Koreans as descendants of the 10 lost tribes of Israel; Korea as a former Greek colony and Korea as a place that Jesus visited are just some of the theories that J. Scott Burgeson reports on in his latest book.
"Korea Bug" takes a zany, yet well-researched dip into Korea`s more interesting history, beginning with the tale of the first expat to start up and publish in 1904 a newspaper in Korea. Decried as seditious by Japanese authorities, Ernest T. Bethell was persecuted, defamed, jailed and eventually died at an early age. Bethell serves as a cautionary tale to would-be expat publishers in Korea, and gives rise to what Burgeson calls "Bethell`s Law" - that the foreign community in Korea is too diverse and fragmented to be supportive of independent publications that don`t toe a safe line.
<**1>"Korea Bug" gives a lively account, complete with pictures, of other expats who have dared to publish in Korea. Burgeson is one of them and has published five volumes of Bug, a "zine" or independent, ad-free, alternative magazine.
The recently released "Korea Bug" is an anthology of the best interviews from the Bug magazines. Among the articles are interviews with one of Korea`s last real colonial-era "gisaeng," or courtesans, a top "mudang" or shaman, and Yi Paksa, the king of "bbongjak" - the trot music that taxi drivers are often fond of.
The articles follow a question and answer format, a technique some criticize for being "just interviews," but Burgeson says he prefers to let the local people speak for themselves, rather than the writer placing the interview in the context of the writer`s presumptions.
Putting the material together has sometimes resembled the trials that Bethell faced. Now that the book is published, Burgeson awaits the foreign community`s judgment.
"If I write for the Korean market, I can sell more books," Burgeson told The Korea Herald. "Balchikhan Hangukhak" ("Nasty Korean Studies"), the Korean-language version of Bug Vol. 5 (published by Eclio, Seoul 2002) has enjoyed moderate success, selling 40,000 copies. His hopes aren`t so high for "Korea Bug."
"But I do want to get it out there," he said.
What he gets out there is a unique collection of material that takes a witty, opinionated and entertaining view of Korean culture that can`t be found elsewhere on the English-language shelves of bookstores here.
EunHaeng NaMu Publishing Co. gave Burgeson the freedom to edit the book as he saw fit, a process that took him seven months.
"I thought it would take just a month to throw it together, but it took forever," said Burgeson.
He had to find the illustrations and track down back issues of expat magazines that are no longer in operation. He dug out the quirkier books on Korea for the chapter "Strange Books Written about Korea by Honkies" which outlines works such as Scottish writer N. McLeod`s "Korea and the Ten Lost Tribes" and Wladimir W. Mitkewich`s "Koreans are White" which presents Korea as a former Greek colony.
It all makes interesting reading. Priced at 15,000 won - a bargain for nearly 400 pages - "Korea Bug" is well worth buying and hopefully won`t fall victim to Bethell`s Law.
By Jane Cooper