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WRITERS' NOTES

So the Straw Bear and I

  • onMarch 26, 2019
  • Vol.43 Spring 2019
  • byPark Min-gyu

The straw bear and I met at the International Wilder Mann Festival1 held in the Björn region of Germany. Of course, this is a lie. But the straw bear came up to me and said hello, so I had to respond somehow. Given that this was the Wilder Mann Festival, I, too, was wearing the huge head of a bull, made crudely of fabric and leather. I could feel its heavy weight on my shoulders. Because of our supernatural costumes, the straw bear stood over seven feet tall while I was close to nine feet. Having no other choice, we just . . . bobbed our big, hulking heads and torsos along as we walked side by side. We were walking in a parade for Wilder Mann, a symbol of pagan religions around the world.

 

The straw bear asked me where I was from.

When I told the bear I was from Korea,

the mask grunted that it comes to this parade every year

but has never seen a Wilder Mann like me.

 

Of course it hasn’t. I was in town to visit my cousin and her family who lived near Björn. It was my cousin who told me about the festival; in fact, her precise words were, “Why don’t you join the festival? Aren’t you great at that wacky stuff?” Why yes. I was born a Wilder Mann. I didn’t need much in the way of a disguise really, but still I fashioned a bull’s head and slid it over my own, and was now waddling down this street. And although not a terribly important fact in and of itself, I seemed to be the only participant representing Korea.

 

What is the name of your costume?

The straw bear asked.

This thing couldn’t have had a name,

but for some reason I found myself

blurting out the word bulgogi.2

 

And that’s how. “Good to know you, Bulgogi,” the straw bear said. What a gullible person, I thought to myself. By now the participants had finished walking in the parade through the forest and were enjoying their own private festivals. Just then, the straw bear groaned, Ugh, I need to go to the bathroom. But now that it was a Wilder Mann, the bear observed, it found it a frightening notion to go to a human bathroom. Instead, we agreed that I would keep a lookout while the bear relieved itself in a secluded spot in the woods. We walked a few ways from the crowd and headed deeper into the forest where we . . . went about our respective duties. The straw bear was a woman. Or possibly a man who preferred to urinate in a rather strange position . . . In any case s/he was a supernatural being who had managed to hold in his/her pee for a significantly long time. The forest was dark.

 

Bulgogi! Don’t go too far,

said the straw bear, possibly because she was scared.

When I told her not to worry,

she replied, Thanks.

 

Want me to perform cunnilingus?

I asked, partly because I was bored of the wait.

Hm . . . Sure,

said the straw bear.

 

Okay. So the straw bear and I

decided to write a novel

for no particular reason really.

This was only a few days ago,

in any case.

 

1. The Wilder Mann refers to costumes based on pagan religions from Europe and elsewhere that have been passed down from ancient times. People who believed that everything has a soul or spirit—such as things found in nature, animals, plants, and the tools humans used—participated in local festivals wearing fantastic Wilder Mann costumes and masks to communicate with the gods. Even now, this tradition is kept alive in certain places in Europe. The straw bear (or Strohbär) is one of many Wilder Mann characters in Germany
2. Bulgogi is a popular Korean recipe of marinated beef cooked with vegetables.

Author's Profile

Park Min-gyu debuted in 2003 with two widely-acclaimed novels: The Sammi Superstar’s Last Fan Club and Legend of Earth’s Heroes. He has authored the short story collections Castella and Double, and the novels Ping Pong and Pavane for a Dead Princess. His books in translation include Pavane for a Dead Princess (Dalkey Archive, 2014), Pavane pour une infante défunte (Decrescenzo éditeurs, 2014), and Ping-Pong (Editions Intervalles, 2016).