Busan Nighttime Feeling

after Ling Ma

Imo clucks her tongue at a group of white-shirt black-slack uniformed high school boys huddled so closely together it looks like they are smoking, dirty dambae nyeoseokdeul, but they are only reveling in their ice cream cones. Jiwon is too American for her own good and footlooses her way into the street. A passerby ajusshi is the one who nudges her back to the curb before she is run over by a car. I don’t move, but just like my sister I too have trouble keeping still: my mind is everywhere all of the time, it thinks it smells sadness, but I am only thirteen? fourteen? at the time and adults love to remind me, you’re not depressed, it’s just hormones, what could you possibly know of sadness?

If sadness were a smell I think it would be the smoky musk of charred barbecue dampened by hot and muggy rain. But then you bring it to your lips and it would taste a cool spike, an icicle of cola. I hate Coke but for some reason I will drink cola. I don’t know what that proves if anything. We leave the gogijib and my shirt reeks of gluttony.  Sadness is the wind on the street along the hairs of my arms. I cry from existing.

Karis Ryu

3 Questions for Karis

What was your process for creating this work?

This piece was inspired by a paragraph from the novel Severance by Ling Ma. The protagonist, Candace Chen, identifies and describes a "Fuzhou Nighttime Feeling" that she would sense whenever she visited Fuzhou as a child. Upon seeing that someone out there had begun to articulate this sensational melancholy of being in perpetual diaspora in such inventive ways, intentionally playing with touch, smell, taste, and sound, I created my own take on the feeling about my experiences in Korea, particularly Busan, my mother's hometown.

What is the significance of the form you chose?

Short prose is often the form my writing takes when a thought is spilling over in my mind so much that it needs to be expressed. Not quite a narrative and not quite a poem, yet takes on elements of both. At its heart, it’s an expression of a sensation. Even though English is my primary language, I am bilingual as well, and that fuels in me an enthusiastic dedication to playing with and circumventing how structure, chronology, story, and meaning are conceived in the English language and in Western systems of narration and communication.

What is the significance of this work to you?

I’ve had the privilege, in a way, of encountering Korea intimately, but also violently. My family was stationed in South Korea as a U.S. military family for five years of my life. I’ve struggled to articulate the magnitude of the everyday sensations I experienced there as an adolescent—of melancholy, of confusion, of joy, of anger—sensations I experienced through touch, smell, taste, sound, and more, for years. This piece is one of the first attempts at expressing those memories that I can read to myself and think, “Yeah, it was something like that, wasn’t it.”

Karis Ryu is a scholar, creative writer, and performing artist. Her work explores themes of home, love, and belonging as well as race, gender, religion, and diaspora. She grew up as a U.S. military child of Korean descent and is currently a master's student at Yale. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming with The B'K, Sampaguita Press, ROOTS: Korean Diaspora, and Fare Forward. Find her in a coffee shop, or at https://karisryu.com and on Twitter @karisryu.

Next (Ruminate) >

< Back (Full Vigour of Isolation)