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해피 빼빼로 데이!

Happy Pepero Day - 11-11-2011!

Cordite 35: Ozko is (back) online!

Cordite 35: Oz-Ko!

#35.0: Oz-Ko (Envoy)
Contributors: Zenobia Frost, Derek Rawson, Tim Wright, Patrick Jones, David Howard, Emily Stewart, Sue Stanford, Mark Young, Geoff Page, Cassandra Atherton, Shane Macauley (with Hyang Ja), Nöelle Janaczewska, Rhonda Poholke, Fleur Beaupert, Jen Jewel Brown, Anne Elvey, Joe Dolce, Adam Ford, Maggie Shapley and Michael Sharkey.
Poetry Editor David Prater
Released April 2011

#35.1: Oz-Ko (Hoju-Hanguk)
Contributors: David Prater, Sebastian Gurciullo, Barry Hill, Ivy Alvarez, Terry Jaensch, Jane Gibian, Fiona Wright, Jill Jones, Pascalle Burton, Daniel O’Callaghan, Luke Beesley, Michelle Cahill, Corey Wakeling, Liam Ferney, David Stavanger, James Stuart, 
Stuart Cooke, Ouyang Yu, Christine Armstrong, Michael Farrell and Ali Alizadeh.
Poetry Editor David Prater
Released May 2011

#35.2: Oz-Ko (Hanguk-Hoju)
Contributors: KO Un, KIM Kyung Ju, KIM Ki-Taek, KIM Myung-in, KIM Sa-in, KIM Sun-Woo, KIM So Youn, KIM Un, KIM Hyesoon, RA Hee-duk, PARK Ra Youn, PARK Hyung Jun, SONG Kyung Dong, SIN Yongmok, SHIN Hae Wook, SHIM Bo Sun, LEE Seong-bok, LEE Si-young, JIN Eun-young and HWANG Tong gyu.
Poetry Editor Eun-Gwi Chung
Released August 2011

People are beautiful

Cordite 35.1: Oz-Ko (Hoju-Hangul)

It’s kind of hard to believe, and in fact I’ve been feeling slightly delirious for the last few days, but I’ve finally managed to put together the second part of Cordite’s Oz-Ko issue devoted to all things Australian and Korean. While the first part of the issue, released in April, was a teaser or Envoy in the form of twenty poems in English, Oz-Ko (Hoju-Hangul) is a full-blown bi-lingual exercise featuring forty new poems in English, and Hangul translations by 김재현 (Kim Gaihyun) and 김성현 (Kim Sunghyun).

Poets featured in this stage of the issue include our three touring Hojunauts (Ivy Alvarez, Barry Hill and Terry Jaensch) as well as a motley crew of contemporary Australian poets including Fiona Wright, Jane Gibian, Jill Jones, Pascalle Burton, Liam Ferney, Michael Farrell, Luke Beesley, David Stavanger, James Stuart and heaps more. In addition, we’ve been assembling a series of features on Australian and Korean poetry and culture, which you can now read at your leisure.

While I’m proud of each of the thirty-odd issues of Cordite that I’ve produced in my time as editor of the magazine, there will always be a special place reserved in my heart for Oz-Ko, no doubt partly because so much of my life has been invested in Korea. Having undertaken Asialink residencies in Seoul in 2005 and 2009, this third visit is really a culmination of all I once hoped to achieve in Korea, and perhaps that’s why I’m now feeling delirious. In any case, it’s a real thrill to see some Hangul finally make its way onto the Cordite site, and I really hope that some Korean readers get to experience contemporary Australian poetry in all its ragged glory.

Speaking of which, I’ve written two editorials for this issue. Well, three actually, if you include the Introduction to Oz-Ko (Envoy). Compared to that, the introduction to Oz-Ko (Hoju-Hangul) is a lot shorter, possibly due to fatigue. But the piece I’m actually really proud of is the Oz-Ko meta-poem I wrote and which features hyperlinks to each of the sixty poems already published in the issue (you can also view the Hangul version here, complete with URLs – don’t get me started on how long it took to format those!). Of course, for some readers I’m sure it will be a case of TL;DR but who cares what they think.

Here’s what I think: that the process of producing this truly bi-lingual issue has been just as important as the contents of the issue itself; that translation in this sense includes not just translation between languages but between electronic formats and systems; that Hangul script looks way cool; that Cordite 35: Oz-Ko is perhaps just the first step of a much larger and longer journey; and that after all this coding, formatting, stressing and navel-gazing, it’s time for a well-deserved soju or two.

David ‘Bek-Ho’ Prater, signing off for now.

Impressions of Korea …

Cordite 35: Oz-Ko – let the games begin!

My one sharp-eyed reader will recognise the image to the left as being based on Paju Book City, a photo that featured on this blog last month. I’m not sure why I bothered mentioning that but the fact remains that if you click on that image, you’ll be transported instantly to Cordite 35: Oz-Ko, a special issue devoted to new poetry from Australia and the Republic of Korea.

I’m really excited about this issue, not least because I’m one of the editors but also because in a Cordite first, we’ll be publishing it in stages. Yes, Oz-Ko’s so big that we’ve had to split it up. The first stage includes twenty new poems (an ‘Envoy’ of sorts – read my editorial for a slightly less vague explanation) plus a rolling series of features, beginning with Dan Disney’s passionate article about Ko Un’s Maninbo. Subsequent stages will feature more poems in English and Hangul and much more!

In the meantime, wrap your laughing gear around new poetry by the likes of Adam Ford, Jen Jewel Brown, Anne Elvey, Joe Dolce, Fleur Beaupert, Mark Young, David Howard, Patrick Jones, Tim Wright, Zenobia Frost and, ummmm, ten others! Oh and check back to the site over the coming weeks to check out features by Jackson Eaton, Daniel East, Lara Williams and mooooooooooore!

Ahem. I’ll get me coat.

Cranes of Hyang Il-am 2


Hyang-il-am [Rising Sun Hermitage] was founded in 644 AD and is one of Korea’s three special temples for worshipping Gwanseum-bosal [Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion]. It’s located in the far south of the Korean peninsula, near the port city of Yeosu.

Philippe Gigantés on Korean fighting cocks

In Korea, cocks are allowed to fight till they kill one another, and to egg them on to greater excitement red pepper is rubbed into their eyes. Newly born calves are allowed to spend the night in the open at 70 degrees below zero. Many die. The puppy which grows as the children’s pet is put in a sack and beaten to death slowly so that the meat will be tenderer for eating. Death and pain are such commonplace things that in the mountains of North Korea, they do not shock the inhabitants of that rugged country. That is why, perhaps, with the cold at its highest, their miserable hovel burned out by some strange machine for reasons they do not understand, they sit outside in the road and hardly moan. What has happened to them is not really remarkable. It is just another installment of pain and death. These things have to be, and in the summer there will be more puppies, more calves, more babies, and it will be possible to dig the now frozen earth to get clay for the new mud hut. It’s hard to defeat them, because they are already defeated, they have nothing left to lose.

Philippe Gigantés, I Was a Captive In Korea (1953)

Lee Si-woo on history, tragedy and the DMZ

History is always cruel to the defeated because it belongs to the victor. History offers a future to the latter, but tragedy to the former. In spite of this, tragedy is beautiful because a solution presupposes the problem that caused the loser to lose, and because as the saying goes, human beings present only those problems that can be resolved. Tragedy is always rooted in reality, not in empty space, in the same way that we can walk the streets on a snowy night with our eyes closed because we walk on our feet, not with our eyes. That’s why an ideal is achievable for those who labour and struggle, but empty for those who do not. Tragedy is accompanied by abiding loneliness, an emotion that differs from desolation. Compared to the latter, which is a passive response to the external environment, loneliness stems from a self-awareness of emptiness and thus contains energy with which to combat the emptiness. The energy contained in loneliness within tragedy and derived from the ideal comes to have a trajectory, albeit uncharted, and precisely for this reason may encounter numerous failures and setbacks but will eventually find its intended path.

Lee Si-woo (trans. Kim Myung-hee)

Taking Kylie To Korea

Last year, as part of my Asialink residency in Seoul, I wrote an article for the Australian National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) on the subject of my experience of teaching a course on Australian culture at Sogang University. Here’s a quick excerpt:

I have sung the national anthem (‘a capella?’ one incredulous fellow-traveller asked me) and ‘Waltzing Matilda’, tried to explain bizarre Australian terms like ‘beach bum’ and ‘laconic’ and even spent a few moments discussing Shane Warne’s penchant for cigarettes and text messaging. I now have sitting in front of me a stack of essays on famous Australians, including Ned Kelly, Kylie Minogue and Oodgeroo Nonnuccal. Strangely enough, only one student chose to write about John Howard.

‘Taking Kylie To Korea’, NTEU Advocate (March 2006)

The article has been published in the March 2006 issue of the NTEU’s Advocate magazine but you can read the original version online or download it here: Taking Kylie to Korea (PDF).

The article contains one small factual error: in the final sentence I state that the way to say ‘I am Australian’ in Korean is hoju saram, when in reality the correct way to say it is hoju saram ipnida.

Just in case anyone’s ever called on to explain US foreign policy while travelling in Korea.

Then again, perhaps it’d be even more useful to know how to say ‘I am not an American’ in that delightful but difficult language.

More signs that speak for themselves





What is a PC Bang?

A PC is obviously a personal computer but “bang” is the Korean word for “room”, so a PC Bang is a computer room, slightly akin to what we would call an internet cafe in Australia and elsewhere.

The big difference, however, is that while in a typical internet cafe one will find only travellers checking their email, in a Korean PC bang one will find Koreans of all ages playing games like Kart Rider, Starcraft and Lineage, old men playing online gambling games and businessmen smoking thousands of cigarettes, at all hours of the day and night.

Some people say that with the growing level of home internet usage in Korea (especially broadband), the PC Bang will soon become a thing of the past. Honestly, I don’t think so. It’s a unique space where people can get away from the everyday humdrum of their lives and shoot some aliens. Sounds good, huh?

During my time in Seoul (September-December 2005) I frequented these often smoky, noisy and chaotic places, ostensibly to write poems but actually just to exist for a time in that virtual headspace we know as cyberland.

Welcome to PC Bangs!

Hello, welcome to PC Bangs and my apologies for the delay in getting things started. I have now been in Seoul for what seems like an eternity but which has actually only been two weeks. Over time, I hope to describe some of the aspects of Korea’s unique ‘PC Bang’ culture. Here, ‘bang’ is a word that means something like ‘room’ so ‘PC Bang’ translates roughly as ‘computer room’ or, more helpfully, ‘internet cafe’. Over the course of the next four months I’ll be visiting various examples of the PC Bang phenomenon and hopefully taking some pictures of the really cool signwork they have here (you can see an example on the top right of this page).

First things first, though. I arrived at Incheon International on Saturday 27 August on a hot and muggy day. The only thing that I can really remember about the airport is seeing a sign reading “Gateway To Asia” and thinking – hang on, isn’t that Darwin’s claim to fame too? Doubtless, there are many “gateways” to, from and in Asia but I would hazard a guess that Seoul is perhaps more entitled to that description than Australia’s northern capital. Nevertheless, when I got out of the airport and headed for the bus, I was hit by a blast of hot air that I actually recognised from my time in Darwin in 1994 as a public servant. All of which is to say that at long last I felt I had arrived home. Only I was in Korea.

I’m currently staying at a hostel in Insadong, the arts and crafts ‘precinct’ of Seoul crammed with sweet shops, art galleries and classy home style Korean restaurants, not to mention one basball hitting range, a million street stalls selling the usual fare (notebooks, pencils, figurines) and about seven million people too. Despite the crowdedness of the main street, once you get off it and into the alleyways (where the hostel is located) it’s actually very quiet and about the most exciting thing that’s going to happen to you is getting run over by an over-zealous motorcycle courier. This is not Hanoi, however, and the number of motorbikes (or even pushbikes) is very small. This is partly due to the massive subway system, on the subject of which I could write a novel. Or two.

After settling myself in at the hostel it was time to front the university where I’m teaching this semester. Sogang University has a reputation as being one of the best in Seoul. I’m currently teaching two courses: one in creative writing and the other in Australian Culture. For a while I told everyone who was willing to listen that the Australian Culture course would be a short one. I made a lot of mileage out of that joke but now I’m here it just doesn’t quite seem so funny. That’s not to say I don’t pull it out every now and then but like the Western predilection for puns on the word ‘Seoul’ (‘seoul brother’, ‘seoul survivor’, ‘seoul searching’ or even ‘o seoul mio’) it wears a little thin after a while. That being said (and I’m not really sure why I even mentioned that), it should be a fun semester.

I have already given my students fair warning of what to expect from my classes by launching into a rendition of “Advance Australia Fair” at short notice. Knowing that I will be responsible for their grades at the end of the year, they wisely chose to roundly applaud my singing talents. So then I hit them with my a capella version of “Waltzing Matilda”. All I can say is that they had their chance. With forty five students in the class it’s the biggest group I’ve ever taught. My creative writing class on the other hand consists of only eight students, which is ideal, giving me enough time to focus on their work individually. So, yeah, it’s going okay at the moment. I have been given an office with a computer and an internet connection, which is great. The staff here are also very friendly so all in all, it’s not that different from teaching creative writing at Melbourne University.

That is, of course, until one leaves the university campus and hits the streets of Sinchon. The region around Sinchon is packed with universities (about five, I think), meaning that the whole area is full of students, student bars and a million shops trying to tempt these young consumers into parting with their cash in exchange for mobile phones, gizmos and gadgets, beer, pizza, noodles, music, t-shirts, coffee and so on. There’s a real buzz to the streets and the neon has to be seen to be believed. I haven’t ventured into the bars around here as of yet but hope to do so at the end of this month when Club Night rolls around again (15000 won gets you free entry to fifteen clubs in all). So far, I’ve really only experienced the nightlife around Jongno, just south of Insadong. But that’ll do me for starters. There’s more neon there even than in Tokyo, or at least it feels like it. There’s lots of clubs with various themes, lots of beer drinking and sometimes the odd ingenious device, such as the five litre jug of beer complete with dry ice machine to keep the contents cold.

Food-wise, I’ve been eating a lot of barbecue pork but also noodles, rice dishes and (okay I’ll admit it) the odd serving of junk food. I have also developed a taste for the chocolate biscuits, bean curd sweets and sponge cakes that you can find in almost any convenience store. Cold coffee in a can has also sustained me quite well, while the ion replacement drink Pocari Sweat is a pleasant though acquired taste (ie, it actually tastes a little like sweat). The same can be said for the local spirit, soju which, when mixed into a two litre jug of lemon cordial tastes like nothing at all but may leave you blind if you drink too many shots. The beer is quite nice though not so strong. Then, of course, there’s kim chi. I know that many westerners can’t stand it but I have to say I really like it, and I haven’t had any yet that’s really blown my head off. In fact, it’s quite mild and goes well with beer. Heck, almost anything spicy goes well with beer.

So far I haven’t done a lot of sightseeing but I have been to one massive palace, the enormous war memorial next to the Yongsan US military base, several markets of the flea, junk and craptastica varieties, as well as just poking around the streets of Insadong looking for unusual signs. Of which, more later, that is, as soon as I get a digital camera. I’m also about to get a phone which will make it easier to stay in touch but I’m shying away from purchasing any more electronic gadgets at this stage. In fact, I have discovered a shop that sells cassette tapes and so I’ve rigged up my Walkman in my hostel room together with a couple of speakers in a nifty little lo-fi kind of set-up. Add a couple of James Bond movies on cable television and I’m in heaven. Well, actually, I’m in Seoul but more on that (and everything else) later, dude.

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