonder: what cultural activities would someone participate in if they went to the US? Do they have enough community-mindedness and local culture to keep their citizenry occupied? I feel that the sense of united community here helps to generate respect. I wonder if our Western communities are too divided.

Many foreigners I know choose not to participate in the Korean culture. They want to do what they did back in America: go to the bar, get drunk, flirt, go home alone, and pass out, every weekend without fail. I’m not saying this is what all foreigners do, or even that there’s anything wrong with it. I appreciate the warmth of a good buzz.

I just found that the ritual got a little monotonous after doing it only a few times. It didn’t take long until I really wanted to see what this place was all about. As soon as I opened my mind to it, I have had weeks filled with experiences and adventures, taking me all around this country and discovering new sensory pleasures!

I used to think of this as a job. Now it has become my life. All of a sudden I want to travel, and I don’t care how many photographs are taken. I want to get lost to find myself! (clichés unite!) I want to taste the delicious fruits and feel the soothing rain!

That brings us to last night. I met with Kristina, and Jay, who has spent some time in Australia (so her English is quite good). We went to a place called “All-American Diner” where I ate vegetables heated up from the freezer (crinkle-cut carrots! Yay! I felt like I was in America!) and drank water. We talked for a while and then we helped decorate their Christmas tree. I was fortunate enough to put the “Merry Christmas” in the branches. It was so American! Do the Americans only celebrate Christmas? I’m not sure what it’s like in the melting pot. Anyway. It was a quick ride back to Gunsan and a restful, dream-filled sleep.

I feel like a child, seeing things for the first time with a brand new set of eyes. I realize now that I could not be forced to enter a beautiful world. I had to see it for myself. I wonder… how could I show you?


novel writing contest

Posted: November 26, 2011 in stories

Yay, I “won” NaNoWriMo.

That means I wrote 50k words in the month of November. It theoretically also means that I have a novel sitting on my desktop waiting to be published.

I write in a genre called “magical realism”. Popular authors include Angela Carter and Toni Morrison. The actual works of magical realism are better known than the genre itself.

Here’s my shiny new badge.

Look for my book in a  bookstore near you.

the supreme ordeal

Posted: November 15, 2011 in stories

What is your supreme ordeal? What is your major obstacle?

Please be honest, for your own sake. Some might say: “People tell me I am a perfectionist. I suppose it’s true, I do tend to do everything right all the time and I am judgmental of those who don’t.”

That’s not really an obstacle. Nor is: “I am a misunderstood genius,” “I tell the truth too much” or “I am too emotionally honest.”

Are you admitting your weakness or just boasting a strength that no one can accept?

Strive for perfection, but apply it to your own life and set an example. Use your genius, but find a way to translate it in a way that people can understand. Your “truth” is but one truth, and perhaps you should try opening yourself to the possibility of other truths. Emotional honesty repels the insincere. These are not faults, they are guiding lights.

PS: (click me)

the stakes

Posted: November 14, 2011 in stories

I’ve been reading about writing and as a result the one question I have whenever I read a novel is “What are the stakes?”

“What are the stakes?” goes beyond the traditional plot structures. As useful as those well-studied graphs and taxonomies might be, I usually think of the stakes as being summed up in the title of the book. If they are not, I wonder why that title was chosen.

For instance, in “The Art of Dreaming” many conflicts occur, but what is at stake is the art of dreaming: Can Don Juan’s disciple perfect the ability to dream and explore the worlds within him that seem also to be part of an outer world full of mystery and intrigue? Furthermore, can the reader also learn the lessons of the art of dreaming vicariously through Castaneda’s document of a young man’s strange experience?

Every time someone picks up this book, the words chosen for the title will ring in that person’s mind. I am reading the Art of Dreaming. What’s at stake? The very fabric of the inner part of the soul of my mind and how it processes and interprets reality!

Every character in the book will be focusing on the stakes. So what’s at stake?




A coherent plot cannot exist where there are no stakes. Characters have no reason to do anything without any stakes.

The more one contemplates the stakes in a narrative, the more one can think of what’s at stake in life, and how many things are obscuring us from attaining our goals.

the setting

Posted: November 11, 2011 in stories

My mom decided to open a shop when I was a teenager. She didn’t have a business degree. She was a certified practitioner in Reiki and Shiatsu, a semi-precious stone specialist, and chiefly, a professional journalist, publisher and editor with her MFA in creative writing.

She opened Melvyn’s Living Room, a curio shop by day and the Okanagan Institute by night. She invited her friends to come teach classes. They held workshops for a variety of things including journalism, storytelling, comic book writing, screenwriting, creative writing, alternative healing, chakras, crystals, African drumming, and improvisational comedy; they held smudge ceremonies, crystal bowl concerts, holiday get-togethers, and several other events. We became experts in the otherworldly, the realm of both writing and the metaphysical.

With no business plan, too much overhead and not enough underneath, the business folded. It was never really supposed to be a successful business; it was supposed to be an amazing one.

To this day I wish I had not been a part of making the big decisions. My mom trusted the advice of everyone, a yes-only kind of attitude that has both expanded her periphery and disappointed her greatly. Maybe if the shop had continued the way it was, a  humble space on Westside Road, before we got lost in the small city of Kelowna, it would have become profitable one day.

A new movement of teachers has taken up the franchise of the Okanagan Institute. They hold their meetings (which are well-attended) at the Bohemian Bagel Café in my former hometown of Kelowna, BC, Canada.

I am on the other side of the planet, yet I still think about those amazing nights in that little shop where we learned the secrets of the world, the world I am now surrounded with.