Tuesday, January 3, 2023

The Fox and the Crow - An adaptation for EBS Radio's Morning Special (최수진의 모닝스페셜)

For the past few years I've had the pleasure of being a regular guest on EBS radio and this season they very kindly asked me to not only do the news on a Friday, but also join the host Choi Suejin on Sundays to talk about movies, but also to introduce my own adaptations of famous fairy tales and fables. 

You can listen every Sunday morning to 최수진의 모닝스페셜 from 8am to 10am and hear me read them aloud or instead you can use your eyes and peruse them here... And so here's the first tale I adapted, one of Aesop's most famous fables...

Many people agree that one of the world’s most fabulous foods is cheese. Soft or hard, fresh or matured, pale white, bright orange or blue veined. Whether it smells of the pasture where those dairy cows grazed or stinks to high heaven like a pair of wet socks that have been left in your gym bag for weeks on end, there’s no denying that this most marvelous of culinary creations attracts one and all to the dinner table.

Many many years ago a farmer and his family sat down for breakfast. A meal of bread, sausage, fruit and hot coffee, along with the farmer’s very own goats cheese. A meal that may have cost pennies, but was fit for a king or even a crow…

For it was just as the family were about to sit down to enjoy their breakfast that a big black crow flew through the window, snatched up the cheese with her beak and quick as a flash was out of the house and up the apple tree at the end of the farmer’s field.

The farmer and his family were startled, but they had cheese to spare, so after locking their window firmly so that no more thieving birds could intrude they sat down and ate, wondering how such a bird would dare to raid their breakfast table.

Meanwhile, up in the apple tree, the crow was very proud of herself. She hadn’t eaten for a good two days despite searching the shrubs and bushes for rats and mice, and the local pond for frogs. And so, in desperation she had committed her lightning fast crime and would have laughed with glee if not for the cheese held fast in her beak.

The commotion in the farmhouse and the flight to the apple tree had caught the eye of a trespasser - a certain Mr. Fox who would take a bite of whatever and whoever he could get a hold of. Whilst he wasn’t much taken by the skinny crow, he rather liked the look of the cheese she was holding, and so he slowly, slyly made his way to the foot of the apple tree.

“Good morning, my lady,” the fox called to the crow and bowed his head in the most polite of manners. 

The crow did not deign to answer him, just peered at him with her beady eyes. She’d heard about foxes from her mother and knew that whenever those red ruffians were about there was bound to be trouble.

The fox, undeterred, continued to talk to the crow:

“What a fine specimen you are! My word, I’ve not seen a finer crow in all my years. Her feathers shine in the sunlight, glinting like black gold… And her wings are more magnificent than any hawk or eagle. As for her form, why she is like an avian goddess, I would not be surprised if she was corvid royalty or the like.”

It was the first time that the crow had ever heard such poetic words spoken about her. In her short life her only interactions with other animals were to be told to “shove off” or “leave me alone” or “stop that squawking”, but this fine fox seemed absolutely smitten. She felt even prouder - a fine piece of cheese and a collection of compliments all in one morning.

But the fox did not stop there:

“I must declare that this beautiful bird is perfection personified and I only wish I could hear her voice. With such a fine form, she surely must also be the most talented of songbirds. Oh deary me, what I would give for one song from the beak of this beauty. Why, if I heard it I would fall to my knees and declare her the queen of birds.”

The crow was overcome with emotion - “the queen of birds”, could it be true? With just one tune she would prove her worth and gain a title suited to her magnificence. Plus it would be rude not to give such a fine fellow the gift of song he sorely sought.

And so, she lifted her head, opened her beak wide and let out the most outrageously ugly caw. A clamor of squawks and squeaks and squeals came forth as she sang with all her heart. Her moment of glory, her moment in the sun. Images of adoring admirers surrounding her as she performed ran through her head. She would organize a concert in the clearing in the forest. There would be hundreds, no thousands of woodland creatures all aching to hear her voice… And they would bring gifts, the finest mice and rats and frogs and worms, and she’d never have to steal again. Fame at last.

The fox, on the other hand, was busy chewing. He’d caught the cheese in his open mouth, and was enjoying his hard won breakfast. He gulped the cheese down, licked his lips and bowed deeply to the crow.

“You’ve got quite the voice,” said Fox, “but, just between you and me, it’s nothing compared to Freddie Mercury, you’re no queen at all, unless…. I tell you what, I’ll give you a royal title - the queen of fools!”

And with that the fox laughed loudly and went on his way and the crow learnt an important lesson. 

Back at the house, the farmer and his family, mid-breakfast, were suddenly startled by the atrocious song of the crow. 

“Sounds like the stupid bird choked on our cheese,” said the farmer, “Serves her right for stealing off our plates.”

“Never mind her,” said his wife, “I’m more worried about our chickens. I heard from next door there’s a fox on the prowl in this neck of the woods.”

“Not to worry, dear. I’ve a gift for him and that thieving crow.” Replied the farmer, as he finished his final slice of sausage. And with that he stood, picked up his gun and went out to the field to do a little pest control. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

A Sober End to 2022

Somebody subscribed to me on Medium. It piqued my curiosity and so I logged in for the first time in goodness knows when to discover that I have never written anything on there.

Perhaps it’s time to start.

Not just on there, perhaps I should start posting here again as well.

So, here I am, in Seoul, South Korea in the last week of the year with a mild case of bronchitis and a final few radio broadcasts to do before 2022 ends.

In case, you don’t know me (and let’s face it, chances are you don’t), my name is Paul and I’m a theatre maker, broadcaster, writer, translator, voice actor and general sort of person who is available for hire for anything related to the above. I’ve been here in Korea for the past 22 years (I came here with a touring theatre production, fell in love, moved here and never left) and it has been a reasonably good life (apart from the one time someone tried to burn down our building and almost killed us). Let’s move on.

The sober end of the title refers to me being on antibiotics for the aforementioned illness. No celebratory tipples for me till Saturday thanks to the (perhaps unnecessary, after all if this is a viral infection then the drugs are going to do diddly squat) prescription from my very pleasant local ear, nose and throat physician.

Probably just as well to spend this week with a clear mind after all that has gone on in the past twelve months.

Personally speaking, it has been an incredibly productive year that has left my bank account overflowing and my energy levels pretty much depleted to nothing. I have that very bad freelancing habit of saying yes to almost any kind of paid employment wafted under my nose, which means this year I have (alongside my usual radio gigs) voice coached one of Korea’s biggest film actors, taught phonics on video through cookery and art with a puppet duck, brought Anthony Browne’s picture books to life (on a very small scale) at the Seoul Arts Center, toured Gyeonggi-do Province with a storytelling jazz concert, performed more storytelling concerts online, pretended to be a number of world leaders for some government videos, narrated an audiobook about the life of Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, written and performed in an (award winning — what? A very welcome and very big surprise) audio drama for Gwangju’s English language radio station, proofread a selection of books, flash cards and theatre surtitles, written and directed a puppet show based on a Polish fairy tale in Suncheon, translated a musical version of Romeo and Juliet into English, taught an online series of lectures on how to study English in fun ways with your children, and made my debut appearance on a KBS history panel show. I’m exhausted just remembering and listing what has been going on.

It has been a lot.

Too much.

At least according to my therapist.

So, I’m taking stock of myself at the end of 2022 and trying to work out what I will do, what I want to do and what I want to not do in 2023.

For the past decade or so I’ve had the luck and privilege to be able to write a few series of children’s books, along with a handful of plays and a larger handful of small scale storytelling shows and workshops. Next year I’m hoping to add at least one more play to the list, along with a novel that has been rolling around in my head for the past twelve months.

Whether either of them will actually happen is uncertain, but it will be fun to find out whether I can actually commit to either project without letting all the other work push them out.

nd so we come to the end of this first post, which will hopefully either endear you to me or push you away in search of a more suitable writer. Thanks for reading in any case. And may the end of your 2022 be sober/drunk/delightful/enlightening/terrible.*

*Please delete as applicable.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

An Ode To Gimbap

Here's your moment of zen for the day - a beautiful 10 minute film about Gimbap:

Munchies have put together an excellent little documentary titled "Self Expression Through Gimbap" about chef/artist Toyoung and her delightful Gimbap restaurant in Seoul. Short, sweet and bound to make your mouth water. An ode to good food, good pottery, good friendship and the marriage of art, cuisine and different cultures.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter!

Yes, just like that bloke 2000 years ago, my blog has risen again on Easter Sunday. Now that blogging is completely unfashionable, antiquated and of no interest to anyone, I feel like it might be the right time to start again. 

So, Happy Easter to you all! I spent my weekend on a cross-cultural inter-family exchange at a themed pension city on an island off the coast of Incheon. After a night of heavy drinking, meat grilling and story swapping we got up early and prepared a rather special Easter breakfast - chapjae and chocolate eggs (as well as some other bits and pieces). 

A strange combination, but it was a chance to celebrate the best of both worlds and who doesn't like chocolate for breakfast?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Joys Of Summer (Plus A Little Bit Of Shakespeare)

Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.

My vibrating bottom will haunt your ears

Summer is well and truly here on the peninsula, we've survived the muggy monsoon season and now we're onto the even muggier month of August. A time to appreciate the constant whine of the cicadas whilst you slowly melt onto the pavement in a dehydrated sweaty mess.

Still, life isn't all bad when the air conditioning is on full blast, your feet are in a bucket of cold water and you're halfway through eating your own weight in ice cream.

Plus, I have news of an event that doesn't seem to be getting any English language press in Korea (at least not that I could find). On August 15th and 16th, the Marronnier Outdoor Stage in Daehangno is playing host to an English language production of Hamlet.

This isn't just any old performance, it's part of the "Globe to Globe" world tour by the Shakespeare's Globe theatre troupe. Started back on April 23rd 2014, the plan is to take Hamlet to every single country on Earth (on a whopping two year tour) and this month Korea gets a flying visit from the company.

Tickets are free, but you will need to be able to understand Korean or at least have someone understand it for you if you want to get your sweaty little hands on them. Head here to book tickets! The shows start at 7.30 on Saturday the 15th and Sunday the 16th of August and you'll get to see the Danish prince in all his glory.

Here's a sneak preview of sorts:

So get off your bottom, get booking and enjoy a summery Shakespeare evening... 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Well, 2014 is dead and gone and I’m still here sitting in my underpants and considering what 2015 may hold. New experiences? New friends? New work? Rainbows? Unicorns? Kittens with lasers for eyes? Possibly… What I do know, is that the past twelve months have been a whirlwind of change, sometimes filled with excitement and sometimes filled with pain.

In February the performing company of Latt Children’s Theatre was almost fully shut down after 11 years of operation, with only a skeleton staff remaining for the summer. The theatre still continues as a venue that also will occasionally put on its own productions, but it has ceased to function as the only English language children’s repertory theatre company in Korea. After spending over a decade making shows together, it was a very strange feeling to have everything shut down and for an important chapter in our lives to close. I remained with the company for the summer festival, putting on two smaller scale shows and doing some storytelling and we were lucky enough to have two great Korean language children’s theatre companies come in to perform alongside us.

With the ending of one endeavour came the start of two others. First with the founding of a new company - Jam Box Theatre - hopefully persevering with the work we have done at Latt and continuing to entertain and inspire families in the future. Our first show was done in partnership with Latt Children’s Theatre, allowing us to perform at the venue and giving us a chance to present a brand new work: Fairy Tale Box. Fifteen fairy tales told in one hour in all sorts of ways - some long, some short, some scary and some silly, we mixed European and Korean traditional tales together to give our audiences something a little different. Pigs, princess, wolves, tigers, turtles, rabbits and a Snow Queen shared the stage and we had a joyous month long run with over 4,000 people coming to see us perform.

The other new beginning was much more of a surprise. For the past four years I’ve been guesting on various radio programmes on TBSeFM and Arirang Radio, talking about Korean culture, festivals and events, but this summer I was given the opportunity to audition as a full time dj and you can now hear me daily as part of the Wake Up Crew. I sit in a studio with Punita Bajaj and get to waffle on about all sorts of interesting things and you can hear us every morning from 5.00 till 7.00. A little early for most people, but do take a listen if you have the chance. Thanks to the format of the show I get to share a story I’m interested in every day as well as music of my choice which has led to me being able to start playing old Tom Waits tracks pretty much every week, much to the annoyance of my cohost who would prefer more Michael Buble... 

As for 2015? I’m in rehearsals for a Singalong Concert which opens next week - a chance for young kids and the parents to singalong to some nursery favourites including Old MacDonald Had A Farm and The Wheels On The Bus, as well as planning new shows with Jam Box Theatre for the coming year. If you’re studying at certain academies you may also get to hear me as the disembodied British male voice in some of your upcoming listening tests and if you haven’t seen the Korean film Cart yet, then you should, because my wife is in it and she is fabulous.

I’m not sure what else the new year will bring, but I’m hoping there will be more joy than sorrow, more delight than pain and more interesting times ahead. Happy New Year!

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Musical Whale Of A Time!

A week and a half ago I had the good fortune to be given a free ticket to the Yeowoorak Festival by the K-Performance Supporters programme. There have been numerous performances throughout the festival, but I was offered the chance to attend one in particular - The Whale In The Moon - a collaborative concert between two particularly interesting bands, Second Moon and Coreyah.

Second Moon performing "Ice Pond" live on MBC

Second Moon are a funky, spunky "ethnic fusion" group made up of six instrumentalists and are perhaps best known for the contributions to the soundtracks of tv dramas like Princess Hours and Island. A mix of drums, keyboards, melodion, mandolin, guitar, double bass, uilleann pipes, accordion and violin.

Coreyah's music video "Whale Of A Time"

Coreyah are a little more Korea focused in terms of their musical sensibilities, five musicians using a mix of traditional instruments including daegeum, sogeum, geomungo and janggu alongside guitar, drums and other more eclectic musical tools to create a wide selection of worldly tunes that are complemented by singer Kwon Ah-shin's vocals.

A grand total of a dozen performers on stage that night, all attempting to play a mixed bag of the two teams' repertoires. Some tunes were more successful than others, with Second Moon's own compositions often outshining those of Coreyah. However, both teams played with aplomb and every musician seemed to be giving their all to every number, no matter the origin.

The audience (seemingly mostly composed of fans of both Second Moon and Coreyah) lapped every song up, but to be honest by the halfway mark I found my interest flagging, especially when two male members of Coreyah decided to perform an ear-splittingly bad rap number.

Still, it was well worth going and it makes me happy to know that the National Theatre of Korea is willing to invest time and money in an experimental music festival that attempts to break new ground and bring innovative artists together. I also hope I get to see Second Moon again at some point, but to be honest I think one performance from Coreyah was enough for me.

The Yeowoorak Festival comes to a close this weekend, but do not fear the National Theatre has already released its line up for the 2014/2015 season and then are plenty of productions that demand attention, including more screenings of performances from the National Theatre Live programme in the UK.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Cool Fusion Music Festival For These Hot Summer Nights

It's too bloody hot these days and I'm in need of some sort of distraction. Fortunately the National Theatre are offering their own musical remedy in the form of the 여우락 (Yeowoorak) Festival. Celebrating it's fifth anniversary this year, it's a month long celebration of new music and all of it is somehow linked into the traditions of Korea.

Thanks to the lovely people at the K-performance supporters program I've blagged myself a ticket for this Friday's performance of The Whale In The Moon, which promises to be an innovative collaboration between Second Moon (a Korean band that plays Irish music) and Coreyah (a traditional Korean folk music group). I'm not quite sure what to expect, but if anything it will be something I've never heard before and that's pretty much the idea of this festival.

Yeowoorak translates to "here is our music" (according to the festival organizers) and it promises completely new concerts by some of the best artists from Korea and across the world. Over 23 days, you get a chance to see 10 different concerts put together by a total of 101 musicians. Each performance links back to Korean traditional music in some way, whether it's master saxophonist Kang Tae-hwan playing with a traditional singer and a geomungo player, or Han Seung-seok and Jung Jae-il combining pansori and piano to bring new life to the old fairytale of Princess Bari. An astonishing range of concerts.

The other good news is that if you're not Korean and you can produce a passport or student id, they'll give you 50% off the ticket price - 15,000 won instead of 30,000 won. Well, worth a look see if you're a fan of traditional music.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Gettin' Down In Dongdaemun With The Klive Crew...

Look! It's a big shiny building designed by a prestigious architect! I don't know what it's meant to be, but heavens to Betsy it's shiny and big and filled with sparkly things! Is it an "urban pimple"? Who am I to judge? For I have more important things to talk about! I have seen Klive!

What is Klive? A Korean Clive? A misspelled chive? Some new hand jive? No, it's an all singing, all dancing, brand spanking new K-pop themed hologram theatre where you can pay a wad of cash to see cool, young, spunky, funky kids doing their sexy thing to the latest ditties from the hit parade. But what am I doing here? Aren't I a shabby, bearded, considerably unfashionable ajosshi on the wrong side of thirty five? That may well be true, but I was invited here as part of the K-performance supporter program. They kindly give me a free ticket to see an all dancing digitised K-pop extravaganza and in return I write a little something on my blog to let the world know how I feel about it. Prepare yourselves, dear readers, for here is my review!

Klive takes place just across the road from the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) at Lotte Fitin (head to exit 12 of the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park station and hope for the best). It's up on the ninth floor above a host of K-themed shops and stores all trying to part you from the cash in your wallet. Plenty of fashion, plenty of K-pop commodities and a scandalously expensive liquor shop where they try to overcharge for good quality soju. Ignore all these fancies, dear reader, and head straight to the eighth floor, then wander around for a bit looking a little lost until you discover the staircase that leads to Klive.

Once there you'll be confronted by a rather large amount of merchandise with the faces of all sorts of young and pretty people who I assume are in some sort of band, group or barbershop quartet. You can linger amongst the cds, dvds, posters, pamphlets, postcards and novelty pencils or make your way towards the "Giant Tower" - some very large digital screens where you'll have the chance to peruse, select and enlarge the K-pop star of your choice.

After touching your favourite stars you can wend your way to the box office, pick up a ticket (33,000 won for adults, 16,000 won for kids) and then discover even more delights around and about the hologram theatre.

There are "secret windows" to be discovered. Seemingly blank screens that magically reveal their secrets when you look at them through a special filter. What might you see? What wonders may you discover?

I looked through one of the paparazzi's lenses and to my delight, who did I see?

Felicia Day! And someone else who I don't know! Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!

Once you tire of the magical delights found within the "secret windows" then you can mosey towards the Klive cafe where they provide a range of hot and cold beverages along with a view of the DDP. If you head a little further though, you'll discover the "Star Lounge" - a slightly secretive looking space where with the press of a button you can summon up a star for a photo...

I managed to get a glimpse of Psy poking a random lady in the cheek whilst holding an invisible bottle of soju.

G-Dragon attempting a complex mime about the love between two swans.

And CL from 2NE1 showing off the dangers of bad posture.

After all that rigmarole it was time for the main event - Klive. Shows are on at 2.00, 4.00, 6.00 and 8.00 every day except Monday and be sure to arrive on time so you can catch all the action. I saw the 6.00 show on a Thursday night, because that's the way I roll.

Things kicked off with some smartly dressed young men who did a little dancing in the lobby, before inviting us into the main hall. As you entered you had the option to take your photo for use in the performance. I pulled my best Gumby impression (though I lacked the requisite hanky on head) and moved into the hall itself.

The photos found their way onto the screens of the hall, though mine unfortunately seemed to have been lost along the way. Slightly saddened by the lack of digital representation I was soon cheered by the house DJ who was playing some K-pop melodies and trying to get the relatively small crowd pumped for the show. There are a few seats at the back, but this is a standing show, so be prepared for a full hour of being on your feet.

Once everyone was in with their features digitised on screen it was time to start the show and for the next forty five minutes or so we were treated to a mixture of live action and hologram. The three smartly dressed young men appeared at various moments to entertain with their dancing skills as well as occasionally acting alongside the holograms themselves. And what a lot of holograms there were!

First off Big Bang took to the stage for renditions of "Bad Boy" and "Fantastic Baby". Their performances were fun, the holographic videos were entertaining and if you squinted a little you might think you were getting the real thing. My main problem with it was the seeming lack of passion from some of the performers. There was far too much frowning and pouting and not enough excitement and energy. G-dragon was his normal charming self, but I have to admit to being disappointed by the lack of charisma from the rest of the group.

Next up were 2NE1 with "I Am The Best" and "Fire". By the time the feisty foursome began the novelty of the holograms had worn off a little and my legs were starting to feel a little weary. The same problem occurred in terms of poutiness and lack of charisma from some of the group and I was getting a little bored.

Fortunately Psy finished off the show with a bang. I'd already seen his holographic performance at Everland, but it remains an enjoyable and energy filled experience. Despite being digitised he was very much alive on that stage and put the other acts to shame with his performance skills. Buoyed by his blasting renditions of Gangnam Style and Gentleman I left the theatre with a smile on my face, a song in my heart and a wish that young performers would understand the benefits of smiling and trying to engage your audience just that little bit more.

I'm well aware that I'm not the target audience for this kind of show and I think that if I was twenty years younger and a fan of Big Bang, 2NE1 or Psy then I think I would have been thrilled at this opportunity. It's a fun concept, but may be better with a large group of people. Our crowd was relatively small and we never seemed to sum up the collective energy to really let loose and fully enjoy the experience. If you're a huge fan of any of these troubadours then chances are you'll have a whale of a time, but tickets are pricey and you're not getting the real concert experience, so lower those expectations, practice your dance moves and make sure to pick up some of G-dragon's one of a kind fake nails on the way out.

Monday, March 31, 2014

More Manshin Screenings

If you haven't caught a screening of the fabulous Manshin yet then do not fear, for Indieplus have extended their English subtitled showings for a few more days:

Monday 31st March - 12:30 and 20:10
Tuesday 1st April - 14:20 and 18:10
Wednesday 2nd April - 16:10
Thursday 3rd April - 14:10
Friday 4th April - 12:30
Saturday 5th April - 10:30 and 18:50
Sunday 6th April - 10:30 and 18:00

More info on the screenings can be found here.

For those not interested in fascinating documentaries about shamans, here are some cherry blossoms: