My Meeting with Kim Young-ha

Kim Young-ha

Kim Young-ha at TEDx

I almost missed meeting Kim Young-ha at TEDx.

It wasn’t until the morning of the actual event that I realized it started at 1PM. Since this recognition occurred to me at 12:18, I was a bit late. Once there, the staff ushered me in to the auditorium so quickly that I did not have time to pick up the little ear-doohickey that would translate things into English. I got into the auditorium and snapped some quick pictures from very far away and through a rail and past several bushy hairdos. A few minutes later, after snapping these shots, I fought my way back out and got the translating device. I heard the end of Kim’s speech from outside, so that the highly amped Korean inside the auditorium wouldn’t overwhelm the speaker in my left ear.

Kim talked pretty generally, at least the part I heard, about the artist in all of us and in creating more than one identity within each of us in order to strengthen that artist. I’m not so concerned I missed all of his talk, because it is supposed to go online with subtitles. Kim was obviously more funny before translation, as on several occasions he had the audience hooting.

As far as I could tell, he was whisked away immediately upon conclusion of his speech, so there was no chance to talk or get an autograph.

This was disappointing, but I decided to stay and hear the other speakers. This turned out to be a wise decision.

When it was lunch break and since I was one of only about 10 obviously foreign faces in the audience, the video woman came to speak to me and when I said I had come to hear Kim Young-ha, she said, “Oh, I think he’s still standing way back over there in the corner.” And, she was right! I went over and introduced myself and we talked briefly.

Kim is slender, surprisingly youthful and was extremely polite. His English is excellent. He was with his wife, who was too shy to be photographed, but Kim allowed me to take a shot. Kim noted that he has just published 13 short stories in Korean which he doubts will be translated quickly. With a laugh he noted that books of translated short stories are not usually very successful in the US. Also, he said, his time in Seoul is drawing short, as he will be soon be going to New York as a visiting scholar at Columbia University. He is also working on a novel which he described as “very dark.” That’s saying something, considering some of the darkness he’s already delivered in his translated work, particularly “I Have the Right to Destroy Myself” and “Your Republic is Calling You.” We began to talk a little bit about “Your Republic is Calling You” and then it was time to go back in for the next set of talks.

I’m still feeling the fanboy excitement of this meeting, which is probably undignified for a 50 year old, but what the heck. How often do you get to meet your favorite Korean author?

Kim also showed up for the after-party at the same table as me, but I felt the I had already pestered him enough and let him enjoy his dinner,

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