안녕 친구! Hi Friend!
Like a lot of second generation Korean American kids, I learned to speak Korean in the home. So, my spoken Korean is, like, fine. Like, I can get around Seoul and it’s okay. Korean people respond fine to me and I can get around. Sometimes people even tell me I speak well and occasionally, I might get asked, “when did you leave Korea to go to America?” *Note: I’m American born and bred; before this trip, I think I’ve spent a total of maybe 6 weeks in Korea in my whole life, spread out over six visits, I think. And those were always to play concerts so, you know, I basically saw the airport, the hotel, and the concert hall. The joys of work travel (remember when we used to do that?? SOON!!!)
(Oh, that reminds me: I do have a rather funny horror story about a blind date with a Korean American doctor who insulted me and my Korean speaking in a uniquely mansplain-y, obnoxious way. But, a story for another time, perhaps :))
But, I do think I sound a little…you know, off. Like the closest I can describe it is this: I sound like an old lady baby. Meaning, I sound archaic. Like I’ll say “pardon me” instead of “excuse me” and since I learned to speak from my grandma, I also speak extremely politely and I also sound like, well, an old lady. And a little girl. At the same time. Hence, “old lady baby.”
So, adults like me a lot (I know, I’m an adult too but when I say “adult” in the context of Korea, I mean folks who are older than me. Because in Korea, you’ll always be someone’s junior, or 동생 or 후배). I mean, the grannies, the 할머니’s, they love me. On a recent wandering, I ran into three Korean grannies looking for someone to take their picture and when I offered–“pardon me, would you lovely ladies like me to take your picture?”–they were so delighted that they started giving me candy and brushing flowers out of my hair.
But people my age or younger look at me funny, ’cause I sound alright, but I also talk like I stepped out of a time machine.
Imagine someone walking up to you in New York or Chicago or wherever and they ask for directions like this: “Pardon me, my dear sir, but if you don’t mind, might I pose a question to you? I seem to have lost my way. Would you be ever so kind as to direct me to the nearest underground train vehicular so that I might reorient myself?”
Hear it? So…if you met that person, you might be like: “Um, so, where are you from?”
And I know, that’s a problematic question for Asian folks in America (see: perpetual foreigner) but here in Korea, in Seoul, 2021, as a Korean person in a Korean city, it could just be amusement/gentle curiosity. But, being a foreigner in Korea is also, admittedly, complicated. More on that…sometime? I don’t know. It’s also a lot, lol.
Yeah, so, anyway. that’s me. In Seoul, 2021.
So when the good people at Riverside Theater in Iowa City asked me to recite a Shakespeare Sonnet for their Sonnet Project in April, I was a little nervous. ‘Cause, while my speaking and basic communication skills are decent, (see above for caveat), my reading and writing are like, non existent. I’m working on it!! But I went to Juilliard PreCollege on Saturdays instead of Korean school so, well, I just never really learned how to read and write properly.
Anyway, I thought, though, that it would be a good idea to give the ole reading a try and after much practicing and with the help of my amazing Korean tutor, here it is: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 43, 모든 밤은 낮이다 (When Most I Wink, Then Do Mine Eyes Best See). I found this translation on this lovely website, where some creative yet anonymous person is making a mission of making easy Korean translations of Shakespeare’s sonnets and records them, too.
I really enjoyed this challenge and it was an excellent bump up for my reading and pronunciation skills. My mom’s family is from Pusan and since I learned to speak from my mom’s mom, I have a funny little Pusan accent that I can’t hear. Which is, also, apparently, kind of hilarious. I suppose it is, if you imagine someone growing up in, oh, I don’t know, Portland, Oregon but they learned to speak English from their Australian granny—but haven’t ever been to Australia. You might think that strange and/or maybe a little cute.
So yeah, people scratch their head a little at me when I speak Korean. But this is a very common experience for Korean heritage speakers: Korean Americans who, like me, lived most if not all of their lives abroad and learned to speak in the home.
Welcome to the diaspora, friends :). Complexities abound…
Also, stay tuned for more about Riverside Theatre. My beloved chamber music festival, MusicIC, based in Iowa City, is partnering up this summer with Riverside in a very cool production that I’ll be telling you about soon (hint: think “radio play.”and THE KNIGHTS! *happy dance*)
Thanks for following me! Stay safe and healthy 🙂 안녕!
Sonnet 43 from Riverside Theatre on Vimeo.
온종일 가치없는 것들을 보던 내 두 눈은
눈을 감고서야 가장 잘 보기 시작한다
잠이 들면 꿈 속에서 내 눈은 당신을 찾아
어둠 속에서도 밝게 빛나 곧바로 당신을 비추는구나
꿈 속 환영만으로도 어둠을 빛나게 하는 당신
감은 두 눈에도 당신의 모습 그토록 빛나는데
맑은 날 더 밝은 빛 아래에서는
당신의 모습 얼마나 더 황홀하겠는가
죽어있는 밤 깊은 잠에 빠진 보이지 않는 두 눈에도
당신의 아름답고 안개같은 환영 보이는데
생동하는 낮 당신을 보게 되면
내 두 눈은 얼마나 영광스럽겠는가
모든 낮은 밤이다, 당신을 보기 전까지는
모든 밤은 낮이다, 꿈이 당신을 비춰주면
When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And, darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright?
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so?
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay?
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.