Thanks to my complex, or perhaps riveting personal life, I’ve lived abroad in different countries for a few years, and sometimes even a few months. But I’ve never been able to speak any local language fluently, no matter where I was. In some places, I was able to manage by speaking slowly; in other places, I could not speak a lick. This is not a big problem if you’re a tourist, but living there is another matter. Language was a matter of communication that stirred up loneliness, pain, and all kinds of disillusionment. It was also an issue in dating and love. Living in a country that’s not mine, I became lonely because of the language that was not my own, but the endless cycle of irony was that I had no choice but to write the things inspired by this loneliness in the language of my country. I often wondered: Wouldn’t Sydney, one of the places I’ve lived, be best represented in Australian English? Wouldn’t Beijing be most “Beijing” when represented in Mandarin, particularly the Beijing dialect?
Looking at it from the other side of things, wouldn’t Seoul, the place I was born, be most faithfully Seoul when represented in Korean, especially the Seoul dialect? If so, if my works were to be translated, and when the translations reached the readers, would my stories be able to reach them fully?
I once wrote in my novel, Ocean and Butterfly: “It’s not just a problem of language, but in the end, language will become the source of all problems.” This was a Korean female narrator commenting on a joseonjok (descendants of Koreans in China) woman who married a Korean man. Language is not just a means of communication, but communication itself. That’s why language becomes lonely, and so do people. Writers fill the shortcomings of language with the space between the lines. The spaces between the lines are things that cannot be expressed through words, but nevertheless must be expressed, like wounds, loneliness, and love.