from the Korean Army to being published

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

Random #54: Eo-jin and the Bandoneón

with 6 comments

When I walk into the bar, I’m greeted by a handful of friendly faces. It’s been a while since Alley was like this. Most of the regulars stopped coming, one by one, until I was the last man standing, the last man nursing a beer at the bar hoping that Tae will offer up a shot of whisky on the house before my bottle is empty. The golden age of this bar, if that time could be considered a golden age, was years ago. I have long since given up hope that a renaissance would take root but maybe today will be a brief revisitation of that time. In the semi-darkness, I notice that someone has blocked my path and that someone is the reason for the reunion.

When I first met Eo-jin, she was sitting at the bar with a half-empty fifth of Macallan keeping her company. I took a seat a few places farther down the bar. While I appreciate women who appreciate alcohol—and single malt Scotch, at that—I’m the type of guy who respects other people’s space and hopes they do the same. Besides, I had finally found a bar I could wind down in after a long session of writing where I didn’t feel forced to talk to anyone and wasn’t annoyed by the music.

Hyeong,” Tae called out from behind the bar. “Say hello to Eo-jin. She’s another regular here. Our VIP.”

I bowed my awkward bow and she returned it less awkwardly.

“You guys are the same age,” Tae added, which meant that we’re automatically friends by Korean standards.

We got to talking and, both being regulars, we would run into each other at Alley several times a week. She’d often take pity on the poor guy nursing the second cheapest beer on the menu and share from the bottle of whisky or vodka she always had sitting in front of her. Occasionally we’d drink until closing and head out together with the bartenders and have another drink or a late meal.

As the months turned into a year and neared a second, her visits became less and less frequent, months apart. When asked about her absenteeism, she replied that she was picking up the bandoneón, It’s like an accordion, she said, but with buttons instead of keys and played in Latin America. There was a sparkle in her eye as she talked about the instrument that nobody in the bar ever heard of. When she stopped coming altogether, it was clear that the bandoneón was a jealous thing, demanding all of her time.

It was a week earlier that Tae told me that Eo-jin was coming back to Alley, not as a customer but as a performer. She was going to have her first show playing the bandoneón at Alley.

“Hey,” I say as I approach her, holding out my hand. “It’s been a long time.”

She shakes my hand excitedly. “Thanks. I wasn’t sure if you’d come.”

“Of course I’d show up. We have an arrangement.”

The show is a one-woman show. A woman and her bandoneón. I’m blown away. It can’t have been more than a year since she first picked up the instrument and she’s killing it. She has the bandoneón on her lap and she’s swaying as she pulls and pushes while pressing the buttons on both ends. The tinny, airy notes ebb and flow in the lingering melodies and sudden flurries of the tango; it’s almost as if the bandoneón is drawing the atmosphere of the bar in and out with each breath.

My awe is mixed with feelings of inadequacy. I’ve been slacking lately. Revisions have been sluggish and demoralizing. There are hundreds of pages to re-write and I’m working at a pace of a couple sentences a day. I need to work harder. I need to stop fucking around and start moving forward again.

On one of the last times we drank together, Eo-jin and I were talking about our respective goals, the bandoneón for her and writing for me, a pair of thirty-somethings still talking about our dreams.

“I hope things work out with the… what’s it called… bandoleon?”

“Bandoneón. I’m going to work hard. You have to succeed with your writing, too.”

“We’ll see.”

“Let’s make a promise.”

“A promise? What kind of promise?”

“Let’s promise that we’ll meet each other again when we become great, you with your writing and me with the bandoneón.”


We shook hands then, too. To be honest, I thought that I had plenty of time, at least two or three years. I realize I was wrong as I watch her with her bandoneón, leaving me behind in a cloud of my own cigarette smoke and wasted hours and discarded words. It’s time to get back to work. I have a promise to keep.


Written by Young

November 22, 2012 at 7:38 pm

6 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Great post. Good luck as you keep that promise, and Happy Thanksgiving. WORK HARD. Thanks to your blog, people are watching. And maybe judging.

    Kevin Kim

    November 22, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    • Happy Thanksgiving, Kevin. It’s weird. I completely forgot today was Thanksgiving until I went on the Internet. It’s too bad because all the places that serve Thanksgiving dinner here, you have to make a reservation. No turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing for me this year. Damn.

      I’m in a slump right now. Revisions are getting me down. Almost to the point where I want to completely re-write about 300 pages. The pressure is all in my head but I’m feeling it.

      I hope the SKK position works out. It seems like a good opportunity.


      November 22, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    • I know that I have a problem with never being satisfied but this time (I think) it’s legitimate. I feel like I grow a lot as a writer with each draft and the me at the end of the writing is never satisfied with the writing of me at the beginning. Now I can see a lot of places where the story doesn’t really work or the writing doesn’t drive the story forward.

      It’s true, however, that I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself. If it ever makes it to getting published (or self-published), it’ll be my first book and I want to start off strong. I don’t want my first novel to be tainted by thoughts like, “Isn’t this the guy who wrote that shitty memoir?”

      Of course, you’re right. Revisions have become a pain and I’ve somehow lost the joy of writing somewhere along the way. I was driving home today and an idea I had for my first novel somehow clicked. I’ve re-started it and it feels good to make progress on that.


      December 4, 2012 at 6:24 pm

  2. Revisions are hard. I think it took me almost a year to rewrite, and now I’m getting ready to rewrite (at least the first few chapters) again. Ugh.


    November 24, 2012 at 9:59 am

    • I think that’s exactly why I’m not producing right now; the task is so daunting. I’ve already spent a year revising my last draft and ending up throwing it away.

      Good luck with your rewriting. Hope there’s good news in the future for both of us.


      November 25, 2012 at 8:00 pm

      • Thanks for the well-wishes re: SKKU.

        It’s trite, but I’ve heard it said that one should never “let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Maybe ease up on yourself, tone down the perfectionism, as you handle those revisions. Enjoy the process.

        OK, I’ll shut up now.

        Kevin Kim

        December 2, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: