I, (Hugo J. Smal – chief editor of The Mantifang) imagine my life as a house in which I live temporarily. It is surrounded by old trees that can swing violently back and forth during a storm. Some suffer lightning damage and others have been standing proud for a long time. After a rain shower, when the sun is shining wonderfully, it is a lovely place. Flowers form a natural garden that integrates with the environment. There are no hedges or fences, in a Korean way the garden is an extension of nature, an oasis where you walk in and out unnoticed.
The piles that support the house consist of curiosity, mindfulness, creativity, fantasy, expansion of mind and self-cultivation. Trusting in my silence, always looking for knowledge and inner self-enrichment, I love being in this imaginary environment. I can furnish the house myself because it is my life. I conquered that freedom with my birth.
The living room
The living room is of course decorated in East Asian style. The fusion between Korean, Japanese and Chinese furniture. The ornaments are because of my many trips to Korea from the country I love so very much. There are many house plants because I like being in a green environment. The paintings and drawings of my girlfriend Mickey Paulssen adorn the wall. My Buddha wall is in the hallway. Compared to Mickey’s work, that is very amateurish. But for self-cultivation, it was necessary that I made it.
The most important piece of furniture in the living room is the sofa. Equipped with large and thick pillows, it is a comfortable place to watch television. I enjoy detectives. Especially the “who-done-its” like Morse, Dalziel and Pascoe, the Scandinavians and of course CSI and such from America.
I also like to play a DVD. I have a small collection of Korean Wave (Hallyu) films. Especially Kim Ki Duk is a favourite. His “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring” is breathtaking; a meditation in itself. And you must have seen the Isle and Bin Jip too. The Vengeance Trilogy, Old boy, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance of Park Chan-wook is so black, violent and yet with very comprehensible main characters. Life, as it should not exist, is put down as if it takes place in your own little street. When you want drama, the Korean films are top. Gwoemul tells with humour (or at least I think so) about a monster in the Han river. The historical dramas are also very worthwhile.
I don’t think Robin Williams has made any bad movies, from “The world according to Carp” to “Boulevard”, I love all of them. “Jumanji”, “Mrs Doubtfire”, movies for children, I find a bit less, but I will certainly be watching in the company of a small one.
Dustin Hofman, Tom Hanks and older grits such as Jean-Paul Belmondo (especially with Godard) and Paul Newman I like very much.
Filmhouse stories, I don’t avoid them. The Rotterdam Film Festival used to have marathons. Twenty-four hours watching films such as “Kommisar” by Aleksandr Askoldov, deeply sad but extremely fascinating.
Floating through the house my music collection. I can’t live without it and the taste is wide. At the top are the three B’s: Bowie, Brell, and Bob. I catch myself listening to the music of the last, yes, of course, Dylan, sometimes for months on end.
He has been with me since I received “The concert for Bangladesh” from Oma Smal in 1997. You should definitely not miss the performance of Leon Russel from this concert. The guitar duel between George Harrison and Eric Clapton “While my guitar gently weeps” is also a highlight. Ravi Shankar filled my head with the sound of other cultures.
Why didn’t John Lennon actually perform there? Yoko of course again. John had promised but wanted to go her along with his performance. George didn’t want an avant-garde at the end of the concert. So John left New York two days before the party. How would he have looked back on that afterwards? “Imagine” opposite, “In the middle of a shave, In the middle of a shave, I call your name …. Oh, Yoko”. How torn can you be?
So Dylan. His best song is “Blind Willie McTell”. The song is about the history of the slaves in America but it somehow reflects my being in Korea. I feel the suffering of the Korean people In my mind, I replace the American names of those cities for those of Korea and then it all fits. The last chorus is closed:
“Well, God is in heaven. And we all because what’s his. But power and large and corruptible seed, seem to be all there is. I’m gazing out the window, or the St. James Hotel. And I know no one can sing the blues. Like Blind Willie McTell. ” Blind Willie on you tube
Bowie had been a travel companion since 1969. For me, his“ A space oddity ”is perhaps the best story about the beautiful loneliness that I sometimes feel inside. There is also ugly loneliness. I know them too, but here I mean the loneliness of the first sentence of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.” So when everything was still empty and clean. Or the loneliness that radiates from the still smile of the Buddha. Perhaps self-cultivation is the search for this silence. When I have found it on my deathbed I will be happy. One thing is certain: shortly thereafter I will certainly have it.
I saw Bowie on the fourth of May 4, 1976, in the Sportpalace Ahoy in Rotterdam. The performance started with a film by Dali and Bunuel “Un Chen Andalou” Then “Station to Station.” You can see how it felt here:
When Bowie did his soundcheck in the Feyenoord Stadium in 1983, I lived five minutes walk away, my neighbor came complaining that my music was too loud.
In 1976 it wasn’t just Bowie’s music that attracted me. I was really worried about being able to buy the same pleated book and the same suit he was wearing. Please note; those trousers then cost NLG 225, which would now be around € 600. I don’t remember how much that costume cost, but it had a short wrap jacket and was Mascotte-rolling paper-green. So it could never have been too much. Yes, I was a dandy.
What I love about Bowie is that he embraces Bob and Brell. Bob with his “Song for Zimmerman” and Brell with “The port of Amsterdam”. A fourth B is bumpy: Berthold Brecht. Bowie played “Baal” in an inimitable way. My cats their names were, in fact, Jacques and Berthold in 1976. How darned can you be?
The three B’s, well let’s make four of them, are at the top of the hundreds of musicians that I admire. I will mention a few more: Waits, Marley, Young, Stones, Morrison, Beach Boys and then I just stop. I do mention the concert for piano and violin by Beethoven. When I listen to those violin pieces I feel a seagull flying. I could fill a year-long music program with all the music that is in my head. Yes, it’s busy there!
My desk is always a mess. The administration in a pile, notes scattered here and there and the books I’m using piled open. They are also on the floor. The books and notes together form the disorder in my head while writing. I always build chaos of data. I postpone and keep raising the bar. Consider pictures and reactions while pegging down.
The television is always on. Chattering in the background provides some peace. This especially with cycling. I prefer to follow the Tour de France from an angle. Stories about churches, castles and the landscape fill the quiet stream of words. Occasionally a fall or exciting escape then I startle. Damn, lost that sentence again! Fortunately, it will always be alright in the end.
It is going too far to give an overview of all the books I did read. Many come back naturally in my stories. I do mention here the writers and books that had a lot of influence on me.
First the Bible.
I was raised Catholic and believe me; you will never get rid of that. Even If you would like that. A concept of god remains in your brain forever. After all, even if there is a rejection, there is someone who happens to do so and must therefore exist.
Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were good opponents. The freedom thinking of the existentialists was really an eye-opener to me. Afterwards, it was a shame that Sartre could not free himself from alcohol. Moreover, the Beauvoir was always after his girlfriends. She was trapped in a cell of jealousy. The free relationship they had has made her do crazy things. Fortunately for writers, only the books that remain behind are the most important.
“The return of Joachim Stiller” from the Belgium writer Hubert Lampo has opened my eyes to the magical realism that you sometimes encounter in my stories and poems. The Discovery of Heaven by the Dutch writer Harry Mulisch learned me that in a novel everything is possible.
“The history of Western philosophy” by Bertrand Russel has made me think. That book opened a lot of windows. Later I broke off a lot of certainties by reading “Korean Philosophy, its tradition, and modern transformation”. Especially the Buddhist monk Wonhyo compels me to study and, of course, to write in the long run. The same applies to Jinul and the Neo Confusionist Toegye. They make you curious.
Recently I got a “Chinese philosophy” review from Karel van der Leeuw. The windows apparently had to go all the way out. Lifelong reading means continuing to learn and that is good for self-cultivation. You have to stay curious until the last minute! I now realize that the foundation of the house should have been a study in the Cultural Sciences. To achieve that, it seems to me too ambitious at my age.
“Literature” and journalism
My work is both “literature” and journalism. Literature, I put in quotation marks because fortunately, it’s to the reader whether that is assessed as such. I write fiction and non-fiction stories but it is often a whole puzzle to find out what applies where. At the moment I am working on a fictional story about Korea for example. The protagonist’s experiences are mine, but he is also experiencing a great fictional adventure, but based on facts. They must all be looked up and checked. I, therefore, have an extensive Korea library. And very often I think:
“Long live the internet!”
During my “Watergarden” years, journalism work mainly focused on that special place behind the house. It was a lot about ponds, fish, flowers, and plants. Garden architecture, free nature and, for example, aquariums were also discussed. In short: it was about the living environment. The living environment of Japan and China have my special attention and that of Korea my very special attention.
A very pleasant side effect of my work is that I sometimes get the chance to help novice writers on their way. People with a speciality often have a good story, but do not know how to convert it into a whole to be published. I like to guide them in this.
What happens in the bedroom or in the kitchen is of no importance here. Privacy is quite hot nowadays and nobody needs to know how I prepare against all the cooking laws in my meals. I did give you a glimpse into the crowded, noisy but sometimes also very quiet brain of the chief editor of The Mantifang. My brain is my house and I like to live in it.
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