Kyoungju Kim+Soyeon Jun

02.27 2017 INTERVIEW DATE

Poet+Writer

Bulgwang-dong, Eunpyeong-gu, Seoul

Up on the hill of Bulgwang-dong, at a cozy home, we met Kyoungju Kim, a poet and playwright, and his wife Soyeon Jun, a writer and teacher for children with special needs. Their sunny, wooden house sat near the Bukhansan(Mt.Bukhan) and was filled with stories of their countless travels across the world. We took a close look into the journey-like lives of the couple and their two beautiful sons.

Yoojin Jung

Please introduce yourselves.

(Kim) My name is Kyoungju Kim and I’m a poet and a playwright. I work mostly on musicals these days and recently adapted <The Brothers Karamazov> into a musical script.

(Jun) I’m Soyeon Jun and I teach disabled children at an elementary school. Aside from my main job, I take photographs, make writings and publish them into books from time to time.

Considering it’s not a usual job, what is it like to live as a poet and a teacher for disabled children?

(Kim) I try to keep the poetry writing going but my self-consciousness as a poet isn’t as strong as my peers. I rather prefer things poetic than the poetry itself. To me, living as a poet is a job that plays with the texture(or sentiment) of language in order to encourage people to retain their right to be impressed and moved. And I think that’s the kind of creativeness people always talk about.

(Jun) Being with disabled children is certainly not easy. There are times when it takes a whole day to simply make eye contact with a child. It’s been 12 years since I’ve been teaching them with patience and endurance, repeatedly. And what I’ve learned through my job is that education doesn’t go one way and that I can’t set my own standards or progresses nor solely take control over it. I started photography as I began to take pictures of my students. The children I got to know through teaching triggered my photography and writing and always motivates me to continue.

How did you first meet?

(Kim) We first met at a low-budget travel group destined to Mongolia. And there we each learned what we did for a living. After I returned, I published my first poetry book and made plans for another long journey to the Gobi desert in Mongolia and to Siberia on the trans-siberian train, which I thought how nice it would be to collect it into a book. I needed someone to handle the writing and pictures so I called up my wife and sort of recklessly convinced her to join me. I had come across her photography once and remembered how beautiful they were.

(Jun) No one had ever asked to use my photography before and the single fact that my work was going to be published into a book was enough for me to say yes. I was excited. And he was the first poet I’d ever met my entire life which made his proposal all the more interesting. You don’t get to meet a poet everyday, you know.(laugh)

Are essays from traveling differ from essays you write regularly?

(Kim) Life itself is a journey and that makes every writing portray this lyricism of traveling. We endlessly ask ourselves where we are from, where we are, where we are heading as we live our lives. And when one write those into words, themed on a journey, we get this self-fulfilling sensitivity. We live in the time where travelogs no longer write about ‘what’ and ‘where’ but about ‘how’ we travel, which people became conscious of its importance. As you can tell from the classics like <Patagonia> or the <Gulliver’s Travels>, they all focus on the reason and ways of traveling.

As traveling was a big part of your lives, did the change after the birth of your children cause any effect on your works?

(Kim) Life in a nest was never a consideration because I was so crazy about traveling that I’d travel across hundreds of cities. When we were dating, my wife and I would travel with the purpose of accumulating places to figure out where it’d be best to bury ourselves at the end of our lives. But then the birth of our first child changed everything. I had always thought the artistic spirit was something that fought against the things that make life conventional. So I battled to examine the world with a highly neurotic manner and engraved those sharp tempered emotions into my text. However, as I accompanied my child to learn how to speak, I noticed that my texture of language has changed dramatically. And my interest in the mother language has grown so I try to cautiously play with its pure nature.

(Jun) After our son was born, I learned how to give up. I realized that I had to give up not only traveling but also the things I wanted to capture on my camera, my desire to sleep longer, even the food I craved for at times. It took me a while to take it in. But as I did, I was able to find new roles for myself. Our lives still go on with our focus on our children but I try hard not to forget who I am. To make collection of photography of my students is one of those efforts. I learn how to let go of things through my children but my struggle to not give up on myself results to the works I create.

What does a house mean to you?

(Kim) I moved to Seoul when I was 27 because of college. I moved to countless neighborhoods in Seoul just to find cheaper rent and I think that was when I came to a number of epiphanies by waking up to the awareness of ‘space.’ I realized that you had to look at a space existentially rather than as a means for survival. Even if you were staying for a month, you must put your affection into the space. That way it gets convincing why I must lay myself down on my bed there every night, existentially. Otherwise life gets too difficult. It gets sad with no reason.

(Jun) Even if you’re not the actual owner, the present state of furnishing and decorating your rented house can really heighten the quality of your daily life.

Is there a particular reason you chose to settle in Bulgwang-dong out of all other neighborhoods in Seoul?

(Jun) The school I teach is Kyodong Elementary located in Anguk-dong. I can get there by the subway without having to transfer to another line and the rents were pretty reasonable which caught our attention. And I also love the fact the Bukhansan is close, where we love to take walks with the children.

(Kim) It was very interesting to see how the structure of the ordinary citizens was remarkably well-built. Eunpyeong-gu hosts the largest number of small-sized local bathhouses out of Seoul. And it’s one of the key region when it comes to every election, considering it casts a large number of votes. The concentrated elderly group who have dwelled here their entire lives also attracted me to settle and learn more about the neighborhood.

Could you describe your typical day?

(Kim) Other than making special lectures, I concentrate on my writing. I decided that I would write unceasingly until I reach 50. Whatever the people say or criticize, I was determined to form a habit to sincerely lead a ‘writing life.’ As such inexorable writing became a way of life, it led to my realization that the search for inspiration was just an excuse.

(Jun) As a mom to two kids, I prepare them for daycare and head to work to take care of more children. Amidst the bustle every morning, I always remember to go swimming which I don’t want to miss on. It’s my most precious and peaceful time of the day.

What is poet Kyoungju Kim like as a father?

(Kim) Even if it’s the most banal moment in life, if I don’t treat the time I spend with my kids at home valuable, my engagement with literature would be meaningless. Frankly, I wasn’t so drawn to my child in the beginning. As an artist who thought anxiety was another source that drove me, I think I was uncomfortable with the harmony inside the house. But I had to make a choice because it was my child. I had to build a certain attitude towards my son so around the time he turned one, I headed to a temple carrying my wife’s diary she wrote during her pregnancy. I digested her thoughts she had while carrying our son in her belly and began to write down a father’s diary of his wife’s gestation period. It was a gifted time for me, being able to focus entirely on my child and from then on I try to provide my child a feeling of connection to his dad in any way possible.

Do you ever feel exhausted or sorry about living as an artist in Seoul?

(Kim) The city nests a large number of citizens but lacks sophisticated citizenship. I’m the kind of person who believes higher the citizenship, deeper the agony of soul-searching and value of humanities can grow, but in reality, it’s far from being so.

(Jun) There’s this particular exhaustion that originates from the complex and fast-changing city. It kind of makes you breathe hard. I truly wish our children could grow up watching and absorbing the change of every season and be able to dwell in a more slow environment but we run short of those opportunities. However, if you rule out the bad side and turn to look into the advantages the city’s capable of providing, you wouldn’t want to leave Seoul.

RECOMMENDED PLACE

Bamgol Village

Bamgol Village, Sangdo-ro, Dongjak-gu, Seoul

“It’s a small town on a hillside and it’s a great place for a walk, especially when the flowers bloom. The locals planted a collection of flowers like rose moss which add up to create a splendid view of the village.”

 

Famous for the set of a popular TV series, Bamgol Village is an old town located in Sangdo-dong. It is now sparsely inhabited due to the upcoming redevelopment of the region. Whether it was upon one’s own will or the other to depart their homes, traces of life continues on through the steep, winding path. In spring the village greets you with vast chestnut blossoms in full bloom.