I began a new project last month with my mom. We have started to translate the book of my dad’s writing that my mom compiled after his death. I will learn some Korean along the way. I have such a shallow knowledge of Korean, realizing that I don’t even know all my colours. It’s amazing the resources on the internet to learn Korean. Google Translate is helpful, but of course far from perfect, but much better than I could do without it. I can take a photo of a page and then press a button and have the text read out loud and get a good basic idea of most of the words on the page. Then there is the hashtag… I searched a word (파릇파릇) that was not translated by Google Translate and found a definition and also a bunch of photos of sprouting plants and gardens with the hashtag #파릇파릇. The word means lush and verdant and when my mom and I were talking about that phrase, she explained with the words “green green” and I thought my mom was giving me a direct translation, but green is a totally different word as I came to learn, and it is the word for blue that is close to the word in question.
I came across, Talk to me in Korean on the Blackholeknitter blog. In this lesson, you are advised not to use the word “당신” that can mean “you” but not in the way that it is used in English. In fact the lesson starts by saying, please don’t use this word, unless you are prepared to start an argument. But it can also mean “honey” or “darling” when used by an older married couple, which is the only usage I had understood. This week found a First Step Korean course at coursera.org. It looks like a good place to start.
Here is the foreword to the book, written by my mom and translated together, via facetime. The title of the book was a hard one to translate. The direct translation would be something like “401 Runners”. I chose “People on the move on the 401” which captures the intended meaning a bit better. I have that feeling that there is so much lost in translation and that the original sounds better. It’s a challenge to convey the same meaning in a different language, but we’ll do our best. I have a feeling this is going to take a long time to get through the whole book, but I think it will be time well spent.
On seemingly dead branches the greenest green leaves appear and tiny purple flowers emerge between leaves of grass like smiling faces, welcoming spring time. Along our usual path following Davisbrook Boulevard we passed a magnolia bush in full bloom dressed like a debutante for her ball. “One more time, I have the opportunity to see you.” you said, my darling, with tears in your eyes, bowing your head in deep appreciation to witness the precious and mysterious force of nature that is the awakening of spring. I vividly remember this morning and these words that I repeat silently as I stand alone this spring. I contemplate the wonder of nature of God’s creation, our life together, our parting, and innumerable meetings of a lifetime …
If I had known I would be alone so soon, I would have been more insistent about you compiling this book of essays yourself. “No rush! I have a great idea for a novel that I must write first.” you would say. Our first priority was making enough money to live and there was no extra money or time to devote to a grand writing project. Yet driven by my worry that this would not get done, I would occasionally ask you about it.
I don’t know how to publish a book, but in the spirit of Don Quixote, I began.
Our children are still young and are not fluent in Korean and nobody has time for this. In order to break free of a cycle of sorrow and loneliness I began this impossibly huge project as a constructive way to remember you.
Even though the great novel you had planned never made it out of your head, these essays that you wrote when you were younger and in the busiest time of your working life were read by many new immigrants. Your warmth, kind encouragement and advice was received by the hearts of tired hard working people and provided a moment of repose and comfort. If that was your aim, then you succeeded. You were tireless in your efforts to help newly arrived immigrants establish themselves in their new home.
People on the move on the 401 is a collection of articles that appeared weekly in the Korean Journal, Hankook Ilbo (Korea Times Daily) articles, unpublished poems, essays and the beginning of a novel, eulogies and poems by your friends. Many people helped in publishing this book and I acknowledge your friends for their continuous help Yeo Dong-Won, Shin Kyung-Yong, Lee Sung Muk, Kang Sin Bong, Yu Yung Rhin (Editor of Korean Journal), Seoul University classmates who wrote eulogies Professor Kim Byung Kwang and Professor Nam Pung Hyun, and close friend Professor Shim Jae Ki from Seoul University who edited and published the book. Currently our son David, who in many ways resembles you, is working in Korea and raised the funds to publish this book.
I imagine your voice as you see me here, saying with regret and a smile, “You are working very hard, all alone. Sorry.” I hope you can understand and pardon any incompleteness or shortcomings of this book. Sweet dreams, my love, until we meet again.
May 1997, Okryong Kwak
May 2016, Translated into English by June working with and Okryong