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WRITERS' NOTES

In Search of Lost Curiosity

  • onNovember 13, 2014
  • Vol.8 Summer 2010
  • byKong Ji-hee

That’s right—I had left. I’d forgotten it for a little while. My journey, for what did you lead me here? I asked, and then forgot, once again, that I was on a journey. And I felt sad that even though my body had been brought to a completely different place, my spirit hadn’t. My journey, won’t you bring my spirit to this new place, too?

I don’t remember exactly when, but as I got older, something left me—curiosity about the world, about life, about people. I’d always thought such symptoms were fatal for a writer. Changes in seasons, beautiful things, the intensity of life—nothing moved me. Was it because of the weight of my daily life? Was it boredom, or lethargy? Even searching for an answer was part of tedious daily life. And then, like a gift, the publisher suggested that I go on a trip. Even with the trip ahead of me, however, I didn’t feel that enthusiastic about packing and looking for a place where I wanted to travel. Why did I have to leave?

On a cold day that didn’t feel like spring, I made my way to the children’s book fair held in Bologna, Italy. On display at the entrance were familiar characters from Korean picture books. There was a tiger, an old woman, and flat-nosed children, all from Korea. The characters seemed to be asking me, for what have you come? Then they said, it seemed, it’s good to see you. My heart felt softened. I felt proud to see a Korean picture book awarded the Ragazzi Award, and grew comfortable and relaxed as I met some of the writers. How hard they must have worked, and how difficult it must have been for them, I thought. Their shy smiles before the camera felt like warm candlelight.

In the Korean booths, lovely books from Korea, and some of my own, were on display. The foreigners, thoroughly examining the Korean books and holding meetings with one another, sounded serious and lighthearted at the same time. They were calm and quiet, but confident. I walked slowly. I floated lightly through the books, for I hadn’t come to buy or sell books.

How and why has this book come to be here? How did it get here? Why is it on display here? What country is it from? Who made this book? Is the person who wrote this book alive or dead? When was this book written, and why did the author feel prompted to write it? Was it the present, or the long ago past? And what kind of a story is contained in this book? The books, full of words I couldn’t read, stimulated my curiosity. I took a book in my hand, flipped through the pages, feeling them with my own hands. I wanted to know everything that was in the book. Does my book make someone feel curious like this? I wondered. It would be wonderful if the stories I’ve written were reborn in unfamiliar languages and told with warmth and affection to unknown readers.

At intervals, I went to explore the unfamiliar land and its cities. The things I saw there for the first time made me reflect on things—myself, others, and the streets and scenes from life. Looking at unfamiliar things and people, I became curious as to why they were made in a certain way, why they talked and moved and ate and looked at me in a certain way. I became awfully curious.

Perhaps all journeys start out from a desire—a desire for things you’ve always wanted, the kind of house you want to live in, the food you want to taste, images you like, and ornaments, colors, traditions, and movements, and so on. For the first time in a long time, I felt desire, and curiosity. The thing that had left me in the place I’d left behind was springing up in me again. It felt pleasant.

When the unfamiliarity grew somewhat tedious, I became a sojourner in the daily life to which I had returned. I became curious about the people here, where I had lived. I explored the signs and shops and trees that I used to see every day. I took a close look at the books, the clothes, the bowls and teacups I’d been used to. And I often asked myself: What is this place? What do I do, and why am I the way I am? I make sure to take the rising curiosity with me in my pocket. It’s a new start.

 

by Gong Ji-hee