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Writings Main


First Steps
by The Rooster

A writer is born.

"Damn straight," he thought, as the words `Writing Contest` appeared on
his computer in the local PC room. Everything around him went quiet as he
stared at the screen - an achievement due to the noise the place made.
Housewives, businessmen, high school students, the delivery guy from the
noodle restaurant and those too asleep or drunk to even be defined crammed
themselves in here to breathe each others cigarette smoke and commit acts
of murder on the battlefield, the soccer field and the card table while
twenty or thirty different Korean pop songs blared from the speakers.
However today even the dating services flashing on the side of the screen
failed to distract him.

It was a contest focusing on `Journeys`, or `No Longer Journeys` or
something like that. Too easy. He was on a journey and he had a life.
Well, he assumed he did anyway. The soju tended to make things go black at
the end of the night and he had to rely on hearsay most of the time, but
it sounded like he was having fun. He frowned as his bowels complained at
the reminder. Clicking on a link, he read through recent submissions, his
calves tensing and his feet tapping with excitement as stories of comas
and monks and aliens prompted a thousand moments of his own to flood his

"I can so do that," he thought, leaning back in his chair to think as a
thick haze of cigarette smoke drifted his way. He dodged and slapped at
it, almost falling off his chair in the process but he didn`t even get a
look of annoyance from the guy next door. It did however snap him out of
the trance he had been in for the last ten minutes, and realising he had
already clocked in two hours on the machine he got up to leave. There was
no one at the counter so he had to wait, but eventually the cashier
returned from the non-smoking section with a bored look on his face and a
basket full of ashtrays. As he stood waiting to settle his bill he felt
sure he could write. He had been successful when he tried, but he just
didn`t have the discipline to keep doing it. He knew he could though. Back
at university, in between exams and essays and hangovers he hadn`t been
bad. However he hadn`t progressed much since and those days were
disappearing rapidly into the distance. To be replaced by this - a smoky
room full of Koreans spitting into their ashtrays and yelling at their
cellphones while life roared by outside, moving and changing so fast that
only the red neon crosses were his one true constant. However he paid his
bill and left as this was where he was heading.

He walked down the stairs, past the battered posters of scantily-clad
cartoon figures brandishing swords and nightclubs with indecipherable
names and out into the heavy wet air. He was so wired he didn`t even
notice the remains of a polystyrene bowl of tteokbokgi lying on the
pavement, its contents determinedly trying to soil his shoes. Any other
day it would have made him cringe, but he barely even noticed as he
stepped over it and headed for his apartment, racking his brain for ideas
the whole time.

"A guy who loses and finds himself in Korea."

He abruptly cut the chain of thought off.

"Nah, probably be done before."

He kept walking.

He paused as he came to a large four-wheel drive parked in the middle of
the road, stuck his head around it to check for traffic and tried again as
he crossed the road.

"A story of redemption about a ESL teacher who goes to Korea to escape
the real world, faces his own demons at the bottom of a soju bottle and
returns home a changed man."

He stumbled.

"Yeah, you`re right,"he thought to himself."Same as the first, just way
more cliches."

What he wanted was originality. He had always taken for granted that he
was smarter than everybody else. He had no proof of the fact of course,
but it just seemed obvious. No one else really understood him. Whenever he
was hungover and feeling sorry for himself he always had that to fall back
on - and it never failed to make him feel better. He was sure he could
write something fresh and original.

"Organised crime, drugs, prostitution..."

Things were not going well.

He turned off Jangwongil and on to another narrow cramped street called
Jangwongil. Maybe his Hanguel was off, but they both seemed to have
exactly the same name. He shrugged. It was Korea, and it was best not to
get to worked up about things. He pondered further as he dodged empty egg
cartons, an old chest of drawers and broken panes of glass while rotting
food spilled out of plastic bags into the street.

"Something about the North Koreans then."

However all he really knew was the inside of his apartment, most of the
bars in the area and his English school. He decided to leave the North
Koreans until he had at least been to the DMZ. It seemed to make everybody
else an expert on North Korea so it was best to wait until he went there

With that in mind he turned right on to Kyongdanggil leaving Guri Tower,
an old fridge with the door ripped off and several bad ideas in the
distance behind him. He passed through the smell of fish outside a local
restaurant, the stench filling his nostrils to capacity, before turning
left on to Osonggil and left again on to Hanumgil. His apartment building
stood on this street opposite a small park and a gray box-like church, and
he entered and climbed the stairs in a hurry to get to his room. He barely
noticed the pile of misdirected bills and junkmail on the floor in front
of the letterboxes and he didn`t throw any of the twenty different pizza
magnets stuck to his door down the hall or out the window. He just went
inside. It was an unusual day.

Stale air, empty pizza boxes and a battered umbrella greeted him on the
front step. He was home. The closest place to home that Korea had on offer
anyway. Taking off his shoes, he sat down at the long table in his
one-room studio, pulled out an exercise book and stared at the blank page
in front of him, tapping his fingers on the wooden surface. However
inspiration was slow in coming - even slower than money on payday.

The minutes ticked by as he sat spellbound at his desk until his eyes
refocused and he realised he still hadn`t written anything. He turned in
his chair, grabbed a beer from the fridge, and gazed around his apartment,
once off-white but now just plain dirty. All the symbols of Korea that he
had passed over for their Japanese equivalents in the past were there -
the Goldstar television, the Daewoo video and the Samsung refrigerator
which hacked and groaned, a noise as common to him now as the arguments in
the street at night and the droning from the watermelon trucks in summer.

However he could not get over the sound of the telephone, and he jumped as
it blared at him from under several layers of dust. His concentration had
been broken, but it did not matter - he still had no ink on the page.

He grabbed at the phone.

"Yeah,"he answered.


It was Marty, an American who lived in the area.

He looked over at his exercise book, the expanse of paper blindingly
empty, as it sat on the table. This was the last thing he needed. He was
irritated. Immensely. He had to deal with the intrusion quickly before his
flow was blocked, and his flow was the most important thing. He cleared
his throat, scratched the back of his neck roughly and searched for the
right words, which again were slow in coming. The seconds ticked by, but
finally, after what seemed like an eternity, they came to him. It was as
diplomatic as he could be.

"Damn straight. See you in five."

He was running down the corridor before the phone even hit the floor.


July 2, 2004

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