Category Archives: Korea

Waiting Room Reading

While waiting for my husband’s radiation treatments this week, I read and/or listened to two books and a short story. In all honesty, I did not sit in the waiting room (Covid restrictions), but found a very nice bench for my waiting right outside the clinic.

I started my RIP-XVI challenge early because of this opportune time to read, and I actually enjoyed my waiting time. This challenge is divided into different “Perils” you can choose — “Peril of the Fiction;”  “Peril of the Short Story;”  “Peril of the Screen;”  “Peril of the Group Read;”  “Peril of the Listen;” and “Peril of the Real.”  So obviously, there’s room for all kinds of spooky and mysterious reading and viewing choices!

For “Peril of the Fiction,” I read another book in a fun mystery series that I’m slowly rereading.  Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief, by Dorothy Gilman, was the 10th book in the series. Many of the usual characters from earlier in the series showed up in this one, with some fun twists. Mrs. Pollifax, elderly member of the local garden club and accomplished spy, was up to her usual brilliant mystery solving. I laughed out loud in the scene where she karate-chopped (one at a time) a whole group of bad guys trying to push their way into the safe haven she and her colleagues were sheltering in. Mrs. Pollifax is a trained operative that should not be messed with!

For “Peril of the Short Story,”  I listened to the short story, Hero, by Susan Hill. It’s a back-story to her Simon Serrailler series, and tells the story of an event that happened when Simon was a rookie cop. I really enjoyed it. No, I haven’t read the series yet, so I thought I’d start with this short story. I’ve read a number of other books by Susan Hill and like her writing very much, so I look forward to reading this series at some point.

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In the evenings this week, Hubby and I have been watching a Korean urban dark fantasy series called “Tale of the Nine-Tailed,” and it fits right in with “Peril of the Screen.” It is a story based on Korean folklore about  “mythical nine-tailed fox, or gumiho, Lee Yeon had to settle in the city many centuries ago. Able to transform into human form, he eradicates supernatural beings that threaten the mortal world. His real aim is to find the reincarnation of his lost first love.”  It’s been a great entertainment during a busy and stressful week.

Mid-August and Hunkered Down

Birdwatching and watching the birdwatchers. Plus, smoky air!

We are well into mid-August and the usual heat of summer has been replaced by the especially miserable record-breaking heat, drought, fire, and smoky air. We do all our errands in the early morning, occasionally picking up a cup of coffee at Starbucks and then hanging out at Fern Hill Wetlands watching the birds and the birdwatchers. Then, it’s home to hunker down as the heat of the day builds up and the air becomes worse. And I must add that the hunkering down is also part of our daily protection plan for my husband’s compromised immune system during this time of raging variants!

So, all that sounds pretty grim, but the nice thing about it all is that we are getting a lot of reading done, are enjoying watching our current K-drama during the day instead of after dinner, and are having fun trying out new recipes. Adjust and Adapt!

Woman Reading, by Henri Ottmann

Books read and enjoyed in the last few weeks:

A Song for Lonely Wolves, by Lee Evie. The first book in a new mystery/detective series that takes place during the Joseon Dynasty in Korean history. The main character is a talented young female detective during a period of time when women were not valued. A very interesting historical fiction mystery. I’m looking forward to reading on in the series when the new books come out.

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Notes on Grief is a short book by Chimamanga Ngozi Adichie about the death of her father during the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown last year. (He did not die of Covid.) It is a beautifully written account of his sudden death and the grief that followed, complicated by the restrictions of the pandemic. “I am writing about my father in the past tense, and I cannot believe I am writing about my father in the past tense.”  It is a deeply personal, yet completely universal, story, and I appreciated her honesty and her sharing her grief with us. I wrote down many quotes from this book because I know they will give me strength later on.   “Grief was the celebration of love, those who could feel real grief were lucky to have loved.”

My emotions are like a roller coaster these days, since my husband’s diagnosis. We have days that are “mostly normal” and days where waves of sadness hit us hard. So after reading Notes on Grief, I decided to return to the kind and gentle world of Miss Read’s Fairacre. I picked up the 15th volume in the series, Village Centenary, and read it through in a short few days. It was an absolute delight, and exactly what my soul needed. In this book, the village celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the village school. Most of the residents of Fairacre went to the school, and the town comes together to honor the old school with a wonderful celebration at the end of the year. “There was no doubt about it, Fairacre School was the heart of our village, and memories of their own schooldays quickened the adults’ response to this tribute to its hundred years.”  What a lovely series, and this was one of my favorites of the ones I’ve read so far.

We are currently enjoying watching the South Korean drama, Bossam: Steal the Fate. It’s a highly entertaining series about a man of the Joseon Dynasty who mistakenly kidnaps the widowed daughter of the king. Bossam” was a “customary remarriage procedure” during that period of time. “A widow could not remarry. A single man or widower would kidnap the widow and marry her. Some of the kidnappings were agreed upon in advance and others were by force.” So a man could be hired to do the kidnapping, but things went awry with this particular job!  It is both humorous and serious, with wonderful acting, costuming, and filming — just a fun and very addictive historical drama.

Aside from reading and watching historical South Korean dramas, keeping my garden alive in the heat this summer has been a full-time job. I have to get it all watered before the heat builds up, so I start early and finish before noon. Fortunately, my zinnias like the heat!

 

 

The Living Reed

It is our fate, lying as we do between many powers, to be influenced to an extent by all and many. It is our task to accept and reject, to weld and mingle and out of our many factions to create ourselves, the One, an independent nation.

Pearl S. Buck is one of my favorite authors. Her writing is elegant, and she’s a consummate storyteller. With my new fascination with all things Korea, I was particularly interested in reading her novel, The Living Reed: A Novel of Korea. It has taken me awhile to read it because I’m much slower reading actual books these days (eye fatigue) and it was not available on audiobook. But I’m glad I stuck with it, reading a little bit each day, and therefore enjoying it even more than if I had rushed through it.

from the publisher:

“The year was 4214 after Tangun of Korea, and 1881 after Jesus of Judea.” So begins Pearl S. Buck’s The Living Reed, an epic historical novel seen through the eyes of four generations of Korean aristocracy.

As the chronicle begins, the Kims are living comfortably as advisors to the Korean royal family. But that world is torn apart with the Japanese invasion, when the queen is killed and the Kims are thrust into hiding. Through their story, Buck traces the country’s journey from the late nineteenth century through the end of the Second World War.

The story begins with Il-han, scholar and advisor to the queen. In order to be a better advisor, he leaves his family and travels around Korea. Throughout his travels, he finds a deep love for his country and his people.

With what words shall a man tell of love for his country? Before he was conceived in his mother’s womb, Il-han was conceived in the earth of his native land. His ancestors had created him through their life. The air they breathed, the waters they drank, the fruits they ate, belonged to the earth and from their dust he was born.

…He went his way swiftly then, content to do so as he perceived each day now fully the quality of his people. They were brave, they were strong, enduring hardship not only with courage but with a noble gaiety. Expecting nothing either of gods or rulers, they were grateful for small good fortune. Their strength was in themselves and in one another. They could be cruel and they were kind. They fought nature in storm and cold and under bleak skies, but they fought side by side and together. He loved them.

His sons become the next focus of the story, and their story is of the transition from the brutal ending of the Joseon period through invasion by the Japanese. Despite rebellion and revolution, the new order in the 1900s became a long occupation and suppression of the Korean culture. My husband and I had recently watched the Korean drama, Mr. Sunshine, which takes place during this transition time in Korea. It is a series (on Netflix) well worth watching — beautifully written and filmed! It provided a wonderful visual understanding of that tumultuous period of time, and went beautifully with Ms. Buck’s epic story.

The surviving son of Il-han became a revolutionary, and his story, and the story of his son, takes us through the Second World War, with all the complexities of the struggle for Korean independence. A conversation between the old scholar and his son best described the strength of the Korean people over time, and why they survived continual invasion and oppression by the surrounding countries.

“I remember the day my brother was born, and I broke the bamboo shoots, and you told me they would never come up again. You were right, of course, those broken shoots did not grow again. Hollow reeds, you called them. I felt my heart ready to break at what I had done. But then you told me that other reeds would come up to take their place. And every spring I went to the bamboo grove to see if what you said was true. It was always true.”

…“What do you tell me?” Il-han demanded. “This,” Yul-chun said, “that if you never see me again, or never hear my name again, remember—I am only a hollow reed. Yet if I am broken, hundreds take my place—living reeds!”

This book was truly an epic story, and knowing very little about Korean history, I enjoyed learning about it through Pearl Buck’s research and insightful understanding of the culture and character of the Korean people.

This book was one of my choices on my list of 50 books in 5 years for The Classics Club. It is also part of my personal challenge to read the works of Pearl Buck. And it add to my education about Korea!

Crying in H Mart

This week I’ve been listening to the audiobook, Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner, also narrated by the author. It’s been a very moving experience which has touched my heart in many different ways.

It is a memoir of a young woman, a talented musician (her band is called Japanese Breakfast) and the only daughter of a Korean mother and an American father. It is the story of her growing up between two cultures, of her relationship with her mother, and of the loss of her mother to cancer.  It is a very honest and introspective book as she described the struggles between mother and teenage daughter, mother and young adult daughter, and the struggle to establish her own identity. It is a story of growth and grief, and of love and loss.

Her experiences were both unique and universal. I identified with many of the struggles of her teenage years (from my perspective as both a daughter and a mother), and I was fascinated with her cultural and language struggles with extended family. Michelle had just reached young adulthood when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. It was just at the time when her relationship with her mother began to settle into a more adult closeness after the struggles of the teenage years. The descriptions of her mother’s decline and death were heart wrenching, and I found myself in tears numerous times. I couldn’t help but remember and compare my own mother’s death three years ago, and appreciate once again what a kind death my mother had in comparison to the death of Michelle’s mother to the ravages of cancer with it’s prolonged decline. I just wanted to reach out and hug her and tell her how much I admire her honesty and the courage she showed in dealing with that devastating experience.

Michelle’s writing is beautiful. She is not only a talented musician, but is a very talented writer. I am hoping she continues to tell stories because I will look for and read any book she writes. This book is currently on the New York Times best seller list, so there was a long wait for it at the library. But I enjoyed listening to her own voice narrating it, so I highly recommend listening to the audiobook.

A favorite quote from the book:

I’ve just never met someone like you,” as if I were a stranger from another town or an eccentric guest accompanying a mutual friend to a dinner party. It was a strange thought to hear from the mouth of the woman who had birthed and raised me, with whom I shared a home for eighteen years, someone who was half me. My mother had struggled to understand me just as I struggled to understand her. Thrown as we were on opposite sides of a fault line—generational, cultural, linguistic—we wandered lost without a reference point, each of us unintelligible to the other’s expectations, until these past few years when we had just begun to unlock the mystery, carve the psychic space to accommodate each other, appreciate the differences between us, linger in our refracted commonalities. Then, what would have been the most fruitful years of understanding were cut violently short, and I was left alone to decipher the secrets of inheritance without its key.

An after-reading-the-book experience:

Food was a huge part of her relationship with her mother, so H Mart was an important part of this book. I had never heard of H Mart before, but since the author grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and the H Mart there is the one she wrote about, I thought it would be interesting to perhaps visit that particular store. In searching for it on the internet, I discovered that there are numerous stores even closer to home, so my sweet husband and I drove to Tigard yesterday morning for our first-ever shopping trip to H Mart. Yesterday’s pilgrimage won’t be our last, though, because we were thrilled with the produce and enjoyed shopping there. We came home with some wonderful baby bok choy, a fine looking napa cabbage, a variety of wonderful greens, some new instant noodles to try out, and all the regular weekly items on our shopping list.  And since Korean food was such an important part of the book, I picked up the ingredients to try a new recipe I found for Korean Noodles with Black Bean Sauce. Yum!

Currently Reading: The Living Reed

“The year was 4214 after Tangun of Korea, and 1881 after Jesus of Judea.” So begins Pearl S. Buck’s The Living Reed, an epic historical novel seen through the eyes of four generations of Korean aristocracy.”

I am completely caught up in Pearl S. Buck’s, The Living Reed: A Novel of Korea. Her writing is so elegant, and her storytelling carries you away. That’s why I love reading her novels.

Hanok: The Korean House

My husband is a retired architect, so we are always interested in finding wonderful ‘coffee-table books’ about different architectural styles, projects, etc. So we were both excited when I found a book about the historical and traditional Korean house. Hanok: The Korean House, by Nani Park and Robert J. Fouser is full of gorgeous photographs and very interesting information about the traditional Hanok and the modern updated versions that are so popular right now in Seoul. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and learned a lot about both historical and modern Korean culture.  

From the author:

My aim in this book is to expand readers’ awareness of Korea by adding another word, one that is an integral part of Korean architectural history and, with it, culture. The word is hanok and it refers to the traditional wooden house structure that originated in the Joseon Dynasty in the late fourteenth century.

From the publisher:

Hanok: The Korean House provides new insights on the stylish traditional Korean homes that are experiencing a resurgence of popularity in Seoul today. While the exteriors of these houses are indistinguishable from traditional hanok built decades ago, the insides have entirely changed and adapted with the times. Korea is a nation that has radically transformed itself in recent decades, yet amidst the glass-and-steel skyscrapers and luxury apartments, the Korean design of the hanok still survives and plays a surprisingly important role. This book showcases 12 very special hanok that have been selected to reflect the Korea of today.

The original hanok design has not changed. Traditional craftsman-made materials of stone, wood, and clay are still the only components used in these houses. They also incorporate natural elements such as wind and sunlight, and baesanimsu(better known in its Chinese form as feng shui) is used to position the hanok in harmony with the natural forces and geographical features of the site. Each hanok has a unique story to tell, and this book studies the personality of each house from the point of view of its owners, many of whom are talented devotees of Korean architecture themselves.

The photographs in this book are just beautiful. Two favorite examples are below.

I also loved the names given to many of the Hanoks. Here are two examples that I thought were wonderful.

We have a huge old Cedar tree in the corner of our yard, and I immediately thought that we should name our house, “House Cherishing an Old Cedar Tree as a Lifelong Friend.”

This is a fun read for anyone who enjoys reading about architecture or looking at house books of all kinds, and for anyone who is interested in Korean culture.

The Bukchon Hanok Village, a neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea.

A New Fascination: Korea

Seoul, South Korea

During this long year of quarantine for the COVID-19 pandemic, my husband and I discovered the pleasurable “escape” of watching South Korean dramas. Our 14-year-old Grandson is a great BTS fan, and is interested in learning the language, so we were on alert for all things Korean. I don’t remember exactly how we found it, but we watched our first K-drama, enjoyed it immensely, and then continued on from there. For us, it has been a refreshing change of pace from the things we had been watching, a fun connection with our Grandson’s interests, and the discovery of a new interest in Korean culture and history.

That interest lead us both to expand our “escape” by starting to read and learn more about the history and culture of Korea, about which we knew next to nothing. It’s been a lot of fun for us, so I wanted to set up this page on my blog so I can keep track of our Korean learning journey.

Please check back here occasionally to see what we’ve been reading, watching, and listening to. The list keeps expanding!

감사합니다. 

BOOKS/AUDIOBOOKS read:

  1. South Korea 101, by Mancho Soto
  2. Korea, by Simon Winchester
  3. Korea: A Very Short Introduction, by Michael J. Seth
  4. The Birth of Korean Cool, by Euny Hong
  5. Hanok, The Korean House, by Nani Park and Robert J. Fouser
  6. Stone House on Jeju Island, by Brenda Paik Sunoo
  7. A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park
  8. The Kite Fighters, by Linda Sue Park
  9. The Seesaw Girl, by Linda Sue Park
  10. The Firekeeper’s Son, by Linda Sue Park
  11. The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See
  12. Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
  13. The Living Reed, by Pearl S. Buck

K-DRAMAS we have watched:

  1. Crash Landing On You (my favorite, so far)
  2. Misaeng
  3. Stranger
  4. Stranger 2
  5. My Mister
  6. Run On
  7. Hospital Playlist
  8. Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung
  9. The Good Detective
  10. Signal
  11. Mr. Sunshine
  12. Prison Playbook
  13. Designated Survivor: 60 Days
  14. Sisyphus: The Myth
  15. Live Up to Your Name
  16. The Legend of the Blue Sea
  17. My Country: The New Age
  18. Man to Man
  19. Let’s Eat
  20. Guardian: The Great and Lonely God (Goblin) (Hubby’s favorite so far, although we both loved this one!)
  21. Hotel Del Luna
  22. Move To Heaven
  23. Laipeu (Life)
  24. The King: Eternal Monarch
  25. Touch Your Heart
  26. Descendants of the Sun
  27. Bossam: Steal the Fate
  28. Tale of the Nine-Tailed
  29. Tunnel

Movies:

  1. Space Sweepers
  2. Minari
  3. The PIrates
  4. Sori: Voice From the Heart
  5. Welcome to Dongmakgol (A very moving film about being human, during war.)
  6. Tiger Spirit, (a documentary about reunification of North and South Korea, by Min Sook Lee)
  7. North Korea, Michael Palin’s Journey (documentary tv series)

Music and Musicians I am enjoying listening to:

  1. Park Hyo shin  “Goodbye” (link to YouTube)
  2. Taeyeon  “Rain”  (link to YouTube)
  3. Jung Seung Hwan  “We, From the First” (link to YouTube)
  4. Crush  “Beautiful”  (link to YouTube)
  5. Sam Kim  “The Juice”  (link to YouTube)
  6. SWJA  “Serenade: Run With You”  (link to YouTube)
  7. Onew  “Blue”