• My Own Land of the Morning Calm

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    by DS Peters

    SeoulEight mountains surround the city of Seoul, and beyond these mountains the Republic of Korea is surrounded by the sea, except to the north of course where something small but impassable restlessly occupies the portion of the Korean Peninsula that borders China. Humans have occupied this area on the Han River since the Paleolithic Era, but the city was not officially established until 16 BCE by Baekje (one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea). The city has gone through a few name changes, such as Wirye-seong, Hanju, Namgyeong, Hanseong, Hanyang, and Gyeongseong (by the Japanese during their occupation), however, through such superficial alterations the city continued as the capital of the great Joseon Dynasty, the brief Korean Empire and the country we know today as the Republic of Korea.

    For approximately 41 years, the Japanese occupied Korea and followed the colonial handbook by destroying buildings and imposing their language in an effort to eradicate Korean culture. In 1950 North Korea occupied Seoul and attempted to finish the job of destroying the city. However, on March 14, 1951 UN troops took the city back and since that day Seoul has been in a constant state of restoration, modernization, and growth.

    Today, Seoul is the second largest metropolitan area in the world with at least 25 million residents and millions of additional visitors. It is a city that can boast of nearly anything, with the world’s most visited national park (Mt. Bhukan), the world’s largest indoor theme park (Lotte World), the world’s largest bridge fountain (Moonlight Rainbow Fountain), the world’s largest cinema screen, and the world’s longest subway system. The city also showcases a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

    English visitors to Korea in the late 1300s and early 1400s referred to the land of the Joseon (sometimes written in English as Choson) Dynasty as “morning calm,” however this is not a translation Koreans have ever used.  The writer Percival Lowell embraced the term, and in 1885 his book Choson, The Land of the Morning Calm was published, and ever since the nickname has remained popular in literary and artistic circles.


    Writers living in Seoul:

    Gabe Hudson, author of Dear Mr. President, lives in Seoul and teaches at Yonsei University’s Underwood International College.

    Han Bi-Ya is a well-known explorer and travel writer involved in a number of humanitarian projects.

    Kim Seong-Kon is the prolifically published president of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea, a professor of English at Seoul National University and the recipient of 28 international awards.

    Ha Song-Nan, the award-winning writer of short stories.


    Where to learn in English:

    – Yonsei University – Underwood International College


    Where to learn in Hangul (Korean):

    – Yonsei University

    – Dongguk University

    – Kyonggi University

    – Korea University


    Where to find reading material in English:

    WhatTheBook? is an English-language bookstore located in Itaewon (near the US military base). One can find new and used books, children’s books, poetry, literature, non-fiction, and a wall where events and other book-related information is posted.

    The Literature Translation Institute of Korea has taken on the great task of exporting Korean literature and culture. For the most part, Korea has been an import-only nation when it comes to literature, in that although there are a number of excellent writers creating work in the Korean language, very little of this work is ever translated for the rest of the world. The Literature Translation Institute of Korea translates Korean works into English, French, Russian, Czech, etc.


    Where to write:

    Although coffee has been popular in Korea since the early 1900s, it wasn’t until the 1980s that it became popular with the masses and since then cafes have become so numerous that Korea ranks as the 11th-biggest coffee market in the world.  In other words, wherever you are in Seoul, you will see a half-dozen cafes in which to write and fuel your coffee needs. If you are the sort of writer who thrives in a pub, Itaewon is filled with what you need.  Teahouses are also abundant and you can scribble or type away while you are served tea in a semi-ceremonial manner.

    If you are working on a speculative story, you may choose to write in the cafes in the Gangnam district (famous for non-literary reasons now) with its abundance of digital signs and stores selling everything imaginable.  If you seek a more traditional arena, try Insa-dong where the nobility of Korea used to dwell, or find a quiet corner on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace, perhaps on the stairs of the building where the Hangul language was invented in 1443. Or maybe you will find your way to the stairs of Jogyesa Temple in Insa-dong, where one can sit and write while the Buddhist monks sing and chant in front of the golden statue and beneath the colorful streamers.

    Whether you are a person who can write in public or one who simply ventures forth for inspiration and then retreats to a place of quiet solitude, a science fiction writer, a nature poet, a culinary writer… you can find what you need in Seoul.



    – Seoul International Book Fair

    – A number of expat writer’s groups (which occasionally organize retreats, outings, etc.)

    – Open mic night at Tony’s Aussie Bar & Bistro



    Imminent Quarterly is a new English-language literary e-zine run by expats.  Accepts fiction, poetry, non-fiction, translations and visual art.


    DS Peters is an exiled poet and writer living and teaching in South Korea.

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