Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: Culture (page 2 of 7)

Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm — Now Available in Paperback!

“How did you end up in Korea?” is a question that most people have asked when they learn that I have lived and worked in South Korea. “I turned left at Japan,” I’ve often replied, tweaking a famous line from The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night when John Lennon was asked, “How did you find America?” upon which he replied, “Turned left at Greenland.”

Since 1990, Jeffrey Miller, who originally came to South Korea to teach English, has survived nuclear crises, met former U.S. Presidents, Yoko Ono, interviewed the current President of Korea, flown into Panmunjom with CNN and pushed 8G’s in an F-16 in the skies over Korea.

When the author arrived in Korea at the end of 1990, the country was still reeling from hosting the successful 1988 Olympics. It was an exciting time to be here; one could feel the energy and sense that the nation was poised to become a major player on the world stage. People have often talked about this “Miracle of the Han” when Korea’s economy started to take off in the 70s, but by the time Miller arrived here, it was no longer a miracle; instead it had become a celebration.

The Korea that Miller knew back in December 1990 was different and removed from the Korea of today. In the time that he has been here, he has seen a lot of changes and became witness to many historical events, which have affected not only the peninsula and the region, but also the world.

There are many stories to be told and shared; these are some of them.

Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm is now available through the publisher Lulu.

Testors Model Paint

The cool thing about the writing is not just the story, but the little details, the verbal brushstrokes you add to the story that sometimes are from your past; in this case, a little “Testors model paint” that I have one of the characters talking about.

It’s just a small detail in the story, but one that adds a bit of “color” if you can excuse the pun.

Remember Testors? I haven’t thought about this paint brand name in years, but there it was right there in my memory bank to use today.

Growing up in the 60s/70s I tried to make a lot of Revell and Aurora model airplanes, cars, and battleships. My models never looked like the ones on the box. Either I used way too much glue or my paint job was horrendous.

But, I’ll let Bill Bryson explain it in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (2006)

Making models was reputed to be hugely enjoyable… But when you got the kit home and opened the box the contents turned out to be of a uniform leaden gray or olive green, consisting of perhaps sixty thousand tiny parts, some no larger than a proton, all attached in some organic, inseparable way to plastic stalks like swizzle sticks. The tubes of glue by contrast were the size of large pastry tubes. No matter how gently you depressed them they would blurp out a pint or so of a clear viscous goo whose one instinct was to attach itself to some foreign object—a human finger, the living-room drapes, the fur of a passing animal—and become an infinitely long string. Any attempt to break the string resulted in the creation of more strings. Within moments you would be attached to hundreds of sagging strands, all connected to something that had nothing to do with model airplanes or World War II. The only thing the glue wouldn’t stick to, interestingly, was a piece of plastic model; then it just became a slippery lubricant that allowed any two pieces of model to glide endlessly over each other, never drying. The upshot was that after about forty minutes of intensive but troubled endeavor you and your immediate surroundings were covered in a glistening spiderweb of glue at the heart of which was a gray fuselage with one wing on upside down and a pilot accidentally but irremediably attached by his flying cap to the cockpit ceiling. Happily by this point you were so high on the glue that you didn’t give a shit about the pilot, the model, or anything else.

Waking up in the Land of the Morning Calm — Coming Soon!

Almost finished.

Editing my manuscript and preparing it for Smashwords (Ebook) followed by Lulu for the paperback edition.

Here’s a little taste of what awaits you in this journey through Korea in the 1990s:

Although I hadn’t noticed it before, as soon as we walked out of the hotel, we were greeted with the cold salt air night smelling of fish and simmering silkworm larvae—called bundaegi, a Korean delicacy. Down a narrow side street, chubby ruddy-faced ajumoni squatting over their wares on the sidewalk flashed us silver-capped toothy smiles as we passed. Further on down, we scurried past wooden carts lit with strung up jury-rigged incandescent bulbs swinging in the howling, swirling wind. Thanks to the movie Ghost, speakers everywhere resounded with the ubiquitous strains of “Unchained Melody” an octave above the market cacophony.

But it wasn’t the carts laden with pig intestines steaming in metal pans, sheets of seaweed, dried squid, and pirated cassette tapes that caught my eye; instead, a scribbled misspelled sign flapping in the wind above a vendor hawking his goods.

“Hey Ken, get a load of that,” I said, pointing to the sign.

Ken laughed. “Precious. I should have brought my camera.”

Instead of “Unchained Melody” the vendor had scribbled, “Unchanged Melody.”

God Speed Alan Shepard

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Wow, 50 years ago today.

When I was a young boy growing up in Cherry, Illinois back in the early 60s, I was like most young boys who dreamed of becoming an astronaut. Back then, many of our heroes were our astronauts, baseball players, police officers, and fire fighters.

What the hell happened?

Buddha’s Birthday is coming soon

Buddha’s Birthday is just around the corner in Korea, or should I say just around your Buddhist lantern?

Today, while Aon, Jeremy Aaron and I were exploring Bomunsan, we stopped to take some photos of brightly colored lanterns at a temple near Daejeon Aqua World.

When Chester Died on Combat — Growing up with Television in the 1960s and 1970s

Another excerpt from my collection of essays about life in the 1960s/1970s I plan to release on Smashwords, Amazon, and Lulu later this week.

This excerpt is still a work in progress and is part of a two-part essay. Portions of this essay appeared as a flash fiction story in Orion headless.

One of my earliest recollections of some life-defining moment, which really put the zap into me, occurred on October 12, 1965 and had nothing to do with my family or elementary school, though in three months they would. Instead, it was the night when Chester died on Combat.

“Not Chester,” I sobbed when my mother tried to comfort me later that night. “I like him a lot.”

Chester Goode (Dennis Weaver), one of my favorite characters on Gunsmoke had been killed in this week’s episode of Combat. On the playground outside Cherry Grade School in Cherry, Illinois my grade school friends, Larry Corpus, Bill Waite and I used to pretend to be characters from TV shows to amuse some of the girls in our class, especially Valerie Schalhorn and Kim Moss. One week, I was pretending to be Chester, walking with the same limp his character had on Gunsmoke; the next week I was hamming it up pretending to be Corporal Randolph Agarn from F-Troop, a new show, which had debuted the month before.

Chester’s death shook me up a lot because when I went to bed that night, I couldn’t fall asleep. Although my mother tried to assure me it was all make believe and that Chester hadn’t really died, I wasn’t buying any of it.

“The army men shot him and he died,” I said, still pleading my case. “I saw it.”

I must have had some idea of war and death; perhaps hearing on the news about fighting in Southeast Asia (though it would be one more month before the devastating Battle of Ia Drang, the first major battle between US forces and the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) that led me to believe that Chester had gone off to war and died. I might have even heard about Vietnam from that avuncular and trusted veteran journalist Walter Conkrite who was beamed into our living room right after supper every night.

“It’s just acting son,” she said, leaning over and pulling up the blanket around my chest. “He didn’t really die. Get some sleep, okay?”

My mother kissed me on the forehead and turned off the light. She was right. Chester didn’t really die on Combat (though Weaver wasn’t faring too well on his new series Kentucky Jones, the show he starred in after leaving Gunsmoke, but he would be back again in two years with the more successful Gentle Ben and later McCloud). Still, it was enough to put the zap into me that I still remember it vividly, forty-six years later.

Whether or not I might have confused fiction with reality when Weaver’s character Noah was killed on that episode of Combat, what I hadn’t confused, albeit indirectly, was the power that television has in shaping one’s cognizance of the world through its programming. Just as Marshal McLuhan reasoned with “the medium is the message,” television in the 1960s and 1970s would impact us in many different ways taking in account cultural issues and historical happenings. A seven-year-old child’s confusion of war and death might seem innocuous, but as a microcosm of the influence television would have on a generation, it wasn’t.

I admit that I am a child of the television generation and not embarrassed that most of my formative years were spent in front of a television. There would be a steady diet of television programming that filled my life in the 1960s and 1970s, television shows that were just as much a part of the cultural landscape of America which ultimately defined the era against a historical backdrop fraught with war, assassination, revolution, and space exploration.

Although some may think of the 1950s as the Golden Age of Television with classic programs like The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy, the 1960s had their golden moments as well. After all, the 1960s would give us everything from Star Trek and Lost in Space to The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres. These and other shows, like Batman, Dark Shadows, Gomer Pyle USMC, Julia, I Dream of Jeannie, Mission Impossible, The Monkees, Night Gallery, and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in, were the shows that I remember most, and shows that in some ways mirrored how radical, revolutionary, and culturally charged the 1960s would become.

To be sure, just how much television mirrored the decade manifested itself in many ways, from some of the expressions, which entered our vernacular like “groovy” or “sock it to me” (it is still strikes me as bizarre and surreal to this day, remembering the time Richard Nixon uttered this expression on Laugh-in) to groundbreaking shows like 1968’s Julia—the sitcom of a single, African-American woman (in a non-stereotypical role) who had to raise a child on her own after her husband was shot down over Vietnam.

When we were not being entertained, we were being informed. The Vietnam War invaded our homes and tore a nation apart. Funerals for John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy filled us with sorrow while rioting in Watts, Detroit, and Chicago made us cringe. We got to listen to Jim Lovell, Frank Borman, and Jim Anders read from the Book of Genesis on Christmas Eve 1968 and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. Television came of age in the 1960s and those of us who were growing up at this time would be deeply impacted by it.

Apart from the war in Vietnam and the cultural and political revolution taking place in America, one television show was as far away as you could get from all the turbulence of the decade. However, for many of us growing up in America’s Midwest served by cable, the show, which would begin many of our days, would impact our lives just as much as any other television show would.

Cue the Merrie Melodies music now.

Copyright © 2011 Jeffrey Miller

It’s a John Lennon weekend

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Yesterday, when I visited Google I was surprised and then moved when I saw the John Lennon animation.

It’s a John Lennon weekend and we’re all remembering the man, the musician, the artist, the father, and the husband who touched so many lives with his music.

Even my blog has seen a surge in traffic for the posts I wrote about Lennon on the 20th anniversary of his death in 2000 (it was originally an op-ed piece that was printed in the Korea Times in December 2000). Had 244 hits today and around the same yesterday.

Nearly 30 years after his death outside his Dakota apartment in December 1980 the world has not forgotten him.

I remember back in 1990 on what would have been his 50th birthday how radio stations around the world played “Imagine” at the same time.

Imagine.

It’s been a John Lennon/Beatles’ day on my iPod.

And I’m up to page 292 in John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman. The Beatles have just recorded “Please, Please Me.” If you haven’t read Norman’s bio please do. And when you finish, you might want to read Shout the definitive Beatles’ story, also by Norman.

How are you remembering John Lennon on his birthday?

Pine Mushrooms & Phallic Symbols

Okay, there are a number of things going on in this photo (via the Korea Times), not the least of which are these very expensive mushrooms:

Models show top-rated pine mushrooms from Yangyang County, Gangwon Province, during a promotion held in Myeong-dong, central Seoul, Sunday. Yangyang will hold a five-day mushroom harvest festival from Sept. 24. The pine mushroom is considered a gourmet food in Korea and Japan, with top-rated ones fetching 1.5 million won ($1,300) per kilogram.

Now you have to admit these mushrooms do have this phallic thing going on here.

Look a little closer–do you see that eye and eyebrow of what looks like a life-sized mushroom figure behind the model in the center? Creepy, huh?

Picture of the Day: Sawasdee Khrap Ronald McDonald

Got to hand it to the folks who’ve brought us the Big Mac, Happy Meal, and Shamrock Shakes, they know how to market their product overseas, in this case that ubiquitous symbol of fast food around the world, Ronald McDonald who is seen here, outside a McDonald’s in Phuket, Thailand making a “wai” the traditional greeting in Thailand–with both hands clasped together to resemble a lotus.

Souvenirs or Kitsch?

Souvenirs or kitsch?

You be the judge.

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