Korean: language, painting, culture and an advice

Lockdown can be the door for curiosity, especially for those in love with humanity. The differences and similarities only make the world more beautiful. While waiting for the pandemic control, nothing better than experiment with other cultures via the Internet. The first step was Netflix. They offered me a Korean drama (K-Drama), and I accept the challenge to watch something it wasn’t European or American. It was funny. The next step was to collect information about a country where the only data you have is about Seoul and its excellent educational system.

Books! Books are an excellent idea to begin this journey. The first one was “In Grand Style – Celebration in Korean Art During the Joseon Dynasty” from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. When the book arrived at my hands, I already contacted the Joseon dynasty – again Netflix and K-Dramas. I can discern between fiction and reality – differently from some MPs that think The Crown is a documentary – I knew to really understand a bit more about South Korean. Their people were reading, researching on the Internet, and above all, deep dive in the Art, language, culinary and news coming from the country.

I took the courage and add on Duolingo – an excellent and funny App for languages – Korean. I bought a calligraphy notebook, a children bilingual book. I gave my first steps to the strange and complex group of sounds that make Korean different from western languages. Different is good, everybody knows. The Korean sounds are profound, their intonation gives extra meaning to the same sound. Suddenly, I observed the K-Dramas how the actor was speaking and emphasized some words and sounds. The language was the beginning, but not only it caught my attention.  The relationship between generations, gender, and other characteristics generally discussed in the open in many countries – but there are put behind a veil – makes me think about how we are similar. 

I took my first contact with the mulberry paper and the paints made by great Korean artists using this media from the language and TV shows. Another K-Drama, called Saimdang – Memoir of Colours, opened me to try painting using the mulberry paper. I am still at the beginning of the process to learn. I found a fantastic artist called Sungsook Hing Setton (an Asian-American).  Her book opened my mind to another kind of beauty, the beauty gives to you by the brush. 

I write a book, and usually, let my characters guide the story is something simple and engrain on my work. However, my painting hobby using acrylic wasn’t so free, and I never let the brush guide me. The forms, mostly the ridicules attempt to imitate nature, brought me frustrations most part of the time, and some proud others. I was in need to learn. The attempts with mulberry paper and the totally liquid paint were catastrophic. I just destroy the proves of my incompetence to try to draw a simple tree without making a mess. And what mess!

The Sungsook book and the video, where she was painting, showed what I was doing wrong. I was trying to lead the brush and not the other way round. It was a great insight. Now I am becoming better like an apprentice who just entered the painting crafts. I am becoming much more intimate with the brush then I thought it was possible.

I continue to watch K-Dramas. I know many Korean people, who called themselves intellectuals – say the K-Dramas are like poison to the mind because they did not reflect the truth. After watching many European and American movies, I learned that if you want to understand where the truth is, look above the surface. Watch the film or series with a critic’s eye. Most of the time, those cinematographic pieces reflect what the people, those who are the backbone of the country think about themselves. 

Of course, you need to visit the country, not as a tourist, but as part of society. I experienced a change like that when living in Turkey for a year, and the other one when I moved to London. Of course, having chosen to leave in big cities, cosmopolitan and diverse cities, the difference wasn’t too alarming. But they were there, and the best way was to change and adapt. I did, I am still doing.

Korean did not only give us romantic dramas – historical, criminal or whatever – they give us their vision of the future as well. Like the Space Sweepers – I watched last Saturday (14/2)- showed that even the most naïve, predictable and exaggerated film can have something meaningful behind a simplistic storyline. In this case, what I found was scaring.

The movie tells the story of an Earth where humans could live (2092). A big company called UTS build a new home for humans on the Earth’s satellite. Naturally, not everybody can go live there, so the company CEO – owner – decide to accept only exceptional people. Illness, skin colour, or anything considered a “deficiency” make you not be accepted for living there. It was similar to some countries immigration policy in our days. It was shocking to see people killed only because they were in some way different. In one movie moment, it was shown how those living on Earth were dragged to despair by the necessity to pay for air and water. Leaving many dying without any of them. Nowadays, we always took water and air as a right, but is it true? 

The UTS fictitious company developed a way to terraform Mars. A wonderful technological invention. One character asked: if you can rebuild the Mars atmosphere, why not use the same technology to clean the Earth’s air? It was a good question. One that made me think why those billionaires’ businesspeople are investing so hard to develop technology to build a home on the moon or mars instead of creating a solution to Erath. Above all, why, the companies and governments worldwide took so long to reconciled themselves with the reality of climate change when they knew it decades ago?

Sometimes, I fear fantasy is a kind of advice about the future. Dystopian worlds aren’t impossible. They only look too distant from us, our daily lives, routines to be considered advice or an alert. It isn’t time for all people suffering from climate change who are aware of what is happening put together their efforts to change what is needed to be changed? It’s interesting to hear what billionaires have to say about the future and how to solve the climate change challenge. However, it’s also smart and sensible to think about how much they will gain if the Earth collapses. Their utopian New Earth – on the Moon, Mars or elsewhere –is the only place where humankind can survive. To be there, we will need to fulfil some rules created by those who control the means and ways to save only a few of us they see as wroth. 

* This is a poster for Space Sweepers. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the Film, the publisher of the Film or the graphic artist. Wikipedia.

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