Hong Gildong

Hong Gildong by Soohye Jang

There are times in life during which you are searching. Or maybe running. Possibly just bored. It depends on perspective.

LOL – it is also possible that just by posing such an idea, you are some kind of drama queen.

Somewhere between these navigational points, and a general laziness and desire to travel, you could have discovered my condition in my 40’s. Under my belt I had a string of decent jobs, all achieved despite the fact I had no academic degrees (a fact which weighed far more heavily on my mother’s mind than mine).

This had landed me a job as a marketing director in a Community College district that was, to be completely scrupulous in description, morally bankrupt. My daily work at the District Office with jobbers, greasy pole-climbing monkeys, and amoral administrators was a horrible grind and if it hadn’t been for those zephyr-filled stretches when I was working with students, less political (in the administrative sense) faculty, and some of the frontline staff who worked relentlessly despite very real barriers presented them by their own administrators, I likely would have found some kind of automatic weapon and some kind of tower. ^^

At this time, through a variety of channels that the “Finding Hong Gildong” essays hope to explore, I was also discovering Korean culture and fiction.  It was terra incognito and a brilliant escape, and I really appreciated this. It was also remarkably good literature, but incredibly difficult literature to understand.

This was a welcome distraction, and I slowly burrowed into the literature in an attempt to have it help me understand Korean culture more fully.

My best friend is Korean and he had slowly introduced me to some of the literature and more of the culture. We worked on translations. We drank soju and ate sam-gyap-sal. We talked over this and that. Both of us had, in our personality, some aspect of the other’s culture and each of us was a comparative literature kind of guy (in fact The Translator has a Comp-Lit degree from UCB and brings a bi-cultural and comparative approach to literature).

Eventually my friendship, my desire to figure out why Korea was so difficult to understand, but even more (eventually), why Korean literature is so unknown outside of Korea? It led me to Seoul.

Where, today, I write these words and search for Hong-Gildong.

Who is Hong-Gildong?

Hong-Gildong is a classic Korean hero, the subject of at least one modern novel and a musical, and a mysterious scattering of straw.

The idea of the search for Hong-Gildong might seem a bit opaque, but please read on… eventually the meaning of all this will all be outlined in chalk.^^

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