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[Diplomatic News] For One American, Korea Is Heaven

Posted February. 03, 2006 03:04,   


“To me, Korea is kismet.”

John Huston sounded very excited in a phone interview on February 1. He said that talking about anything regarding Korea was delightful. Kismet means fate and destiny. But he interpreted the word in a different way: a match made in heaven.

He is the first foreign student to finish the undergraduate course of study at Seoul National University (SNU), is an expert on Korean palaces, and is a lecturer on Korean translation.

His unique career made it easier for me to understand Huston, an American Korean-to-English translator.

Recently, he has added another field to his career.

He recently supervised the English version of “Palaces of Korea” (written by Kim Dong-uk and translated by Michael Finch), which was published as a part of a series introducing Korean culture by the Korea Foundation. His knowledge of Korean palaces is close to that of experts.

“My first visit to Korea was as a member of the Peace Corps. I worked as an English guide for Korean tours, which led me to study Korean culture in an effort to do my job better.”

Since then, he has been fascinated by the beauty of Korea.

“If you go to the back garden of Changdeokgung, you can see that the garden is in perfect harmony with the nature. It has a warmth that Chinese palaces do not have. ‘Palaces of Korea’ is a beautiful book that reflects the beauty and history of Korean palaces.”

It was his love for Korea that made him start his career at Oricom (then an advertisement office of the Nama Press) after his graduation from SNU in 1974. Because he studied at National Cheng Chi University (NCCU) in China before entering SNU, he was also fluent in Chinese. Utilizing his linguistic capabilities, he worked as a copywriter and translator.

I doubted that there were no difficulties in going to university and working in Korea as a foreigner in the 1970s and 1980s.

“I lived in Naengcheon-dong, Seodaemun-gu. The owners of the house were so kind that they treated me like their son. I also remember that a colleague at SNU told me that what he hated was not me, but U.S. policies.”

Huston recently moved to Melbourne, Australia where he gives lectures on Korean to English translation techniques at a college department of interpretation and translation.

He says that his dream is “to go back to Korea someday and live in a traditional Korean house in a deep mountain.”

“By the way, these days, I am enjoying DVDs of Korean TV dramas, including ‘Daejangeum’ and ‘Heo Jun.’ Maybe because I worked on a book related to palaces, each scene of those dramas is precious to me.”

His praise of Korea was endless.

Jung-Ahn Kim credo@donga.com