Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Culture Shock! Korea — Chock Full of Information!

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  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Marshall Cavendish International (Asia) Pte Ltd
  • Date: February 7, 2018

I’ll never forget when I first came to Korea in 1990 to teach English, my school sent me an information packet about the school and Korea. Specifically, it was mostly badly photo-copied material about what I should or shouldn’t bring to Korea as well as adjusting to culture shock (People will stare at you and bump into you when you’re walking down the street). It was useful information when you’re halfway around the world planning to live and work in Korea, but a few days after arriving, it was useless information and soon discarded.

Since that time, there have been various books and guides about living and working in Korea to help foreigners to make those necessary adjustments to overcome culture shock, but none resonate more strongly than John Bocskay’s Culture Shock! Korea.

This well-written and insightful book is chock full of information that would appeal not only to someone coming to Korea for the first time, but for the seasoned Korean old hat who wants to brush up on his or her Korean cultural knowledge (for example, I had forgotten all about bringing toilet paper as a housewarming gift!). To be sure, for this twenty-seven year and counting expatriate, I had a fun time reading this book and remembering what it was like when I first came here.

I especially enjoyed, and this is one of the book’s strengths, Bocskay’s explanation of Korean culture and how it applies to one’s daily life or sojourn here. That alone makes this a worthwhile investment. I liked Bocskay’s casual writing style and the way that he brings Korean culture alive. He covers the gamut of things Korean and how to survive in this dynamic and interesting culture. Whether you have just arrived in Korea or have been in Korea for a while, you are going to want to get this book. This book is an indispensable trove of information that will make anyone’s visit or sojourn here more enjoyable.

The Freedman — Book Review

619Px4hNVhLI’ve been a big fan of Lars Hedbor ever since I read his first book, The Prize. What first impressed me was his style of writing that captured this period of American history. I’ve often compared him to another one of my favorite writers, who also wrote about this period, James Fenimore Cooper.

His latest, The Freedman, is another literary tour de force. Of all the books in this series, I would have to say this is the most thoughtful and poignant, not to mention powerful. It’s an issue which would plague the United States from early colonial America and the Civil War to Reconstruction and beyond. But what makes this all the more powerful is the way that Hedbor tells the story of Calabar, a slave who has gained his freedom and sets out on a new journey through life.

In language that is just as evocative as it is dramatic, Calabar’s life, filled with trials and tribulations, is a stirring testament to those former slaves who endeavored for the same freedom and independence the same way the colonies did—a path which began with Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words, “All Men Are Created Equal.”

Pachinko, A Literary Triumph!

51mulp7HJ+LIn the spirit of Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy, Pachinko is a beautifully written story about the sweeping four-generation history and saga of a Korean family in Japan. In a story filled with forbidden love, triumph and failure, and the need to belong, author Min Jin Lee sheds light on a subject not normally explored by novelists—the plight of Korean immigrants in Japan. In rich, evocative language, Lee takes the reader on an emotional, amazing journey through the Japanese occupation of Korea, post World War II, the Korean War, and modern Korean society.

At the center of this moving story is the heroine Sunja, the family matriarch who will stop at nothing to ensure the survival of her family. She is the embodiment of the struggles that many Koreans faced during this period who found themselves exiled from their homeland and the yearning to return to it one day. The depth and empathy of her story, as well as other members of her family, is just as haunting as it is moving.

Pachinko is a literary triumph; a readable, passionate story that will resonate with readers long after they have finished it

Roadside Table — One Mile Ahead

Today I was thinking about roadside tables. Remember them? This was not a rest area with all the amenities (grills, restrooms, running water, and a possibly a playground for the kids).

A roadside table was that. Just a picnic table or two and a trashcan. Usually at some junction/intersection where a family could enjoy a picnic lunch before continuing their journey.

Once all the interstates and expressways came in, and folks started whizzing across the United States, there was no need to pack a picnic basket. That’s when the Golden Arches and all the other fast food drive-ins dotted the landscape.

But if you ever took the backroads, you could still find these roadsign tables. This was not life in the fast lane. This was all about taking your time to get somewhere.

My grandparents, if they went anywhere over fifty miles, packed a picnic basket. I suppose, on one hand, it saved money and time looking for someplace to eat.

10,000 words

Just passed 10,000 words on my current WIP. The first 10,000 words are the always the hardest. I seem to be slowing down a little. Either that, I am taking more time (this is probably the real reason) for writing out particular scenes…and don’t forget I am still writing out the first draft by hand.

My goal is to finish this current novel by the end of this summer. Or as Slim Pickens playing Colonel Kong in Dr. Strangelove put it, “Now let’s get this thing on the hump — we got some flyin’ to do!”

Regrets? I’ve had a few

Today, without fanfare or celebration, I will mark sixty trips around the sun.

In Asia, one’s sixtieth birthday is an auspicious occasion because there was a time when most folks didn’t live past sixty. These days, sixty is the new forty (though my body sure doesn’t feel like it).

What a strange and amazing trip it has been. I guess it’s natural when one gets older they stop and look back on their life more and try to make sense out of everything. You know, the whole being greater than the sum of the parts…that sort of thing. I think the verdict is still out on this one.

Nice Parking, Dumb Ass

2018-04-01 15.56.29Usually, bad parking in Korea doesn’t annoy me (yes, it does, but I am trying hard to be nicer these days), but when I saw the way the driver of this car parked in front of a fitness club next to my apartment, I couldn’t look the other way.

To be fair, it was Sunday and there was no parking available outside the fitness club, but to park like this, simply defies logic and public decency, not to mention safety.

Winds of Change

With talk of summits on the Korean peninsula these days, one might be inclined to believe that peace could very well be at hand, or at the very least, some serious talk about reducing tensions in northeast Asia.

Kim Jong-un’s recent trip to China was definitely an unprecedented move, which could have far-reaching repercussions. My guess is that Kim needed to bring China onboard and seek some advice about what to do, and perhaps what not to do with the upcoming summit with Moon Jae-in and later with Donald Trump. Kim is proving to be a shrewd player on the international stage.

Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm — 2017

wakingUp_colorRevision (1)Another year in Korea. Twenty-seven and counting.

It’s this time of the year when I wax nostalgia and feel homesick the most. And more often than not, I find myself waxing nostalgia for the time when I first came to Korea.

Recently, my friend and book designer, Anna Takahashi, redid the cover design for Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm. It’s a lot more striking and vibrant than the previous cover.

It was astronomer Percival Lowell, who first coined the phrase “land of the morning calm” in his book Chosön, the Land of the Morning Calm; a Sketch of Korea. The mornings may not be as calm as they once were when Lowell was here, but after all these years, Korea still fascinates me. 

I tried leaving once.

And here I still am.

Twenty-five Years Ago this Month

snapshots039Twenty-five years ago this month, I taught my last class at ELS, a language school in Seoul near Kangnam subway station.

On November 27, 1992, I said goodbye to my colleagues at ELS and left for Kimpo. I would be back six weeks later, teaching at Yonsei University’s Foreign Language Institute.

The two years I spent at ELS were some of the happiest moments I have spent in Korea. Everything that I would come to love and cherish, not to mention dislike about Korea happened those first two years. If I had left Korea then, I could easily say that I had experienced much about Korean culture and would have had a rewarding experience to talk about for years. But of course, I wanted more…much more. And here I am…it’s 2017 and I am still in Korea.

If I could go back to any time in the twenty-seven years that I have lived and worked in Korea, I would go back to those first two years. It was a special time to be here. A lot had to do with the freshness and uniqueness of being here. I remember one Sunday afternoon in crowded Myong-dong in central Seoul when one of my students saw me and yelled my name to get my attention. The next thing I know she was introducing me to her mother as hundreds of passersby and shoppers swarmed by us. Or the time when I was in in the Shinch’on subway station, a week after I arrived in December 1990, and I couldn’t get my subway pass to work. Every time I pushed it into the ticket receptacle on the turnstile, a loud buzzer sounded meaning that the pass didn’t work, so I tried to push it in again and the same damn buzzer sounded again. All I had to do was exchange the pass, but I didn’t know any better. A young Korean woman on her way to work or school that morning, sensing my impending cultural breakdown, bought me a ticket, so I could continue my morning commute to school. It was one of the nicest things someone has done for me.

It’s no wonder I often find myself waxing nostalgic about my early years in Korea. It surely was a special time for me.

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