Recognizing Kim Seong-Kon at the Daesan Literary Awards Ceremony
Though I didn't recognize the author Ch'oe Yun at last Friday's Daesan Literary Awards ceremony, I did happen to recognize someone else whom I'd also never met before. I had just arrived at the 20th floor of the Seoul Press Club building and greeted the translator Brother Anthony, whom I've known for years now.
To be precise, I've known Brother Anthony ever since my days at Hanshin University way back in 2001, when I first learned of his Sogang University website and contacted him by email about something or other having to do with English literature. I think that I was asking his advice about how to establish myself as a literary scholar in Korea since my background was history and religious studies. I can't say that I've been especially successful, academically, but I have managed to publish regularly as a scholar and critic . . . which might or might not be relevant to this anecdote.
At any rate, I greeted Brother Anthony, who told me that he couldn't stay for the ceremony due to the scheduled weekly prayers required by his Taize monastic community. He had decided to make a brief early appearance at the celebration because he had also served as a literary judge on the same board as I. Anyway, as we were speaking, Brother Anthony stopped a Korean man who was passing by and started to introduce us. I didn't catch the man's name, but he looked so familiar that I was certain that I had seen him before. As we shook hands, I said:
"You look very familiar. Perhaps we've met at a conference?"I looked more closely as his face came into focus for me, and I knew who he was.
"Oh, now, I recognize you from your photo. You write for the newspaper! I read your weekly column."The man looked briefly puzzled, then realized what I was talking about.
"Ah, the Korea Herald."We then parted, and I was feeling good about having recognized the man's face since I'm often very poor at placing people's names and faces. In fact, I once failed to recognize the president of Korea University when he greeted me in the hallway outside my Korea University office even though he had personally interviewed me only weeks before when I had applied for my position there. That was one of my most embarrassing moments. In my defense, I should note that I had been up since 3:00 a.m. that morning, grading student essays.
"Right," I agreed. "I really enjoy your column."
I was thus feeling good -- as I said -- about recognizing the columnist's face. I recalled, also, that he was a professor at Seoul National University. I could not, however, dredge up his name, but a few minutes later, as I sat down at my table, he showed up again and handed me his card.
"Kim Seong-Kon," I read aloud, then rummaged around in my bag for my own cards and handed him one.I laughed, assuming that he was joking, and we parted again. But I then wondered if he had been joking. I had probably better hope so, for if I'm 'famous', then my fame is likely to be of the infamous sort since I've done nothing here in Korea to gain any positive fame.
He looked at it carefully, then exclaimed, "Ah, the famous Dr. Hodges!"
But rather than go into the details of my infamy, I'd better just leave things at that . . .