“Cool to be Korean”

There are 14 consonants and 10 vowels in thje Korean language.

There are 14 consonants and 10 vowels in the Korean language.

My 13-year-old daughter had never expressed an interest in learning the Korean language until “Gangnam Style” by Psy, the Korean rapper, gained worldwide popularity. In her eyes, it was suddenly “cool to be Korean”.

Her question to me: how come you never learned Korean?

When we first came to Canada, my parents’ biggest obsession was for their children to learn English. We were even encouraged to speak it at home. I never stopped to think that we were sacrificing the Korean language in the process, especially because back then, all I wanted was to lose whatever was Korean about me.  I was in grade three when it hit me that I could lose my Asian last name by marrying someone white one day.

I keep thinking that it’s too late for me to learn to become completely fluent in Korean. Maybe. Maybe not. It would be wonderful to have access to Korean literature as it was written instead of in translation. The Korean language is beautiful and there are some phrases and expressions that don’t exist in English.

Worth checking out:

“toenails twinkle”

Dylan Thomas

I was riding the subway when a group of teenagers were reading and talking about the poem wedged between two ads. For over ten years, Poetry on the Way, has been placing short poems on TTC subways, cars, and streetcars in Toronto.

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation,” said one of the kids quoting, Dylan Thomas. I was most impressed!

Ever since I first read, “Do not go gentle into that good night” in high school, I’ve admired Thomas’ poetry.

Here are a few thoughts on poetry by Thomas worth passing along:

“A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him.”

“Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing.”

Creative waiting

I’ve never been good at waiting. It often leaves me feeling restless, impatient, and even anxious. I used to do a lot more waiting in the past – when I had to actually go into a bank to do my banking, when I took public transit everywhere, and when I used to hand-write letters, mail them off, and wait weeks or even months for a response.

I resented waiting because I didn’t have a choice but to endure it.

Most recently though, I’ve come to realize that as a writer I should appreciate the opportunities that come as a result of waiting. It’s the bald-headed cashier with the purple lipstick who will spark a story idea. Give her a name. A few idiosyncrasies. A temper. What would she do if she was forced to wait 40 minutes in a supermarket line, a crying baby and a mother who refuses to get off her cell phone behind her?

The writing circle

It’s been five years since I joined the 11th Floor Writers. Of all the benefits that I have reaped over the years, the following three are the most significant.

The circle has kept me a disciplined writer.

Because we have regular meetings, the circle has kept me motivated to write. We push each other as necessary to keep everyone working on something. The whole purpose of being in the group is to write and receive feedback. We work to move each other forward.

The circle has helped me better understand my writing strengths and needs.

Getting feedback is absolutely critical as a writer. Members point out discrepancies, and make recommendations to strengthen the submitted pieces of writing. My writing skills have also further developed by critically examining the works of other writers and trying to provide meaningful and constructive feedback.

 Because we meet face-to-face, friendships have formed over the years.

Friendships with other writers have become especially important to me as I evolve in this craft. Fellow writers who believe in each other and encourage each other to forge ahead is critical when we become unmotivated or uninspired to write.

Five years ago, I submitted a raw first chapter to the circle. It was a humbling experience. Over the course of several years, I have worked through an entire novel manuscript. In June 2012, this manuscript won The Marina Nemat Award, a writing award from the University of Toronto. I attribute much of my growth as a writer to the ongoing support and guidance I get by being a member of a strong and inspired writing circle.

[This entry also appears on the 11th Floor Writers’ blog. Click here.]

Koreans here and there

I was surprised to see so many books about North Korea in the Social Science section at Chapters, the bookstore. I picked up Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick.

Nothing to Envy chronicles the lives of six North Koreans – a teenage couple secretly in love, a female doctor, a homeless boy, a factory worker, and her rebellious daughter – over a period of fifteen years.

My fascination with the lives of ordinary North Koreans grew after hearing about a friend’s son who, upon turning 18, actually visited the country on his own. I’m sure that he stood out. He’s over six feet tall with strawberry blond hair! It was fascinating to hear about his visit, and I couldn’t help but think about the stark contrast between the lives of North and South Koreans. It also got me thinking about the lives of Korean-Canadians which again is so different from the two Koreas.

 

We need more of this…

Noranbang: The Yellow Room,” is written by M.J. Kang, a Korean-born playwright. I found her play in a collection of contemporary Asian-Canadian drama entitled, “Love + Relasianships.”

“Noranbang” is about a Korean family living in Toronto, Canada, during the late 1970s. This is only the second play that I’ve read by a playwright of Korean heritage with a story set in Canada.  I especially enjoyed seeing the Korean words and phrases woven throughout the dialogue. I wish such books and plays existed when I was a child, or if they did, I had known about them. I was never exposed to any books by Asian writers in either high school or university. I hadn’t even thought to think about them.

The other plays in this collection are: “Yellow Fever” by R.A. Shiomi, “Bachelor-Man” by Winston Christopher Kim, “Maggie’s Last Dance” by Marty Chan, “Mother’s Tongue” by Better Quan, and “The Plum Tree” by Mitch Miyagawa.

Creative confidence

I watched a great TEDtalks video entitled, “How to build your creative confidence.” David Kelly provides some interesting insights on developing creative confidence, overcoming phobias and achieving self-efficacy (the belief that we can deal with any challenges that life presents us).

I especially appreciated his comment that we are all “naturally creative” in our own unique way. Unfortunately, that belief is too often quashed by others, even if unintended. I once worked in a daycare where the teacher insisted that clouds could not be purple and had a four-year old re-colour all of them.