Saturday, January 5, 2013

Why You So Solitude Style, Mr. Kerouac?

Daeshindong, Pusan- Sitting alone in coffee shops filling the margins of books with scribbles.  Fifteen years since I've been living here.
It used to be, when I would sit alone in Korean coffee shops, people would come up to me worried...
They wanted to know if my heart had been broken by a woman or if I had suffered some misfortune or if I was struggling with an idea... maybe that's why I sat writing alone.
They would ask, "What is wrong with this foreigner?  Why is he so... solitude?"
They had no idea I was working on the beginnings of my book, Me Gook.  That I was just trying to make sense of the world around me...  they saw it as some kind of weakness of spirit.
Occasionally I was approached by some young student bursting with confidence or more likely desperation, and inquired... "Oh... you are so Jack Kerouac style?
I used to get such a kick out of that.  In this land where students spend years memorizing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, but couldn't compose an original five minutes of their own music, or study the brushstrokes of Van Gogh's Starry Night to replicate if perfectly but can't explain in detail why they like it... that suddenly they would equate a foreigner sitting alone in a coffee shop to being a T.S. Eliot or Oscar Wilde
Of course nowadays, as I look around me, all the coffee shop haunters are locked into their own worlds, staring into screens and tapping away.  First daters sitting across from one another barely speaking, chuckling into their instant messages.  Boys sitting in silent groups sprinting deeply through digital mazes and computer games... friends posting updates in real time... it's such a different world now.
Yet some things stay the same.  Old guys like me, sitting here watching and scribbling with my runny ink pen... I don't want to change.  I like my solitude.

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