from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Entry #33: A Tree in Seoul

with 2 comments

I had no weekend last week. Or rather, I spent the weekend on what the translation institute that sponsors my translation class called a “Literature Travelogue,” a long-winded way of saying a trip with a bunch of strangers to wander around a mountain wood for over three hours, ride around in a bus with no air conditioning, and listen to a fifty-something Korean man ramble on and on about random facts about the area and its flora, history, writing, life, and anything else he could think of.

The reason we listened to the man was because he was the author of the short story we have spent the past two months translating, “Cheot-nun.” The places where he gave these long, meandering talks were supposed to have some relation to the story, perhaps to provide insight into the thoughts and actions of the protagonist, the man, although I still can’t see the connection. I guess I lack the imagination. The only thing I kept thinking was, “When is this guy going to stop talking?”

It made me question myself. Writers are storytellers and so I guess it’s natural that a writer would have a lot to say. The problem is that I’m not a talker. In fact, social situations and simple conversation wear me out. I only work sixteen hours a week, but a great portion of those sixteen hours require me to talk and I find it extremely tiring. I haven’t met too many writers but I’m hoping that there is a second group of successful writers who don’t talk at all. Because it is another reason why I write. Writing is the only way a person like me, a mute anti-social, to express myself.

Before dinner last Saturday, the author was standing in front of Songyang Elementary School talking about life, love, and writing when he was a student at the school. I sat atop the jungle gym, the metal bar digging a crease into my aching backside, smoking and trying to pay attention. Everyone else was standing around him in a mass huddle, asking questions.

“Were you a good writer when you were in elementary school?” some lady asked. I thought the question was ridiculous. Just because your parents put your paper on the refrigerator doesn’t mean it’s literature. But I guess that’s the point. In sessions like this in Korea, it’s more about ass-kissing than learning something useful.

“When I was in elementary school, I entered a writing contest. I didn’t win.” He paused here so the huddle could have time to laugh. “Actually, I didn’t win anything for a long time. It wasn’t until much, much later that I was recognized. Later, my teacher came to me and asked if I had won a prize and I said no. My teacher said, ‘You grow trees at home, right?’ and I said, ‘Yes, we have plum trees in our yard.’ My teacher then said, ‘Sunweon, the trees that bloom first don’t bear fruit.’”

It was the only thing I took away from the trip. As a writer, I had a late start and still have a way to go. As for the book, it’s something I’m hoping is true. My previous editor encouraged me to send off my previous draft to publishers and I am getting tired of hearing, “When’s the book coming out?” But I want to take my time and finish something I can be satisfied with. It’s the reason why I’m spending a hungover Saturday night sitting in the coffee shop.

The thing is, for some trees, you just have to be patient and they will bear fruit eventually, but for other trees, they will never bear fruit no matter how long you wait. I guess only time will tell what kind of tree I am.


2 Responses

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  1. I hope you’re the kind of tree that grows money.

    Kevin Kim

    May 22, 2011 at 10:33 am

    • Wouldn’t that be grand?
      I’m hoping I’m not one of those trees that takes centuries to grow to maturity.


      May 25, 2011 at 12:14 pm

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