Flushing tribute to Korea offers tales of honor

By Daniel Arimborgo

As part of the Queens Borough Public Library’s New Americans Program, the Flushing Library hosted a day of Korean culture Sunday, complete with music and dance, storytelling, and calligraphy.

Professional calligrapher artist Chi Ja Chun instructed a small group in the finer points of the art, called “soo muck kwa” in Korean, or “water, ink and paper.” Unlike Western script writing, single strokes are used, she told the group.

Black water-color is used. Different shades and intensities of the ink are achieved by varying its concentration. Originally, Chun said, the color was obtained from black brick shavings mixed with water. The bricks were used for building huts.

Chun is president of the Shinkwan Korean School in Bayside where calligraphy is part of the curriculum to help students remember their Korean heritage.

“When you make a picture, it can be a foundation for your life,” Chun said. “You have to use the proper technique” — holding the brush in a specific way and using single strokes.

Also Sunday, storyteller Soh-Young Lee-Segredo related tales from long ago.

“I am so excited to share the culture with everybody,” said Segredo, who teaches fourth grade at Jackson Main Elementary School in Hempstead , L.I.

Before the storytelling, though, the library visitors were treated to Lee-Segredo’s rendition of the South Korean national anthem, an inarguably beautiful melody.

The stories, she said, are generally about peasants. Originally, she said, storytellers were traveling salespeople.

One of her tales was about two farming brothers and magic marbles. The younger brother found a marble while working a field, and while looking at it, he wished he had something to eat. The magic marble granted.

his wish. He showed his older brother the marble and said, “Since you are the older one, you should keep it.”

But the older one declined, and each argued for the other one to keep it.

The next day the older brother found his own magic marble. The moral: If one is not selfish, one will be rewarded — a common theme in Korean folklore.

Lee-Segredo then passed around some theater masks. The masks, she explained, were designed as caricatures, because Koreans are humble people when talking about themselves or their children. Also, it was believed evil spirits would descend on productions if the masks were not made to humble the human image.

A chopstick holder she showed was made of silk and depicted a crane delivering a baby to a bird couple. Cranes are considered pure because they are monogamous and eat only “clean” fish (not bottom-feeders).

Another story was about a blind man who one day falls into a brook and is helped out by a Buddhist monk. The man is very grateful and the monk asks if there is anything else he would like to wish for. The old man says he would like to be able to see. The monk says that if he gets 300 pounds of rice and brings it to the monastery, he will be granted the power to see again.

But the man is not wealthy, and knows he can never get that much rice. He laments his problem to his daughter, who one day overhears that some sailors in port are looking for a virgin to purchase, because virgins thrown into a whirlpool will save a ship from it. She decides to sell herself to the sailors for 400 pounds of rice so her father could pay the monk to see again, and have some rice left over to eat.

When the father hears what she has done, he is beside himself with grief, and the daughter is indeed thrown into a whirlpool later.

Despondent, he asks the monk what he should do, and the monk tells him to pray for a lotus blossom, a symbol of renewal. The man prays hard, a larger-than-life blossom grows overnight, and out emerges his daughter. He learns that a selfless quest for a good thing will in turn lead to other good things — again, selflessness.

Also at the performance was popular music and dance performed by the Korean Performing Art Center and drumming dance and rituals by the Nori Company of New York.

For information on upcoming events in the New Americans series at the public libraries, call 718-990-0700.

Reach Qguide writer Daniel Arimborgo by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

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