15 pages of text, printed on A4, written by Haegue Yang and Misoon Kim
Courtesy of the artist
Then I realized that I have not written about myself and my life for a long time, is there any reason? I do not know. Maybe I avoid doing so because I am not satisfied, or simply too busy and preoccupied with other things. In this case I do not necessarily mean a diary or any kind of continuous writing, but something personal. Most of the time it has only been either plans, or notes of schedules, or some ideas. I guess I stopped writing a dairy quite early. For me, the habit of writing was more about self-control and organization. To be honest, there must be a certain ‘angst’ involved in not doing so.
Germany was a completely alien land to me. The only things I knew were the random bits of information I had picked up from my daughter and other relatives and friends. I had had a rough time, spending four years writing the history of the Masan Changwon federation of worker’s unions and then right afterwards spending another year as the editorial chief at a newspaper. Perhaps it was the novelty of finding myself suddenly free again, but in the days before my departure for Germany I was as excited and unsettled as a drifting balloon. I was almost out of my mind with excitement but one thing was certain, I was determined to make the most of this freedom and use it purely for my own enjoyment. I had no plans and made no preparations. I was excited just at the thought of traveling with no particular itinerary, letting my feet move as they will. I got on the plane with my heart full of adventure and expectations. After almost a whole day and going half way round the globe I was finally able to meet my daughter. It was like a dream. It was 6 in the morning but the sky was bright. My first impression of Germany, gained through eyes still half shut with sleep, was strange indeed. It was as if someone had turned the volume down. There were lots of people speaking in low tones and moving about in slow motion. I couldn’t see anyone running about or speaking or laughing out loud. In one sense I was envious but then I became afraid I would be sneered at for being ignorant and uncultured. But this fear did not last long and I soon came back to reality.
Maybe this is the first time I consciously try to save or reconstruct my remembrance. There were several attempts in the past, but they weren’t really that systematic. One thing I can remember is repeating things to myself over and over again, so I wouldn’t forget them. The emotion being so strong that I was very much convinced it couldn’t be forgotten, but to no avail. I can’t even remember what it was. In fact, all I remember is trying to preserve something by repeating it to myself. Somehow these things make me very sad. It is all about me: I cause something, lose it, and then try to hold on to it, but fail, and then I get angry with myself and disappointed, finally I find my life at a certain point meaningless. Somebody said, we want to live to be remembered, we just rush straight to death without losing a second, and there is no exception. But at the same time we live to be immortal. It is at least the most exciting thing to accomplish in life! I guess.
A person can be nervous spending even one night at another person’s house. Imagine how much more so in a foreign country. Moreover, I couldn’t read anything so was suddenly illiterate. I didn’t know the language and so I became deaf and dumb also. So naturally, I was filled with a sense of fear and timidity. Hadn’t I always been the mother, the one who knew everything? But now I had to rely completely on my daughter and like a child, communicate with the world through her ears and mouth, a situation that was stifling and maddening. Each day I trod carefully, like skating on thin ice. No wonder my shoulders became stiff with tension.
Now, she suffers because she is suddenly not only less needed but even becomes a burden, like a child. Now, not only she but I, too, start suffering from the huge self-constructed attitude of being nice to each other. I don’t want to hurt her pride, and doing everything for her is also too much for me. It suddenly seems as if I have a small child who is absolutely dependent on me. I talk at least twice as much as needed and explain to her every little thing her eyes fall upon. What is bad is that this child already has its own will, that you have to discuss everything first. Slowly, a kind of invisible tension developed between us, which we both noticed immediately. It was quite unbearable for me, probably for her as well, but we only transformed this into trying harder to be nice to each other.
The more we pushed and tried to be nice and good to each other, the worse our emotions became, in fact it was just too much for us. She still gets up earlier than I do to prepare good food for the poor daughter! Her basic idea is that at least she fully functions at home, she can be a good mother in the kitchen. The best thing to do in such a case, it seems to me, is to let her do what she wants to do. So gradually my flat is turning into a small Korea. First, I wasn’t allowed to wear my shoes anymore. The kitchen totally became her own territory, and I could no longer find many things, since she stores things in different places, etc. The entire flat was clean, but slowly I no longer felt comfortable. At times, it was just too much the way she organized things differently, so I argued with her, but that only made me feel guilty afterwards for addressing this. To me, the problem seems much more serious than my romantic idea of catching up with things we missed the last couple of years.
Only when I take a bath does the world seem to come right. I suppose that is the joy of a good bath. When in a strange place I have often visited the local bath house. Often my impression of the bath house colors my impression of the whole neighborhood. It was the same here. I felt that if I could just soak myself in hot water in the good old Korean way, all the tiredness would fall away from me. The tension would leave my shoulders and I would feel a lot more comfortable. But my dream of having a Korean style bath did not materialize. For one thing there were no Korean-style scrubbing towels and I couldn’t get as clean as I wanted. Second, the water was hard and even after washing my skin didn’t feel smooth, which left me with a vague irritation. Third, the gas heater was just above the tub and whenever I turned on the hot water, it gave a whooshing sound, blue gas flames showing and radiating heat. It was uncomfortable and unnerving. Seeing the gas flames with my own eyes, I also couldn’t help thinking about the gas bill. I made the best of things, however, and soaked my body in the hot water. As I felt my joints loosen up I felt a lot better. No mistake about it, a bath is certainly the best way to relax. When I had finished, I decided I didn’t want to waste the hot water left over so I washed my socks and underwear. Then I cleaned the tub. And then I decided to clean the floor, too. I had spilt a lot of water during my bath and the floor was covered in it. While I’m at it, I may as well clean the whole bathroom, I thought. I turned the shower nozzle on full blast and started to wash all the dirt away. But what’s this? The water was not going down and the bathroom started to fill with water. It was strange. I thought, the drain hole must be blocked because it hasn’t been used for a long time. I should clear it. But no matter how hard I ran my hands over the floor I couldn’t find it. I shouted out to my daughter who was in the living room, the drain hole seems to be blocked. The water won’t go down. But where is the drain hole? My daughter suddenly gave a yelp and came running to the bathroom. Oh no! Mum! You can’t do that. There is no drain hole in the bathroom. We’re in trouble now. What if the water leaks down to the floor below? I was flustered for a moment. The floor was already covered in water that came up to the instep of my feet. How would we get rid of all this water? In desperation I began to soak up some of the water with a rag. But one rag just wasn’t enough. Towels, dishcloths whatever I could lay my hands on I threw onto the floor. I wrung the cloths out and started again. The water seemed to go down a little bit. The towels and dishcloths had all become rags now but there was no help for it. What is a rag anyway? Rags are just old, used towels and dishcloths. (Of course, I found out later that in Germany, there are separate towels, dishcloths and rags) And in this way I finished cleaning the bathroom.
Somehow I expected that from our rendezvous many amazing, profound insights in terms of cultural shock would emerge. But disappointingly they were only very dumb, dull, stupid things. Partially even boring and nerve-wrecking. Every time my mother explained something, I was quite against it, because it didn’t seem to suit my expectations.
I had wiped up the water with a rag and then cleaned the rags. Whatever way you look at it, it is all the same. Life is like that. The true meaning of travel is to discover the differences in climate, topography and the people who live on the land, while at the same time confirming the universality of all mankind. At first, one is excited or shocked by the things that are different but in the end, travel is about finding comfort in confirming that things are the same. It could be asked, what is the point of traveling if its only purpose is to find out that all people are the same. But if you don’t know what’s different you also don’t know what’s the same. Differences usually begin things that are small and insignificant while similarities bring the conclusion of enlightenment.
But strangely enough, you cannot reach the things that are the same without passing through those that are different. It is only through the small and insignificant everyday memories that one draws near the universality of mankind. There is no knowing what cultural clashes lie in store for me in the future. Although we all know the ending of the movie, we still want to see what happens on the way. For us the important thing is not the conclusion but the memories of everyday. Upon reaching home after a long journey, it is possible to confirm that indeed there is no place like home. But without going on the journey in the first place, I find it hard to know my bearings in space and time. It is the same as when people, moments before they die, realize that they are not special but just one of the mass of ordinary mankind. Differences are feared but call for effort in dealing with them. On the other hand, the things that are the same are boring but comforting. To live each day is to start each day afresh on a new journey. Another day has dawned in Germany. It has started peacefully with the sun shining and the birds singing. But nobody knows when the clouds will come over and the winds start blowing. And in this way, life goes on.
I just returned to my computer and started writing again. I remember a Chinese text by Changtzu from the period of ancient China. I remember it as a short story dealing with his dream of being a butterfly. After he awoke from that dream he felt a certain confusion, not knowing anymore if he had a dream or if he was now in the dream of the butterfly. Strangely, I feel more and more often Changtzu’s surrealistic confusion in my life. Especially when many things in life are just too intense, it doesn’t matter if it’s joy, sadness, frustration, or pleasure. Then I feel like going away or I feel so helpless; then my entire surroundings become too unreal; I’m in doubt whether my life is real or if it is only a dream.
*Full version presented or published in:
Bejahung und Verneinung (Affirmation and Negation), Kolster, Galerie für junge Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, 2000 (Eng.)
Sonderfarben, Kommunale Galerie, Darmstadt, 2001(Eng.)
Metronome No. 7. The Bastard, ed. by Clémentine Deliss, London, Paris, Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, 2001 (Eng.)
Melancholy is a Longing for the Absoluteness, ed. by Samuso and Hyunsilmunwha, Seoul, 2009 (Kor.)
Arrivals, Catalogue raisonné 1994 – 2011, ed. by Yilmaz Dziewior, exh. cat. Kunsthaus Bregenz, Berlin, 2011 (Eng.)
How to Write 4, ed. by Barbara Wien and Wilma Lukatsch, Wiens Verlag, Berlin, 2013 (Eng.)
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