Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: Jeffrey Miller Writes (page 1 of 38)

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.

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.

Shootout in the JSA

75026489wYSNjs_fsWe had ourselves a little incident in the Joint Security Area (JSA) this week when a North Korean soldier defected to the South. This was the story reported by CBS News:

SEOUL, South Korea — Four North Korean soldiers fired about 40 rounds at a comrade fleeing into South Korea and hit him five times in the first shooting at the jointly controlled area of the heavily fortified border in more than 30 years, the South’s military said Tuesday.

South Korean soldiers did not fire their weapons, but Monday’s incident occurred at a time of high animosity over North Korea’s nuclear program. The North has expressed intense anger over past high-profile defections.

The soldier is being treated at a South Korean hospital after a five-hour operation for the gunshot wounds he suffered during his escape across the Joint Security Area. His personal details and motive for defection are unknown and his exact medical condition is unclear.

The last time there was a shooting incident in the JSA was back in 1984:

Monday’s incident was the first shooting at the Joint Security Area since North Korean and U.N. Command soldiers traded gunfire when a Soviet citizen defected by sprinting to the South Korean sector of the JSA in 1984. A North Korean soldier defected there in 1998 and another in 2007 but neither of those events involved gunfire between the rivals, according to South Korea’s military.

The 1984 exchange of gunfire happened after North Korean soldiers crossed the border and fired, according to the U.N. Command. In Monday’s incident, it wasn’t known if the North continued firing after the defector was officially in the southern part of the Joint Security Area. The U.N. Command said Tuesday that an investigation into the incident was underway.

The defection and shootout reminded me of the opening to Bradley Martin’s Nuclear Blues as well as Barry Lancet’s The Spy Across the Table.

All Along the DMZ — Part III

MDLThis is Part III of a five-part series on the Korean DMZ inspired by Barry Lancet’s The Spy Across the Table and my articles and essays about “the scariest place on the earth.”

Did someone say road trip to the DMZ?

That’s what happened in August 2000 when I was invited back to the JSA, this time from the kind generals of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) Major General Adrien Evequoz, head of the Swiss delegation and Major General Peter Hammarstrom of the Swedish delegation.

They were impressed with my article on the JSA that I had written earlier in the summer and invited me to visit their camp just yards away from the Military Demarcation Line (MDL).

The NNSC was one of the three bodies created by the Armistice Agreement at the end of the Korean War in 1953. In accordance with the Armistice Agreement, the NNSC consisted of four neutral nations: Sweden (although Sweden had provided medical assistance with a hospital in Busan it was still considered neutral) and Switzerland in the South, and Poland and Czechoslovakia in the North. Their role, as stipulated in the armistice was to supervise, observe, as well as inspect two specific dispositions of the agreement: the reinforcement of military personnel and the reinforcement of combat aircraft, vehicles, and munitions.Panmunjom012

Originally, six neutral countries were proposed. In addition to Sweden and Switzerland in the South, Norway was the other country proposed. Besides Poland and Czechoslovakia in the North, Russia was the third country proposed. However, Russia did not qualify as a credible “neutral” country, so Norway was dropped and four nations became the NNSC.

Although their duties are “limited” their presence along the DMZ reminds one that the Korean War didn’t end with an armistice and that the two Koreas are still technically at war.

Later that year, I went back to the JSA again, this time to do a story about American troops serving at Camp Bonifas. It was a nice Christmas story and the soldiers I interviewed were happy to talk about serving in the JSA although they were feeling homesick at this time of the year.

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The USO Cookie Train visits the JSA. Wonder what the Norks thought about Santa Claus.

 

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ROK Ready: Two ROK soldiers inside the MAC building. Notice their taekwondo stance.

 

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The Bridge of No Return on a cold, dreary December morning.

 

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The highlight of this trip was being allowed to get out of the United Nations Command vehicle and walk out onto the bridge.

Hot off the Presses!

Bureau 39 First BatchThe first batch of Bureau 39 arrived in Daejeon today, and in the immortal words of Ed Grimley (Martin Short) what a thrill it was to open the box to see all these copies, if I must say. This is one book that readers are going to love holding in their hands. As much as eBooks have given me the chance to read more books, there’s no better thrill a new book gives you when you hold it in your hands and begin to read it. And not just a new book.

I remember it was the summer of 1975 and I was hanging out with my friend David Walther. After he had broken both of his wrists, thanks to a movie I wanted to do (in the movie he had to jump from a train trestle–a story for another time) there wasn’t a lot we could do. Both of us expressed an interest in joining the Air Force after graduation from La-Salle-Peru Township High School the following year. One hot summer day, we walked to the Air Force Recruiting Station on Fourth Street in Peru, Illinois to get some information about the Air Force with David’s father who had served in the Air Force in the 1940s.

On the way back to David’s house, we walked down Fourth Street and stopped at a used book store in the old Turnhall Building. Although very hot, the inside was cool; the smell of all those old books was sweet and musky, like some exotic perfume. We all bought a couple books, and if my memory serves me correctly, I bought a collection of Rod Serling stories. But it was the first time I understood the thrill of holding a book in my hands and thinking not only about the people who might have read it before me, but the author’s life–the sweat and toil that went into its creation. It was that physical connection to other readers and the author which made me realize then, as it does now, the value of the written word and something that all of us writers strive for when we sit down and write.

I loved that feeling. I want to feel it more.

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