What Else Can I Say?
Words and pictures by CG Fewston
I have walked into a room full of applause only once in my life and even then it was not deserved. At least, I don't think it was.
Even though I am a writer and part of being a modern writer is the advertising and self-promotion that comes with it. To me, this is the most disagreeable part of being a modern writer and reminds me of the time I walked into a Korean Hof one night to an ovation I did or maybe did not deserve. A ''hof'' is found on every street corner in South Korea and is a specialized place that serves beer, soju and barbecue.
With that said, it is strange, I think, for a writer to want not to go unnoticed, as in fame and adoration, but I am one of these writers who would rather do his work and be left alone. If only I could write day in and day out and have it come out in the end, that would be fine by me.
You see, people get to talking about you behind your back, assumptions that are false and misleading, and these people don't know a thing about you, but they go right on and whisper their conjuring spell because they are either jealous or filled with contempt or just angry at life and, most often, you never know why. But I am of one mind and I do not care what people say or do not say behind my back. These are cowards and I take no notice of cowards.
Before I get to the story, and I think it is a good story, I must share with you the two quotes that provoke me into a constant state of effort. The first was by Eric Fromm and he once said, ''Man's main task in life is to give birth to himself and to become who he potentially is. The most important product of his effort is his own personality.'' I have tried to teach my university students the meaning behind these words, but like most of my
efforts, I am sure I have failed.
The second quote comes from Burke and he wrote or said, I forget which, that ''applause is the spur of noble minds, the end and aim of weak ones.'' It is useful to remember these two quotes when we come to the end of my story. And to remember that I do not like attention, never have. Perhaps it is because I have lived a solitary life for the past twenty years. Sure I have traveled the world and seen places, but most often I have done this alone and without company.
I was twenty-six then, young and strong, not like I feel now at age thirty-four, but then I was young and did not mind being alone. I had been in Daegu, South Korea for about six months and it was a cold December night a few weeks before Christmas. There is a bit of holiday cheer in Korea at this time but it is nothing like you experience in the States.
I worked at a English language center in the day and would finish around nine at night. Like most nights, while walking to my apartment, which was nothing more than one room that shared the sofa, bed and kitchen, I stopped off, as I usually did for dinner, at one such Korean Hof. It is not important to know the name of such a place because in Korea they are all called hof, which some may argue comes from the German word for ''farm house'' and others might argue that it comes from ''hofbrauhaus'' that means something of a royal brewery. All the same, I enjoyed escaping from the cold in one of these places that was often low-lit and cozy warm.
I had a favorite place where I used to sit, as loners often do, and it was at a high-table next to the window. I liked to sit next to the window because as the place got hot the window gave off a little cold and it made a pleasant feeling to sit and drink with my back to the wall and face the room of people.
To my left was the window and over to my right was the bartender slash cook who made up the orders of beer in large mugs and plates of sausages. There were three distinct kinds of sausages and they came in three colors: gray, green and pink. The green sausages were the best in my mind and when the waitress brought it to your table it was always on a hot plate sizzling.
The waitress knew me and I knew her and that was all that was ever needed to be said. I would sit and have two or three large mugs of beer and then order the sausages, eat, pay and put on my coat and go home undisturbed. Most nights were like that and I never wrote at the table, though I was writing a short story collection at the time.
I would sit quietly, drink the beer and watch the patrons, who were always in groups of two or three. Most of the groups were couples dating but these dates consisted of two young women with one man. The trick was to find out who the man was dating and which one of the young women he really liked and if this was one of those Korean love triangles that are so popular on the television dramas. Another kind of group would be two or three business men in disheveled suits drinking soju. These men often had the most fun.
The last group I often saw in the hof would be a group of young men drinking soju and these men were far different than those found in Texan bars where Texans are taught to be warriors first and lovers second. The Korean young men in the hof were nothing like that and they often drank their soju quietly and appeared to me to be the best of friends.
And then there was me, sitting alone in the corner and they somehow knew I enjoyed doing so and they left me alone because of it.
In South Korea the winter nights get down to below zero Celsius and the night I write of was just such a night where you could see your breath as you walked down the streets next to the steaming vendors, old women selling spicy dukbokki and fried octopus legs they cut for you with scissors and put into the chili sauce and fish cakes. It would be so cold you were glad to get in to a hof and find a seat and get some beer in you to warm
One such night, I wore my favorite flannel and jeans and sat at my corner table, with my boots propped up on the bar that ran around the table's foundation. Outside I could see one of those decrepit men ruined by too much drink and not enough money and he was taking a piss in the small street alongside the hof. I could see that he was bald and that he was not standing on the curb as one might think, but he was standing in the street, his back to me and he directed his stream onto one of the parked cars. Seeing a man do this was not uncommon in Korea.
After I shook my head, I turned back to watch the people in the hof. Korean music always played and sometimes people would get to talking and you couldn't hear the music and other times, like this one night, no one talked above a whisper and it was nice to sit and listen to the Korean women sing songs of lost love.
When I turned back to the scene outside, expecting to find the homeless man gone, I found instead the owner of the car, which was a middle-aged man, pointing his finger and, no doubt, cursing the man for pissing on his car. Now it was getting interesting because in South Korea it is custom to never show emotion, unless you have had too much soju and then it is fine and everyone forgets it ever happened.
In Korea I learned to never stare but learned to look without looking, which develops one's peripherals to a kind of sixth sense. This is something that is lost on Americans, I think. I turned back to the room and reclined back in the chair and drank the beer. I had lost the cold and by this time the room was snug and it felt good to be among people and not in my one room apartment.
(CLICK TO READ WHAT ELSE CAN I SAY? PART TWO).