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Strolling to the Past. Travel writing can begin at home.

August 29, 2012
Sign outside the Changdeokgung palace complex, declaring it is a world heritage site.

Sign outside the Changdeokgung palace complex, declaring it is a world heritage site.

From me reading or listening to other people’s writing for the first time is exciting. It’s like unwrapping a present and getting a glimpse of what has been hidden by the wrapping paper before the whole surprise is revealed. Every so often a piece of writing sets off a real tingle of excitement, which grows as I sit listening to the author read it out.

This happened to me at the Great Writing 2012 conference in June when JiWon Ji, from the Ewha Woman’s University, South Korea, began to read her piece of travel writing ‘Strolling to the Past.’

It is a very insightful blend of personal narrative, travel and creative writing, made all the more remarkable because English is not JiWon’s first language.

After the interview JiWon has kindly included a short excerpt of the piece and I have included the photographs she used in the PowerPoint presentation that accompanied the reading.

The main entrance to the Changdeokgung Palace Complex

The main entrance to the Changdeokgung Palace Complex

Close up of main entrance to the Changdeokgung Palace Complex.

Close up of main entrance to the Changdeokgung Palace Complex.

What are you studying at the university and what are you going to do when you’ve finished your course?

My major is in the Professional Writing Program (PWP), which aims to educate students in the practical aspects of English writing. PWP offers classes such as Academic English, Business Writing, News Writing and Editing, Public Relations (PR) and Travel Writing, and so on. These classes are helpful because they cover many different ways of using English, which are helpful for a wide range of work situations.

After graduating, I would like to work as an English editor at a government agency. An English editor is usually in charge of updating websites in English, translating documents, or coordinating the creation of PR materials. I would also like to continue with my hobby of creative writing, while taking some creative writing classes, which I find very interesting. I really would like to be an amateur writer. While taking some creative writing classes, I found writing attractive.

Injeongjeon. The throne hall of the palace.

Injeongjeon. The throne hall of the palace.

Why did you choose to do a piece of travel writing?

I am really a beginner, so I couldn’t say I chose travel writing to present at 2012 Great Writing Conference. I took the PR and Travel Writing class during the fall semester, 2011 and I had a chance to write two pieces of travel writing. I just picked one of them for the conference, because I like the introduction part of it.

When it comes to the creative writing, I just wrote two pieces of travel writing and two pieces of non-fiction (essay). Now, I am looking forward to taking a Fiction Writing class next semester.

Entrance to Seonjeongmun. The meeting hall.

Entrance to Seonjeongmun. The meeting hall.

Seonjeongmun. The meeting hall.

Seonjeongmun. The meeting hall.

How did you decided to use time as the general theme of this piece of writing.

The theme of time is always with me. I think because I fell behind in the competition with my peer group. I majored in law at university and studied for the bar exam just like my peer group. However, I failed to pass the bar exam and started to study a totally new field after spending several years trying to find something that I really wanted to do, except being a lawyer. The thought that I started late makes me obsessive with time. Therefore, my travel writing also started with the conflict about time.



Why did you choose to write about the palace of the Joseon Dynasty?

I chose the palace because the locational characteristics of it could express my conflict about time. South Korea doesn’t have much trace of the past due to the extensive town development plan. However, five palaces of the Joseon Dynasty remain right in the middle of Seoul. The difference between the palace and its surrounding area, felt like the contrast between past and present.

In fact, I had thought the palaces were just historic sites for foreigners. However, one day, the palaces felt different. I could see the difference between the palaces and the surrounding areas. Suddenly, I was seized by the urge to go into the palace. I thought I might able to do my travel writing homework and escape from my tight schedule. You know, a tight schedule means time passes fast.

Bullomun. The gate of eternal youth, if you walk through it.

Bullomun. The gate of eternal youth, if you walk through it.

Here is the extract from Ji Won’s travel article.

Strolling to the Past

A clock keeps ticking away without any pause. With the ticking sound of the clock, time moves only in one direction, forward. Moreover, there is no difference between yesterday and today when it comes to the speed and the length of time. This is true in terms of the absolute concept of time. Yet another concept of time does exist, namely, relative time. Sometimes it seems as if a day has gone by at the speed of light, while there are other days when we can even feel every movement of the clock’s second hand. When we become old enough to realize that we cannot turn back time, the days that pass by too fast increase and, correspondingly, so does our desire to slow down the hands of the clock.

Early one morning, rather large drops of rain soaked the earth. It was an autumn rain, so I could feel the coldness in the wind. The coldness means a half of this year already has gone. On my way home from graduate school after taking class, I was seized by fear that I could face the winter of life soon if the time of my life passes too fast like these days. While my friends are well on their way to establishing themselves as experts, I had just started to study totally new field. How can I catch up with them? Facing the winter of life without summer’s luxuriant glittering and Fall’s affluent coloring would be miserable. At a time when I should boast a tree with innumerable fully grown leaves, I have only a small tree with fragile young leaves. While worrying about the future of my tree, I would like to escape the reality.

Just then, Changdoekgung Palace met my eyes from the bus on the way home and I got off the bus in haste. During a short time waiting for the traffic lights to turn on green, countless cars, buses, and people rushed by.

Changdoekgung is one of five palaces in Joseon Dynasty, which is located in the center of Seoul. The palace, on the UNESCO World Heritage List, has its history of more than six hundred years; the amount of time the Earth would go around the Sun six hundred times. It seemed enough for me to retreat into the past. Whispering to myself that it is a good place to escape, I turned my back on the busy street and stepped into the past through the main gate, Donhwamun…

Now sit back and enjoy views of the secret garden and the rest of the complex.

All the photographs were taken and formatted by JiWon.

From → Non-fiction, Travel

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