Gary Pak’s A Ricepaper Airplane: Memories of Mountains in the Korean Diasporic Imagination

Gary Pak’s A Ricepaper Airplane: Memories of Mountains in the Korean Diasporic Imagination Red pines, white pines; I wind my way between the rocks, the world full of the wonder of mountains and waters. – Sakkat Kim, “The Diamond Mountains” (59) A country? I don’t follow. A mountain in Germany cannot offend a mountain in France. – Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (204) To say that the people of South Korea love mountains would be something of an understatement. According to the Korea Forest Service, one-third of the population of South Korea goes to the mountains once a month. Mt. Seorak (Seoraksan), located 3 hours east of Seoul, received 720,000 visitors in October 2015—100,000 on the 17th and 18th—the peak time for seeing the fall colors (Cho “Hiking”). Given the fact that mountains cover some 70–75 percent of the Korean Peninsula, it is almost difficult not to go to the mountains.1 These numbers are impressive and tend to elicit bouts of cultural essentialism and hiking hyperbole. An article on the popularity of hiking in the progressive South Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh moves from those large numbers to speculate that, “While it may not be written into actual DNA, mountain climbing may be deeply inscribed in Koreans’ cultural DNA” (Cho “Hiking”).2 Mountain hiking is a popular cultural practice not only for South Koreans living on the peninsula; they also take this love for mountains with them when they move abroad. A recent National Public Radio (NPR) story entitled, “Keeping Alive The Korean Love For Hiking, Thousands Of Miles From Korea,” reports that: “Across the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, second- and even third-generation children of Korean immigrants are keeping alive and well a tradition that connects them to their ancestral homeland … There are Korean-Americans of all ages using the trails, but a good number of those hard-core hikers are in their 50s and older, immigrants from South Korea” (Hu “Keeping Alive”). Here I would like to explore this love for mountains through a reading of Gary Pak’s A Ricepaper Airplane, a novel that wanders across the Korean Peninsula, Manchuria, China, Japan, and Hawai‘i, assembling a diasporic perspective on twentieth-century Korea along the way. The focus and agent of the novel’s wanderings is Uncle Sung Wha, who has played many roles in his lifetime: “the revolutionary in China, the Korean patriot, the Communist, the aviator” (Pak 1998, 3). In addition to these roles, Sung Wha is a mountain wanderer and mountain lover. Mountains are always on Sung Wha’s mind, and many of the stories he tells from his deathbed to his nephew Yong Gil revolve around Mt. Kumgang (hereafter Kumgangsan or the Diamond Mountains), a historically, culturally, and geopolitically significant mountain range located in the Kangwon Province of North Korea near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the 4-kilometer buffer that divides North and South Korea.3 A Ricepaper Airplane constructs memories of mountains in general, and Kumgangsan in particular, as a constitutive feature of the Korean diasporic imagination. Lawrence Buell argues that “acts of environmental imagination … potentially register and energize … engagement with the world. They may reconnect readers with the places they have been and send them where they would otherwise never physically go. They may direct thought toward alternative futures” (2). In addition to offering (re)connections to the homeland and home mountains for those readers who, like Sung Wha, cannot return home because of the militarized division of the peninsula and the unending Korean War, A Ricepaper Airplane directs attention to the affirmative role that memories of mountains can play as a discursive resource for those movements working toward the overcoming of territorial division and the eventual reunification of the Korean Peninsula.4 Mountain Commons It is 1979 and Kim Sung Wha is living in a run-down hotel in the Chinatown section of Honolulu, Hawai‘i. Sung Wha lives in the hotel with a multicultural crew of poor, elderly, retired laborers who are fighting to keep from being evicted. On his way home from the University of Hawai‘i after being invited to give a talk on labor history, Sung Wha collapses on the side of the road. When he is taken to the hospital, he is diagnosed with lung cancer and given only a short time to live. Yong Gil, whose father Eung Whan is Sung Wha’s cousin and good friend—the two grew up in the same village in what became North Korea following liberation from Japan in 1945—leaves his job as a teacher so he can spend time with his Uncle. As Sung Wha drifts in and out of consciousness, he tells Yong Gil stories about village life in Korea, about life in Manchuria and Shanghai as a patriot and Communist revolutionary, and about life in Hawai‘i as a plantation worker and labor organizer. Yong Gil becomes hooked on stories that drift across the multiple times and spaces of the Korean diaspora. As a Korean American, Yong Gil’s emotional and physical commitment to the local Sung Wha, to his struggles and stories, represents a generational longing, a desire to fill in the gaps before the older generation passes away. From his hospital bed, Sung Wha tells Yong Gil about the time that, as teenagers, he and Eung Whan, “big-kine rebels” (54), stole a rifle from a Japanese soldier and went hunting. When occupation soldiers begin to harass the villagers in order to retrieve the rifle, Eung Whan cannot tolerate the colonial arrogance and abuse, so he spits on one of the soldiers, which incites other villagers to fight back. Sung Wha and Eung Whan are forced to flee and hide in the mountains, an act Korean readers will no doubt be familiar with, as mountains have historically served as tactical spaces of refuge and support for refugees, exiles, poets, monks, rebels, guerillas, and fugitives. This also means that mountains have often been turned into killing fields, drenched in blood as sites of counter-insurgent massacres (Yu “The Mountain”). The rebel cousins come across a farmer who tells them to split up, instructing Eung Whan to go south to Busan and then to Hawai‘i, while instructing Sung Wha to go north to Kumgangsan and then to Manchuria where Korean patriots are gathering and training to fight for independence. While on his journey north, Sung Wha meets Uncle Bhak, a woodcutter and mountain man who lives with his daughter Hae Soon, a beautiful young revolutionary who becomes Sung Wha’s wife. The newlyweds travel to Manchuria where Sung Wha intends to learn about the Korean independence movement and train with guerillas. On the way to Manchuria, the couple meets Wakatani, a Japanese subversive who runs a small printing press out of his suitcase and is also fighting for Korean independence. Shortly after reaching Manchuria, Sung Wha decides to leave his wife and newborn child so he can go to China to join the emergent Communist revolution that is engaged in anti-colonial struggles against the expanding Japanese empire. After a political demonstration against the Japanese occupation of Peking (Beijing), Sung Wha is arrested, tortured, and sent to a prison in Japan because he is carrying Wakatani’s passport, eventually sailing to Hawai‘i in the 1920s where he begins work on a sugarcane plantation. Kumgangsan first appears in the narrative when Sung Wha is fleeing from plantation managers in Hawai‘i. In 1928, Sung Wha was about to begin work at the Waipahu Plantation on the island of O‘ahu. When he is informed that Koreans are being employed as scabs because the Filipino and Japanese workers are on strike, Sung Wha decides to organize all the workers into a union. Other Korean laborers want to exact revenge on the Japanese and refuse to support them. But Sung Wha sees through the plantation owner’s strategy of dividing laborers along ethnic and national lines: “How can we work when the Japanese and Filipino laborers are striking? They’re just like us. Or are they? Damn plantation wants to divide us. But if we Koreans went out on strike, would the Japanese support our cause? And why do they have so many lunas watching us? So the strikers don’t attack us? Or so we don’t run away? Must they force us to work?” (21). Conventional histories of immigrant labor on sugar plantations during this period focus on the role Koreans played as strikebreakers and thus remember Koreans as “those upholding the oppressive order” (Kwon 117). Gary Pak, working through the figure of Sung Wha, offers a counter-memory of Korean immigrant labor history in Hawai‘i. When other Korean laborers refer to the Japanese as bastard pigs, Sung Wha responds, “The white bosses are bastard pigs” (23). When the plantation lunas or managers discover Sung Wha’s plan to organize workers across ethnic and national lines, they beat him up and chase him off the plantation. He hides in a cane field, but the lunas start a fire to smoke him out. Exhausted after being on the run for several days, Sung Wha lays his head down on the Wahiawa Reservoir: The summer sun had reached its noonday height when he reached the Wahiawa Reservoir, and Kim Sung Wha, tired and hungry and shirtless and reddened from fire and sun, rested his sleepy and dried eyes on the cool water of a dark still lake that … slowly fed itself through a complex of rivulets to the mighty Yalu River. And there, kneeling at the shore, he saw Hae Soon, facing the green mirror lake, her back toward him, sloughing her spring clothes that fell like large white feathers, washing her face and secret body parts. And far in the distance, almost completely hidden by clouds that perhaps held some snow, were the mountains. But they wouldn’t have to cross those mountains, not right now, and … they weren’t as beautiful and majestic as Kumgangsan, but he liked all mountains anyway, no matter if they were low and rounded and their tops never dressed in snow; mountains were mountains, and Sung Wha held a dear affinity for all mountains, even though these Hawaiian mountains seemed more like foothills. (36) In this passage, Sung Wha is drinking from and thinking about a local reservoir in the central valley of O‘ahu, yet as he dozes off, the reservoir appears to flow into the Yalu River that forms the border between North Korea and China, a moment that recalls “The Pond in Winter” in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, in which, “The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges” (298). In Sung Wha’s hallucinatory, homographic vision, mountains are also mingled as the exact geographical location of “those mountains” is not made clear. Sung Wha is perhaps initially gazing at the volcanic Ko‘olau Range that hovers over the Wahiawa Reservoir, but then travels back to Kumgangsan. Physically depleted, Sung Wha drifts from the mountains of Hawai‘i to the mountains of Korea and back again, the ellipsis in the text signifying a moment of time and space compression, of “translocal solidarity,” to borrow an expression from Rob Wilson (2015, 213), a syntactic leap that captures both his desire to return home and his condition of unending exile. Memories of mountains inspire Sung Wha to keep on running and fighting and dreaming. Memories of mountains create repeatable sensations that provide stability and continuity within a life that has been shaped by perpetual displacement and discontinuity. While my focus here is on memories of mountains in the Korean diaspora, the transpacific is the broader context within which such memories need to be situated, a context that Rob Wilson delineates as a “translocal regional formation of water-crossing linkages” (2015, 214). Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey similarly grasps the transoceanic in terms of a tidal dialectics or “tidalectics” of land and water which shape the literature of diaspora (2). Both Wilson and DeLoughrey assemble wide-ranging genealogies of transoceanic literary production in which water appears both as a space of migration and as the origin of an increasingly impaired water cycle that is rendering life on land and at sea precarious. I will return to the issue of water in my conclusion. In the above passage, ellipsis signifies an ecopoetic leap from one place to another that founds a diasporic Korean localism. Sung Wha’s local identity, not to be confused with a Native Hawaiian identity, nor subsumed within the category of Korean American, is registered in the hybrid form of English he speaks to Yong Gil, Hawaiian Creole English (HCE), or Hawaiian Pidgin English, or just Pidgin, which first originated on sugarcane plantations as a means of communication between immigrants laborers from different countries and between laborers and plantation managers. A Pidgin ecopoetics appears through the performative act of telling stories to Yong Gil: But dat morning, something funny kine when move inside me, something was talking to me. Da scenery around me was so quiet, da pine trees and everything so still, was so quiet. But something, one voice, was calling me, talking to me. I can still remember dat feeling. Funny kine feeling. All dis quiet beautiful landscape around me, but day was all talking to me, making me feel dis funny kine but good feeling. I dunno what dey call dis, but it like you have so much respect, so much love fo’ all da things growing ‘round you, all da things growing from da land. I think das what da young Hawaiians nowadays dey call aloha ‘aina. You know, da love fo’ da land. Love fo’ everything living in dey own natural way. Something li’dat. Funny kine feeling, dis feeling dat jus’ wen come ovah me right den. (53–54) Sung Wha’s speaking style involves a weirding of English. Evelyn Nien-Ming Ch’ien argues that weird English, the hybrid product of blending one or more languages with English, “highlights the aesthetic aspect of linguistic presence in human life” (7). The practice and aesthetics of weird English link Gary Pak’s novel to works by writers such as Junot Diaz, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Irvine Welsh that are similarly active in their appropriation and circulation of linguistic hybridity. Pidgin signifies both Sung Wha’s separation from Korea and the fact that time spent working in Hawai‘i has resulted in the gradual building up of a new constellation of language, identity, and community. With this linguistic appropriation of hybridity, A Ricepaper Airplane builds on the “local affirmation and pidgin-based literature” associated with Bamboo Ridge, a literary journal and small press founded in Hawai‘i in 1978 (Wilson 2000, xiii). For the writers associated with Bamboo Ridge, Hawaiian Pidgin English is, in Wilson’s words, a “medium of center-periphery reversal and postcolonial flows” (2000, 9). Moving through the entangled histories of language, labor, and diaspora, A Ricepaper Airplane exemplifies “localist drives and place-based orientations [as] part of a complex Pacific and Asian affiliation” (Wilson 2000, ix). In Hawai‘i, the question of who is and who is not “local” inspires passionate debates, intellectual conflicts, and at times, when it comes to protecting local surf breaks, violence. Describing the fluid boundaries of the term “local” as it is deployed in and across the Hawaiian Islands, Brenda L. Kwon points out, “‘Local’ can be used to refer to anyone of Asian, Hawaiian, or other Pacific Islander descent, and usually designates those who have been in Hawaii for more than one generation, although more politicized definitions call for a lineage that can be traced back to the plantation labor experience” (6). Sung Wha’s ecstatic stories about the mountains of Korea compose itineraries for Yong Gil in which practices of seeing and going are blended and filtered through Hawaiian Pidgin English: After dat, we wen go straight to Kumgangsan. Da English name is da Diamond Mountains. Ho! Is so beautiful up dere, jus’ like heaven. Get all da mountain water running down, everywhere all green, so many trees, da mountains so beautiful. Yong Gil, you no seen nothing like dis in yo’ life. So beautiful. So me and yo’ auntie, we follow dis narrow road up to da mountain. I tell you, all Koreans, dey all make one pledge to demselves dat befo’ dey die dey gotta go see da Diamond Mountains, Kumgangsan. If dey no go, den dey going make not satisfied wit’ dere life, youknowwhatImean? At least I can say I wen see da place. I live dere fo’ little while. At least now if I make I no have to worry ‘bout dat. (159) Here, “da Diamond Mountains” expresses not only a weirding of English, but a weirding of mountains and a weirding of the pastoral, as place and genre are locally inflected and mediated by a historically dense linguistic position and polycultural consciousness located beyond the Korean Peninsula, in the Pacific Korean diaspora. The exchange of the definite article “the” for “da” signifies both proximity and distance. Kumgangsan is located deep in Sung Wha’s heart and imagination, yet the signifier “da” appears in a syntax that reflects his roots in Hawai‘i. Working through Sung Wha, Gary Pak invites readers to imagine the Diamond Mountains, yet emphatically reminds readers at the same time of a difference, da Diamond Mountains. The filtering of geography through weird English supports a double movement: both remembering the homeland and deepening attachment to the place from which remembering takes place. Gary Pak is not simply transcribing the speech of a fictional plantation laborer, but highlighting its distinctness as a language that needs to be heard and preserved. Yong Gil tells Sung Wha: “You can really tell a story, eh, Sung Wha? All you need is an open ear, like this minister’s, and there you go: over Kumgangsan, down to the gray raging seas, then up to the clouds that know no time, on and on and on” (232). In order to learn from this “living history of labor in Hawai‘i” (194), the first step to opening our minds involves opening our ears and learning how to hear Sung Wha’s spatial stories. Sung Wha’s expressive memories of mountains, delivered through weird English, represent much more than a nostalgic, melancholic longing for home; these memories function as a kind of commons or collective or shared space which can be affectively entered into by those readers who have lost their connection to, or have been displaced within or beyond the Korean Peninsula as a result of the overlapping histories of Japanese colonialism, the unending Korean War, military dictatorship, and/or rapid economic modernization. Peter Linebaugh argues that, “The commons is an activity and, if anything, it expresses relationships in society that are inseparable from relations to nature. It might be better to keep the word as a verb, an activity, than as a noun, a substantive” (279). Sung Wha’s spatial stories are actively commoning, producing an affective mountain space through the interwoven, transportative acts of telling and listening. While listening to one of Sung Wha’s stories, Yong Gil is moved, both emotionally and geographically: In fact, I enjoy listening to you, Uncle; you make me feel young again, you make me live in another world, your world. It feels good listening to you because when I listen to you I’m not sitting on this metal chair in this hospital any more. But I’m over there. Over where? Over there, I say, in the clouds, climbing Kumgangsan, punching out the luna on the plantation. (259-260) A hospital attendant has also been listening to Sung Wha’s stories, and chimes in, “My grandfather told me stories about woodsmen in the Diamond Mountains …” (97). The NPR report mentioned in the introduction includes an interview with Moonyoung Ko, whose parents tell similar stories while hiking in Los Angeles: She says trips into the mountains jogged her parents' memories of home. Pine trees would elicit a story from her father about steaming New Year's rice cakes with pine needles. Her mother would stop and point out flowers along the trail, saying things like, “I know this flower. We used to take those petals and use it to dye our fingernails,” Ko recalls. “It was kind of them recollecting their childhood and sharing it with us.” (Hu “Keeping Alive”) For the mountain poet and environmental critic Gary Snyder, the act of revisualizing a place “with its smells and textures, walking through it again in your imagination, has a grounding and settling effect” (Snyder 28). Or as Yong Gil puts it, “When he tells these stories … I lose track of myself and time. I don’t know how to explain it any clearer: pictures just start to come to my mind, but I can also smell, hear, and feel things. It is a real world” (14). Histories of the Korean experience in the United States have tended to highlight “a diasporic immigrant community consumed by the politics of Korean independence that emerged from colonization” (Choi 139). A Ricepaper Airplane, centered on stories depicting Sung Wha’s life as a Korean nationalist and anti-colonial guerilla is similarly consumed by such politics. Anne Soon Choi argues that historical narratives of Korean nationalism in the pre-World War II era have tended to conflate a number of important issues including generational difference, gender, and a politics of place (139). Gary Pak resists such conflation through the formation of a Pidgin ecopoetics, the performative means by which the colonial period is represented and remembered in the present for younger generations who are disconnected from plantation history. In tracing the spatial itinerary of Sung Wha, Pak imagines deep yet transitory attachments to a series of local places, most importantly Kumgangsan in Korea and the sugar plantation on O‘ahu. Sung Wha does express feelings of exile, as did many Korean nationalists living in Hawai‘i in the 1920s and 1930s. Yet, Pak does not develop Sung Wha as a “proper” Korean immigrant: he does not speak standard English, he is not educated, he is not a Christian, and he questions anti-Japanese nationalism amongst Koreans living and laboring in Hawai‘i as a divisive managerial tactic despite the fact that he has spent much of his life fighting the expansion of the Japanese empire in Asia. This fight, as I discuss in the following section, was enabled and mediated by the largest feline predator in Asia, the Siberian tiger. Tigers in the Korean National Imaginary As the seeds of the Korean diaspora began to spread around the world in the early twentieth century, many of which landed in Hawai‘i, so did a vigorous anti-Japanese nationalism. As Choi summarizes, “Korean migrants arrived in Hawaii with a distinct sense of ‘being Korean’ that was firmly grounded in a nationalist anti-Japanese discourse” (141). Nationalist anti-Japanese discourse, both in the homeland and in the diaspora, was constructed in part through images of an animal with deep roots in Korean folk culture, the Siberian tiger. Siberian tigers have historically played a vital role in Korean culture, appearing in folk literature and art variously as tricksters, messengers, or protectors. In the animistic religion of San-sin, which I discuss in more detail in the next section, tigers are viewed as messengers of a mountain god or spirit, a role that appears on paintings typically housed in shrines on mountains where they are venerated by local people, pilgrims, and mountain hikers. Villagers also hang tiger paintings on their front doors to bring good luck and protect them from evil. Summarizing the polysemic fluidity of tigers in Korean cultural history, Zayong Zo writes: We usually think of the tiger as the man-eating cat whose roar sets the jungle to trembling, but to the Korean folk the tiger was much more than that–sometimes the lordly mountain king; sometimes the messenger of the Mountain Spirit; sometimes as beloved as a member of the family; often a clumsy, foolish beast easily tricked by the smaller creatures of the forest. (14) Wild Siberian tigers have an extremely large habitat and can roam up to 400 square kilometers; the semiotic repertoire of tiger meanings in Korean culture is equally large. In the nineteenth century, Japanese artists associated the hunting of tigers with the subjugation of the Korean Peninsula. Woodblock prints from the middle of the century depicted Japanese military commanders hunting and killing tigers in the shape of the Korean Peninsula. This visual production of the Korean Peninsula in the shape of a tiger was refunctioned by Korean nationalists early in the twentieth century as a symbol of resistance to Japanese aggression (Seeley and Skabelund 489). In 1908, a young Korean nationalist, Namseon Choe, inserted a drawing into his magazine Sonyon of a crouched tiger with its legs and body spread in the shape of the Korean Peninsula as in the earlier Japanese imperialist imaginary (Seeley and Skabelund 489). Summarzing this semiotic reversal, Seeley and Skabelund write, “While Japanese deployed tigers figuratively to confirm Japan’s control of the peninsula, Koreans used tigers to imagine rebellion against colonial rule” (491). As Sung Wha moves through the mountains, hiding and plotting and learning, images of tigers, and of becoming tiger, provide a source of endurance, strength, and hope for the future of Korea: We have to turn ourselves into an army of tigers. We Koreans have to toughen our bodies, strengthen our minds. We have to think like tigers, be strong as tigers, become tigers. The Japanese cannot fight an army of tigers. Tigers are too large and powerful for them. Tigers are invisible in the forest. And tigers never lose a fight. (66) This passage, set in Korea before Sung Wha moves to Hawai‘i and conveyed in standard English by an unnamed narrator, depicts Sung Wha’s thoughts when he is on the run. Here, a plurality of tigers are enlisted into an army, a militarized metaphor that borders on catachresis given the fact that tigers are solitary and typically hunt alone, not in a pack that could be described as army-like. A tiger’s solitude is fearful; the multiplication of tigers into an army subtracts from rather than adds to this fearfulness. This overworked description of the tiger, a rhetorical excess that might be attributed to author Gary Pak’s feelings of exile and desire to connect to Korean history and culture, is problematic on another level as I discuss below: tigers did lose their fight with humans. When Sung Wha is telling the story of his escape to Yong Gil in the hospital, his description of tigers, like the description of mountains, is conveyed in Hawaiian Pidgin English: “But we know da mountains and da soldiers, dem never know shit. So little while later we lose dem. We go deep inside da mountains where da soldiers no can find us, we go deep inside where da mountain tiger stay rule” (57). The tiger thus becomes the focus of a political condensation that connects the struggle for independence in the diaspora to the homeland. Seeley and Skabelund emphasize the fact that Korean culture has historically tended to value tigers “more as symbols than actual living beings” (476). Human population and agricultural expansion during the Joseon (Chosun) Dynasty (1353–1910) increased the frequency of violent encounters between tigers and humans. During this period, tigers were hunted for a variety of reasons: to prevent attacks on humans and livestock, for trade, or for sport (Seeley and Skabelund 483). By the 1920s, a time of intensifying nationalist activity, the last of the wild tigers on the southern half of the peninsula had been killed. When Korea was liberated from Japan in 1945, tigers had disappeared from most of the peninsula, while a few could probably have been found living along Korea’s northern border with China and the Soviet Union. The Korean War, which began 5 years later in 1950, devastated the habitat of all of the wild animals living on the peninsula, including Asian black bears, Korean wolves, and Amur leopards. By the time of the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement in 1953, forests were reduced to 35–40 percent of the prewar level (Seeley and Skabelund 492). While material tigers have disappeared from the Korean Peninsula, they have continued to thrive at the level of symbol. Seeley and Skabelund find that “as rapid urbanization separated people from the countryside and the natural world, and as tigers and the possibility of tiger attacks disappeared, cultural identification with tigers and nostalgia for an idyllic pastoral past nourished the idea of protecting tigers as an integral part of the landscape” (493). The tiger was rehabilitated for the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics when officials introduced a cartoon tiger, “Hodori,” as the mascot for the games. The popularity of the comical-looking Olympic mascot did draw attention to the condition of Siberian tigers, which were quickly imported by zoos that previously only housed Bengal tigers (Seeley and Skabelund 495). The Seoul Olympics also generated interest in the history of representations of tigers in Korean culture. An exhibition of Korean tiger art was displayed in a special hall at the new stadium in preparation for the games. In 2011, South Korean officials from the Korea Forest Service announced that tigers would be returning to the Baekdu-daegan mountain range in an enclosed, 6,000 square meters “tiger forest.” The reasons driving the construction of the tiger forest are primarily cultural, not ecological. Given the large habitat needed by wild Siberian tigers, combined with the fact that South Korea is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, a country in which the mountains are packed with hikers every weekend, the proposed habitat is the product of an anthropocentric perspective that represents a “consistent human unwillingness to approach predators on their own terms” (Seeley and Skabelund 478). As Steven Baker makes clear, animal meanings “operate largely independently of the living animal even if they once derived from it” (28). Yet the imagining of the Korean Peninsula in the shape of a tiger is not entirely residual as there are meanings that continue to thrive and evolve and that are having a real impact on politics and culture in both North and South Korea, as the symbolic repertoire of the tiger has shifted from one of cultural nationalism to one of cultural reunification. Kumgangsan: Magic Mountain While resting at Kumgangsan, Uncle Bhak serves Sung Wha and Hae Soon a warm bowl of juk, rice porridge prepared with special mushrooms and other mountain vegetables. Uncle Bhak is the irregular offspring of a union between a Buddhist monk and a tigress. He is a “tiger, a man of the mountains … living his life in close harmony with the natural world” (156). After eating the porridge, Sung Wha begins to have sacred, mystical visions of the mountainous landscape: Time does not dawn here. It never did. Today is yesterday is tomorrow is today … and there are no such things as villages or towns or societies. There is peace in nature, and nature is everything. There is no anger or sadness or happiness. There is no frustration or loneliness. And all is forgotten but the journey of the moment. (147) Sung Wha’s memories of mountains interweave the sacred and the secular, the poetic and the political. Early in the novel, Sung Wha sets the tone for the novel as a whole when he tells Yong Gil, “I tell you Yong Gil, da old country is beautiful. And strange if you no understand it. And full of magic. Da magic everywhere in da countryside” (15). This vision of mountains as strange and full of magic alludes to, and provides a point of contact with, the major folk religion of Korea, Shamanism, and the particular practice of San-sin, which holds that mountains are sacred and inhabited by gods or spirits. James Huntley Grayson stresses that, “The worship of mountain spirits in Korea is one of the most ubiquitous aspects of the nation’s folk religion” (120). Mountain spirits are typically worshipped, acknowledged, or appealed to at sansin-gak, shrines included within Buddhist temples. When missionary Buddhism first came to Korea between 300 and 600 CE, mountain god shrines were included within temples as a way of appealing to the local people. The syncretic relationship between Shamanism and Buddhism was facilitated by the fact that both religions include practices of nature worship. Mountain spirit worship is a place-based religious consciousness that designates those practices organized around, and which aim to recognize, the sacred, life-giving power of an ecologically important bioregion. Mountains play a crucial role in the formation of watersheds, and as Lawrence Buell puts it, “Without water, no life. Without ample supply, no sizable human settlements” (243). More broadly, Jang-tae Kum identifies San-sin with the belief that “every mountain has a spirit, and those who live on or climb the mountain receive that spirit and experience a deepening of their humanity” (Quoted in Mason, 40). The cultural practice of mountain spirit worship is not only distinguished by formal religious displays or icons, but also by casual, minor acts, such as adding a stone to one of the trail cairns which punctuate the mountainsides and are believed to provide enlightenment, safety, or luck for travelers. Sacred mountains can be found all over the world. Rebecca Solnit points out that, “In most parts of the world, sacred meanings are ascribed to mountains, and though the spirit world may be terrifying, it is seldom evil. Christian Europe seems to be alone in having seen mountains as ugly and almost hellish realms” (135). Croagh Patrick in Ireland, Mt. Fuji in Japan, Mt. Shasta in California, T’ai Shan in China, Mt. Parnassus in Greece, Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the Andes in South America, Uluru/Ayers Rock in Australia, and Maunaloa and Maunakea in Hawai‘i name just a few well-known examples of mountains in which gods or spirits are thought to reside and around which diverse religious rites are practiced. Historically, as Robert E. Buswell Jr. explains, a “major locus of pilgrimage activity in Korea, as elsewhere across Asia, was the mountains. Mountains were often viewed as the abodes of important sacred beings, such as bodhisattvas, but also sites where those beings’ most spiritually efficacious activities occurred” (1066). Within the religious topography of Korea, Kumgangsan is the “Buddhist pilgrimage site par excellence,” as monks were still making pilgrimages to the Diamond Mountains up until the division of the peninsula in 1945, “when the Cold War division of the peninsula and its location near the demilitarized zone effectively cut the mountain off from Buddhist pilgrimage networks in Korea” (Buswell Jr. 1069–1070). The representation of Kumgangsan as a sacred, mystical space in A Ricepaper Airplane can be understood in part through Wai Chee Dimock’s conceptualization of “deep time.” For Dimock, the concept of deep time works to register the long-term and long-range influences that flow into and through particular works of literature, influences that extend beyond the time and space of the nation: Literature is the home of nonstandard space and time. Against official borders of the nation and against the fixed intervals of the clock, what flourishes here is irregular duration and extension for thousands of years or thousands of miles, each occasioned by a different tie and varying with that tie, and each loosening up the chronology and geography of the nation. (4) Shamanism came to Korea around 5,000 years ago from the Northern Shamanistic belt that connects Korea to Central Asia, Siberia, and northern Scandinavia. Buddhism, as noted above, began to spread across the Korean Peninsula from China between 300 and 600 CE. From an orogenetic perspective, Kumgangsan introduces a significantly deeper sense of time, as the mountains of this region were formed between 80 and 200 million years ago in the late Mesozoic Period (See Chough Geology and Sedimentology). Through the spatial trajectory of Sung Wha, which interweaves practices of religious pilgrimage, nomadic wandering, and guerrilla tactics with the polyvalent aesthetics of mountain poet lyricism and linguistic hybridity, the deep time of sacred mountains and Buddhist nature worship is brought into contact with twentieth-century Pacific Korean American history. A Ricepaper Airplane is an exemplary cultural site where, following Dimock, the “literary and religious might be fruitfully studied together. As forms of cultural contact, they have done much to integrate the globe, breaking down the separation of periods as well as the isolation of regions, making long-term, long-distance kinship possible” (224). It is important to note that Pak does not arrange an orthodox or mimetic representation of any particular religious tradition, ideology, or practice, but offers rather a syncretic and flexible collection of overlapping mythemes, as Kumgangsan is envisioned as a space of sacred magic, lyrical beauty, and political refuge at the same time. Sung Wha’s spatial stories repeatedly return to Kumgangsan for renewal and inspiration. Sung Wha expresses love not just for Kumgangsan, but for all mountains. An emergent question in the current conjuncture concerns the role that the multitudinous and polysemic love of mountains in Korea and in the diaspora can play in working toward peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula. In the 1980s and 1990s, the meaning of mountains in South Korea underwent a transformation as young hikers began to view the 735 kilometers long series of interconnected ridges and peaks from Mt. Baekdu (Baekdusan) located on the border of North Korea and China to Mt. Jiri (Jirisan) near the southern tip of the peninsula as a continuous whole: the “spine of the tiger.”5 This mountain system was referred to as “Baekdu-daegan” or “white head ridge.” Progressive newspapers picked up on the name Baekdu-daegan and also began to use it as a symbolic reference to the Korean Peninsula as a whole (Ryu and Won 104). As leisure time increased in the 1990s, the result of a rapidly developing export-driven economy, so did the popularity of mountain hiking. The term Baekdu-daegan then began to circulate widely in magazines and newspapers so that by 1995, the 50th anniversary of liberation from Japanese occupation, Baekdu-daegan replaced “Taebaeksanmaek,” the term used by the Japanese during the colonial period to refer to Korean mountains. Rather than view the mountains of Korea as an interconnected whole, the Japanese, it was argued, divided the mountains into separate segments, thus contributing to the fragmentation of Korean identity. The Korean poet Ko Un, whose nickname is “great mountain peak,” a three-time Nobel Peace Prize for Literature runner-up, has argued that the wire fences and other barriers along the DMZ disconnect the mountain range in the north from the mountain range in the south (Ryu and Won 112). The semiotic range of Baekdu-daegan has thus expanded from designating an ecological route for wild animals and plants to a physical route by which the divided Koreas could be reunited (Ryu and Won 112). The governments of both North and South Korea have already begun to identify Korean mountains and mountain culture as a potential symbol of reconciliation. In 2015, both Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, and Seoul, the capital of South Korea, exhibited photographs of the Baekdu-daegan mountain range taken by New Zealand photographer, writer, and mountain guide Roger Shepherd, the first-time photographs of mountains on both sides of the DMZ have been exhibited together.6 In preparation for the 2015 Summer Universiade in Gwangju, South Korea proposed that a torch relay be passed from Mt. Baekdu in the North to Mt. Mudeung in the South. North Korea initially responded positively to this proposal; yet with the opening of the UN Human Rights office in Seoul in late June 2015, North Korea pulled out of the Universiade. Such geopolitical spasms have become a regular, constitutive feature of the unending Korean War, exemplifying what the literary critic, public intellectual, and activist Nak-chung Paik terms the “division system” in which “the North and the South reproduce themselves in a curious entanglement with each other” (2011, 4). In the summer of 2017, the Pentagon installed the controversial Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile-defense system in South Korea, a decision that immediately provoked a strong backlash by China, apocalyptic warnings from North Korea, and a letter of opposition written in blood by Hang-kon Kim the county governor of Seongju where the system is deployed. Overcoming the division system, Paik argues, should not be left to governments and politicians, but requires “active participation by ordinary citizens and common people” working within civil society (65). One example of a relatively successful project in civil society that involved the participation of ordinary citizens was the Kumgang Mountain Tour, which, as Paik notes, “appealed to people’s imagination” and benefited both North and South Korea. These tours, which were sponsored by the Hyundai Corporation, ended immediately on the morning of July 11, 2008 when a 53-year-old South Korean tourist was shot and killed by North Korean soldiers when she entered a restricted military area. Yet despite all of the inflammatory rhetoric and aggressive military posturing on both sides of the DMZ, Kumgangsan continues to function as a space of hope. From September 25–30, 2015, families from North and South Korea separated by the Korean War were reunited at Kumgangsan, the first time the site has hosted reunions since 2010, and efforts are currently being made to resume the mountain tours. Mountain Spaces of Hope Civil society is a critical site where the project of promoting peace, overcoming division, and ending the unending Korean War ought to be instigated. Academics, artists, activists, NGOs, and businesses can play a vital role in constructing a “people-oriented,” “third party” discourse in which the people of North and South Korea are not viewed as separate entities, but as parts of the whole peninsula (Paik 2013, 280). To this list of historically effective agents should be added the vast, mobile army of mountain climbers, mountain wanderers, mountain poets, and mountain lovers that roam the peaks, ridges, and valleys of the Baekdu-daegan, or of their local mountain in or beyond Korea, whether on foot or in their imagination. Literary works like A Ricepaper Airplane enable readers to imagine a shared ecology or mountain commons, a historically determinate, culturally constructed vision of nature that can help denaturalize territorial division. For Paik, civic participation “will greatly heighten the chances of building a new kind of global community, more democratic, more egalitarian, and more conducive to both a sustainable ecology and genuine peace” (Paik 2013, 289). Uncle Sung Wha’s recollections of mountains construct a reading position through which readers from discrepant geographical positions and generations can connect to, or affiliate with, the Korean Peninsula as a whole. In a close reading of Gary Pak’s short story “Language of the Geckos,” Teresa Shewry isolates the representation of water as a signifier of hope. Aiming to “bring ecocriticism into dialogue with theories of hope” (6), Shewry understands hope: as a relationship with the future that is sparked not only by the agencies of people but also by non-human beings. Many Pacific literatures emerge in cultural contexts that take entities such as mountains, rivers, birds, buildings, and the ocean as vital, animated protagonists. These literatures represent a person’s or community’s hope as entangled with a broader environmental world. (10) Shewry’s reading of the blockage and release of water as central to anti-colonial struggles, as in my reading of mountains as central to the desire for reunification, locates and localizes the bioregion not simply as an object of representation or reclamation, but also as an agent or protagonist of hope. Kumgangsan does not encourage nationalist identification with North or South Korea, but offers up an embattled third space, a space of peace, reconciliation, and reunification. Memories of mountains are both retrospective and proleptic, nostalgic and anticipatory, as Kumgangsan has existed long before, and will continue to exist long after, the militarized division of the peninsula. Memories of mountains in A Ricepaper Airplane offer much more than romantic nostalgia, pastoral essence, or nationalist monument; they offer a material ecocritical discourse that can help readers imagine an alternative future in which the military demarcation line separating North and South Korea has become a thing of the past. I would like to thank professor David A. Mason of Sejong University for introducing me to the idea and practice of Korean mountain worship ten years ago. His book, Spirit of the Mountains, is essential reading for anyone who, like Uncle Sung Wha, loves all mountains. Footnotes 1 Roger Shepherd, a mountaineer from New Zealand, has made numerous photography expeditions to the mountains of North Korea. He has told me that given the country's poverty, leisure hiking is not a common cultural practice. Mountains function primarily foraging sites and as spaces of travel between villages. It is unfortunately beyond the scope of this article to include a discussion of ways in which the people of North Korea relate to mountains. The exclusion of North Korea here thus implicates this article in a Cold War demarcation that it is at the same time working to overcome. 2 If mountain hiking is coded into the cultural DNA of Koreans, what about those individuals with physical or other disabilities, does this mean that they are incomplete or partial Koreans? In “Don’t Climb Every Mountain,” Elizabeth A. Wheeler raises critical issues concerning the ableism that dominates discourse about mountains and mountaineering, much of which is centered on the “fit body” (555). In working to “bring disability studies to bear on the environmental imagination” (553), Wheeler works to “critique such exclusionary thinking” while seeking to “widen the repertoire of human responses to nature” (554). My article is partially complicit in reproducing the ableism critiqued by Wheeler. At the same time, as I hope will be clear from my reading of A Ricepaper Airplane, one does not need a “fit body” in order to follow Sung Wha’s adventures, only a healthy imagination. 3 In the Korean language, the word san means mountain. Mt. Kumgang is therefore romanized as Kumgangsan, Mt. Jiri as Jirisan. Confusion is multiplied by the fact that Kumgangsan is sometimes romanized as Geumgangsan, Jirisan as Chirisan. This article follows the most common spelling of Korean mountain names, as outlined by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, in order to assist readers who would like to conduct further research or plan a hike. 4 The defamiliarizing periodization of Cold War history embedded in the expression “unending Korean War” draws attention to the fact that that the Korean War is not over and that the Armistice Agreement, signed on July 27, 1953, must be replaced with a formal peace agreement. The movement to end the Korean War, conducted through organizations such as the National Campaign to End the Korean War (NCEKW), the Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea (ASCK), and Women Cross DMZ (WCDMZ), is gaining traction at the level of the state. On July 17, 2015, National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, the three remaining Korean War veterans in Congress, Reps. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), and Sam Johnson (R-TX), introduced House Resolution 384 “calling for a formal end to the Korean War.” See http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/news/2015/07/28/0200000000AEN20150728000600315.html (accessed October 11, 2015). See Dong Choon Kim, The Unending Korean War: A Social History. 5 For a comprehensive English-language guide to the culture and trails of the Baekdu-daegan, see Roger Shepherd, Andrew Douch, and David Mason, Baekdu-Daegan Trail, Hiking Korea’s Mountain Spine. 6 The Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) is planning an exhibition for Winter 2017 of Roger Shepherd's photographs, along with works by other artists, under the theme of “new visions of Korean reunification.”Shepherd’s photographs of the mountains of North and South Korea can be viewed at: http://www.onekoreaphotography.com/galleries/. Works Cited Baker Steven. Picturing the Beast: Animals, Identity and Representation . Manchester UP , 1993 . Buswell Robert E. Jr. “Korean Buddhist Journeys to Lands Worldly and Otherworldly.” The Journal of Asian Studies 28 . 4 ( 2009 ): 1055 – 75 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Buell Lawrence. Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment in the U.S. and Beyond . Belknap , 2009 . Ch’ien Evelyn Nien-Ming. Weird English . Harvard UP , 2005 . Cho Hong-sup. “Hiking, Korea’s National Pastime, is in the Country’s Cultural DNA.” The Hankyoreh. Online, 14 Nov. 2015 . Accessed 15 Nov. 2015. Chough Sung Kwun. Geologogy and Sedimentology on the Korean Peninsula . Elsevier , 2013 . DeLoughrey Elizabeth M. Routes and Roots: Navigating Caribbean and Pacific Island Literatures . U of Hawaii P , 2007 . Dimock Wai Chee. Through Other Continents: American Literature across Time . Princeton UP , 2006 . Grayson James Huntley. “Female Mountain Spirits in Korea: A Neglected Tradition.” Asian Folklore Studies 55 . 1 ( 1996 ): 119 – 34 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Hu Elise. “Keeping Alive the Korean Love for Hiking, Thousands of Miles from Korea.” National Public Radio . Online, 20 July 2015 . Accessed 20 July 2015. Kim Sakkat . “The Diamond Mountains,” Selected Poems of Kim Sakkat. Trans. and ed. Kevin O'Rourke. Keimyung UP, 2012. Kwon Brenda L. Beyond Ke’eaumoku: Koreans, Nationalism, and Local Culture in Hawai‘i . Garland Publishing , 1999 . Kwon Dong Choon. The Unending Korean War: A Social History . Trans. Sung-ok Kim. Larkspur, 2000 . Linebaugh Peter. The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All . U of California P , 2008 . Mason David. Spirit of the Mountains: Korea’s San-Shin and Traditions of Mountain Worship . Hollym , 1999 . Pak Gary. A Ricepaper Airplane . U of Hawai‘i P , 1998 . Paik Nak-chung. The Division System in Crisis: Essays on Contemporary Korea . Trans. Myung-hwan Kim et al. , U of California P , 2011 . Paik Nak-chung. . “Toward Overcoming Korea’s Division System through Civic Participation,” Critical Asian Studies 45 . 2 ( 2013 ): 289 . Ryu Je-Hun , Won Doo-Hee . “The Modern Production of Multiple Meanings of the Baekdudaegan Mountain System.” Korea Journal 53 . 3 (Autumn 2013) : 103 – 32 . Seeley Joseph , Skabelund Aaron . “Tigers–Real and Imagined–in Korea’s Physical and Cultural Landscape.” Environmental History ( 2015) 20(3): 475 – 503 . Shepherd Roger , Douch Andrew , Mason David . Baekdu-Daegan: Hiking Korea's Mountain Spine . Seoul Selection , 2010 . Shewry Teresa. Hope at Sea . U of Minnesota P , 2015 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Snyder Gary. The Practice of the Wild . Counterpoint , 1990 . Solnit Rebecca. Wanderlust . Penguin Books , 2000 . Thoreau Henry David. Walden . Ed. Lyndon Shanley J. . Princeton UP , 1971 . Wheeler Elizabeth A. “Don’t Climb Every Mountain.” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 20 . 3 (Summer 2013 ): 553 – 73 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Wilson Rob. Reimagining the American Pacific: From South Pacific to Bamboo Ridge and Beyond . Duke UP , 2000 . Wilson Rob. . “Toward an Ecopoetics of Oceania: Worlding the Asia-Pacific Region as Space-Time Ecumene.” American Studies as Transnational Practice . Eds Shu Yuan , Pease Donald . Dartmouth College P , 2015 . Yu Jung-ho. “The Mountain in Contemporary Fiction.” Koreana: A Quarterly on Korean Art and Culture 22 . 4 (Winter 2008) . Zo Za-yong. Korean Tiger: An Exhibition of Korean Folk Painting . Emille Museum , 1984 . © The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment Oxford University Press

Gary Pak’s A Ricepaper Airplane: Memories of Mountains in the Korean Diasporic Imagination

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Abstract

Red pines, white pines; I wind my way between the rocks, the world full of the wonder of mountains and waters. – Sakkat Kim, “The Diamond Mountains” (59) A country? I don’t follow. A mountain in Germany cannot offend a mountain in France. – Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (204) To say that the people of South Korea love mountains would be something of an understatement. According to the Korea Forest Service, one-third of the population of South Korea goes to the mountains once a month. Mt. Seorak (Seoraksan), located 3 hours east of Seoul, received 720,000 visitors in October 2015—100,000 on the 17th and 18th—the peak time for seeing the fall colors (Cho “Hiking”). Given the fact that mountains cover some 70–75 percent of the Korean Peninsula, it is almost difficult not to go to the mountains.1 These numbers are impressive and tend to elicit bouts of cultural essentialism and hiking hyperbole. An article on the popularity of hiking in the progressive South Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh moves from those large numbers to speculate that, “While it may not be written into actual DNA, mountain climbing may be deeply inscribed in Koreans’ cultural DNA” (Cho “Hiking”).2 Mountain hiking is a popular cultural practice not only for South Koreans living on the peninsula; they also take this love for mountains with them when they move abroad. A recent National Public Radio (NPR) story entitled, “Keeping Alive The Korean Love For Hiking, Thousands Of Miles From Korea,” reports that: “Across the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, second- and even third-generation children of Korean immigrants are keeping alive and well a tradition that connects them to their ancestral homeland … There are Korean-Americans of all ages using the trails, but a good number of those hard-core hikers are in their 50s and older, immigrants from South Korea” (Hu “Keeping Alive”). Here I would like to explore this love for mountains through a reading of Gary Pak’s A Ricepaper Airplane, a novel that wanders across the Korean Peninsula, Manchuria, China, Japan, and Hawai‘i, assembling a diasporic perspective on twentieth-century Korea along the way. The focus and agent of the novel’s wanderings is Uncle Sung Wha, who has played many roles in his lifetime: “the revolutionary in China, the Korean patriot, the Communist, the aviator” (Pak 1998, 3). In addition to these roles, Sung Wha is a mountain wanderer and mountain lover. Mountains are always on Sung Wha’s mind, and many of the stories he tells from his deathbed to his nephew Yong Gil revolve around Mt. Kumgang (hereafter Kumgangsan or the Diamond Mountains), a historically, culturally, and geopolitically significant mountain range located in the Kangwon Province of North Korea near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the 4-kilometer buffer that divides North and South Korea.3 A Ricepaper Airplane constructs memories of mountains in general, and Kumgangsan in particular, as a constitutive feature of the Korean diasporic imagination. Lawrence Buell argues that “acts of environmental imagination … potentially register and energize … engagement with the world. They may reconnect readers with the places they have been and send them where they would otherwise never physically go. They may direct thought toward alternative futures” (2). In addition to offering (re)connections to the homeland and home mountains for those readers who, like Sung Wha, cannot return home because of the militarized division of the peninsula and the unending Korean War, A Ricepaper Airplane directs attention to the affirmative role that memories of mountains can play as a discursive resource for those movements working toward the overcoming of territorial division and the eventual reunification of the Korean Peninsula.4 Mountain Commons It is 1979 and Kim Sung Wha is living in a run-down hotel in the Chinatown section of Honolulu, Hawai‘i. Sung Wha lives in the hotel with a multicultural crew of poor, elderly, retired laborers who are fighting to keep from being evicted. On his way home from the University of Hawai‘i after being invited to give a talk on labor history, Sung Wha collapses on the side of the road. When he is taken to the hospital, he is diagnosed with lung cancer and given only a short time to live. Yong Gil, whose father Eung Whan is Sung Wha’s cousin and good friend—the two grew up in the same village in what became North Korea following liberation from Japan in 1945—leaves his job as a teacher so he can spend time with his Uncle. As Sung Wha drifts in and out of consciousness, he tells Yong Gil stories about village life in Korea, about life in Manchuria and Shanghai as a patriot and Communist revolutionary, and about life in Hawai‘i as a plantation worker and labor organizer. Yong Gil becomes hooked on stories that drift across the multiple times and spaces of the Korean diaspora. As a Korean American, Yong Gil’s emotional and physical commitment to the local Sung Wha, to his struggles and stories, represents a generational longing, a desire to fill in the gaps before the older generation passes away. From his hospital bed, Sung Wha tells Yong Gil about the time that, as teenagers, he and Eung Whan, “big-kine rebels” (54), stole a rifle from a Japanese soldier and went hunting. When occupation soldiers begin to harass the villagers in order to retrieve the rifle, Eung Whan cannot tolerate the colonial arrogance and abuse, so he spits on one of the soldiers, which incites other villagers to fight back. Sung Wha and Eung Whan are forced to flee and hide in the mountains, an act Korean readers will no doubt be familiar with, as mountains have historically served as tactical spaces of refuge and support for refugees, exiles, poets, monks, rebels, guerillas, and fugitives. This also means that mountains have often been turned into killing fields, drenched in blood as sites of counter-insurgent massacres (Yu “The Mountain”). The rebel cousins come across a farmer who tells them to split up, instructing Eung Whan to go south to Busan and then to Hawai‘i, while instructing Sung Wha to go north to Kumgangsan and then to Manchuria where Korean patriots are gathering and training to fight for independence. While on his journey north, Sung Wha meets Uncle Bhak, a woodcutter and mountain man who lives with his daughter Hae Soon, a beautiful young revolutionary who becomes Sung Wha’s wife. The newlyweds travel to Manchuria where Sung Wha intends to learn about the Korean independence movement and train with guerillas. On the way to Manchuria, the couple meets Wakatani, a Japanese subversive who runs a small printing press out of his suitcase and is also fighting for Korean independence. Shortly after reaching Manchuria, Sung Wha decides to leave his wife and newborn child so he can go to China to join the emergent Communist revolution that is engaged in anti-colonial struggles against the expanding Japanese empire. After a political demonstration against the Japanese occupation of Peking (Beijing), Sung Wha is arrested, tortured, and sent to a prison in Japan because he is carrying Wakatani’s passport, eventually sailing to Hawai‘i in the 1920s where he begins work on a sugarcane plantation. Kumgangsan first appears in the narrative when Sung Wha is fleeing from plantation managers in Hawai‘i. In 1928, Sung Wha was about to begin work at the Waipahu Plantation on the island of O‘ahu. When he is informed that Koreans are being employed as scabs because the Filipino and Japanese workers are on strike, Sung Wha decides to organize all the workers into a union. Other Korean laborers want to exact revenge on the Japanese and refuse to support them. But Sung Wha sees through the plantation owner’s strategy of dividing laborers along ethnic and national lines: “How can we work when the Japanese and Filipino laborers are striking? They’re just like us. Or are they? Damn plantation wants to divide us. But if we Koreans went out on strike, would the Japanese support our cause? And why do they have so many lunas watching us? So the strikers don’t attack us? Or so we don’t run away? Must they force us to work?” (21). Conventional histories of immigrant labor on sugar plantations during this period focus on the role Koreans played as strikebreakers and thus remember Koreans as “those upholding the oppressive order” (Kwon 117). Gary Pak, working through the figure of Sung Wha, offers a counter-memory of Korean immigrant labor history in Hawai‘i. When other Korean laborers refer to the Japanese as bastard pigs, Sung Wha responds, “The white bosses are bastard pigs” (23). When the plantation lunas or managers discover Sung Wha’s plan to organize workers across ethnic and national lines, they beat him up and chase him off the plantation. He hides in a cane field, but the lunas start a fire to smoke him out. Exhausted after being on the run for several days, Sung Wha lays his head down on the Wahiawa Reservoir: The summer sun had reached its noonday height when he reached the Wahiawa Reservoir, and Kim Sung Wha, tired and hungry and shirtless and reddened from fire and sun, rested his sleepy and dried eyes on the cool water of a dark still lake that … slowly fed itself through a complex of rivulets to the mighty Yalu River. And there, kneeling at the shore, he saw Hae Soon, facing the green mirror lake, her back toward him, sloughing her spring clothes that fell like large white feathers, washing her face and secret body parts. And far in the distance, almost completely hidden by clouds that perhaps held some snow, were the mountains. But they wouldn’t have to cross those mountains, not right now, and … they weren’t as beautiful and majestic as Kumgangsan, but he liked all mountains anyway, no matter if they were low and rounded and their tops never dressed in snow; mountains were mountains, and Sung Wha held a dear affinity for all mountains, even though these Hawaiian mountains seemed more like foothills. (36) In this passage, Sung Wha is drinking from and thinking about a local reservoir in the central valley of O‘ahu, yet as he dozes off, the reservoir appears to flow into the Yalu River that forms the border between North Korea and China, a moment that recalls “The Pond in Winter” in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, in which, “The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges” (298). In Sung Wha’s hallucinatory, homographic vision, mountains are also mingled as the exact geographical location of “those mountains” is not made clear. Sung Wha is perhaps initially gazing at the volcanic Ko‘olau Range that hovers over the Wahiawa Reservoir, but then travels back to Kumgangsan. Physically depleted, Sung Wha drifts from the mountains of Hawai‘i to the mountains of Korea and back again, the ellipsis in the text signifying a moment of time and space compression, of “translocal solidarity,” to borrow an expression from Rob Wilson (2015, 213), a syntactic leap that captures both his desire to return home and his condition of unending exile. Memories of mountains inspire Sung Wha to keep on running and fighting and dreaming. Memories of mountains create repeatable sensations that provide stability and continuity within a life that has been shaped by perpetual displacement and discontinuity. While my focus here is on memories of mountains in the Korean diaspora, the transpacific is the broader context within which such memories need to be situated, a context that Rob Wilson delineates as a “translocal regional formation of water-crossing linkages” (2015, 214). Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey similarly grasps the transoceanic in terms of a tidal dialectics or “tidalectics” of land and water which shape the literature of diaspora (2). Both Wilson and DeLoughrey assemble wide-ranging genealogies of transoceanic literary production in which water appears both as a space of migration and as the origin of an increasingly impaired water cycle that is rendering life on land and at sea precarious. I will return to the issue of water in my conclusion. In the above passage, ellipsis signifies an ecopoetic leap from one place to another that founds a diasporic Korean localism. Sung Wha’s local identity, not to be confused with a Native Hawaiian identity, nor subsumed within the category of Korean American, is registered in the hybrid form of English he speaks to Yong Gil, Hawaiian Creole English (HCE), or Hawaiian Pidgin English, or just Pidgin, which first originated on sugarcane plantations as a means of communication between immigrants laborers from different countries and between laborers and plantation managers. A Pidgin ecopoetics appears through the performative act of telling stories to Yong Gil: But dat morning, something funny kine when move inside me, something was talking to me. Da scenery around me was so quiet, da pine trees and everything so still, was so quiet. But something, one voice, was calling me, talking to me. I can still remember dat feeling. Funny kine feeling. All dis quiet beautiful landscape around me, but day was all talking to me, making me feel dis funny kine but good feeling. I dunno what dey call dis, but it like you have so much respect, so much love fo’ all da things growing ‘round you, all da things growing from da land. I think das what da young Hawaiians nowadays dey call aloha ‘aina. You know, da love fo’ da land. Love fo’ everything living in dey own natural way. Something li’dat. Funny kine feeling, dis feeling dat jus’ wen come ovah me right den. (53–54) Sung Wha’s speaking style involves a weirding of English. Evelyn Nien-Ming Ch’ien argues that weird English, the hybrid product of blending one or more languages with English, “highlights the aesthetic aspect of linguistic presence in human life” (7). The practice and aesthetics of weird English link Gary Pak’s novel to works by writers such as Junot Diaz, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Irvine Welsh that are similarly active in their appropriation and circulation of linguistic hybridity. Pidgin signifies both Sung Wha’s separation from Korea and the fact that time spent working in Hawai‘i has resulted in the gradual building up of a new constellation of language, identity, and community. With this linguistic appropriation of hybridity, A Ricepaper Airplane builds on the “local affirmation and pidgin-based literature” associated with Bamboo Ridge, a literary journal and small press founded in Hawai‘i in 1978 (Wilson 2000, xiii). For the writers associated with Bamboo Ridge, Hawaiian Pidgin English is, in Wilson’s words, a “medium of center-periphery reversal and postcolonial flows” (2000, 9). Moving through the entangled histories of language, labor, and diaspora, A Ricepaper Airplane exemplifies “localist drives and place-based orientations [as] part of a complex Pacific and Asian affiliation” (Wilson 2000, ix). In Hawai‘i, the question of who is and who is not “local” inspires passionate debates, intellectual conflicts, and at times, when it comes to protecting local surf breaks, violence. Describing the fluid boundaries of the term “local” as it is deployed in and across the Hawaiian Islands, Brenda L. Kwon points out, “‘Local’ can be used to refer to anyone of Asian, Hawaiian, or other Pacific Islander descent, and usually designates those who have been in Hawaii for more than one generation, although more politicized definitions call for a lineage that can be traced back to the plantation labor experience” (6). Sung Wha’s ecstatic stories about the mountains of Korea compose itineraries for Yong Gil in which practices of seeing and going are blended and filtered through Hawaiian Pidgin English: After dat, we wen go straight to Kumgangsan. Da English name is da Diamond Mountains. Ho! Is so beautiful up dere, jus’ like heaven. Get all da mountain water running down, everywhere all green, so many trees, da mountains so beautiful. Yong Gil, you no seen nothing like dis in yo’ life. So beautiful. So me and yo’ auntie, we follow dis narrow road up to da mountain. I tell you, all Koreans, dey all make one pledge to demselves dat befo’ dey die dey gotta go see da Diamond Mountains, Kumgangsan. If dey no go, den dey going make not satisfied wit’ dere life, youknowwhatImean? At least I can say I wen see da place. I live dere fo’ little while. At least now if I make I no have to worry ‘bout dat. (159) Here, “da Diamond Mountains” expresses not only a weirding of English, but a weirding of mountains and a weirding of the pastoral, as place and genre are locally inflected and mediated by a historically dense linguistic position and polycultural consciousness located beyond the Korean Peninsula, in the Pacific Korean diaspora. The exchange of the definite article “the” for “da” signifies both proximity and distance. Kumgangsan is located deep in Sung Wha’s heart and imagination, yet the signifier “da” appears in a syntax that reflects his roots in Hawai‘i. Working through Sung Wha, Gary Pak invites readers to imagine the Diamond Mountains, yet emphatically reminds readers at the same time of a difference, da Diamond Mountains. The filtering of geography through weird English supports a double movement: both remembering the homeland and deepening attachment to the place from which remembering takes place. Gary Pak is not simply transcribing the speech of a fictional plantation laborer, but highlighting its distinctness as a language that needs to be heard and preserved. Yong Gil tells Sung Wha: “You can really tell a story, eh, Sung Wha? All you need is an open ear, like this minister’s, and there you go: over Kumgangsan, down to the gray raging seas, then up to the clouds that know no time, on and on and on” (232). In order to learn from this “living history of labor in Hawai‘i” (194), the first step to opening our minds involves opening our ears and learning how to hear Sung Wha’s spatial stories. Sung Wha’s expressive memories of mountains, delivered through weird English, represent much more than a nostalgic, melancholic longing for home; these memories function as a kind of commons or collective or shared space which can be affectively entered into by those readers who have lost their connection to, or have been displaced within or beyond the Korean Peninsula as a result of the overlapping histories of Japanese colonialism, the unending Korean War, military dictatorship, and/or rapid economic modernization. Peter Linebaugh argues that, “The commons is an activity and, if anything, it expresses relationships in society that are inseparable from relations to nature. It might be better to keep the word as a verb, an activity, than as a noun, a substantive” (279). Sung Wha’s spatial stories are actively commoning, producing an affective mountain space through the interwoven, transportative acts of telling and listening. While listening to one of Sung Wha’s stories, Yong Gil is moved, both emotionally and geographically: In fact, I enjoy listening to you, Uncle; you make me feel young again, you make me live in another world, your world. It feels good listening to you because when I listen to you I’m not sitting on this metal chair in this hospital any more. But I’m over there. Over where? Over there, I say, in the clouds, climbing Kumgangsan, punching out the luna on the plantation. (259-260) A hospital attendant has also been listening to Sung Wha’s stories, and chimes in, “My grandfather told me stories about woodsmen in the Diamond Mountains …” (97). The NPR report mentioned in the introduction includes an interview with Moonyoung Ko, whose parents tell similar stories while hiking in Los Angeles: She says trips into the mountains jogged her parents' memories of home. Pine trees would elicit a story from her father about steaming New Year's rice cakes with pine needles. Her mother would stop and point out flowers along the trail, saying things like, “I know this flower. We used to take those petals and use it to dye our fingernails,” Ko recalls. “It was kind of them recollecting their childhood and sharing it with us.” (Hu “Keeping Alive”) For the mountain poet and environmental critic Gary Snyder, the act of revisualizing a place “with its smells and textures, walking through it again in your imagination, has a grounding and settling effect” (Snyder 28). Or as Yong Gil puts it, “When he tells these stories … I lose track of myself and time. I don’t know how to explain it any clearer: pictures just start to come to my mind, but I can also smell, hear, and feel things. It is a real world” (14). Histories of the Korean experience in the United States have tended to highlight “a diasporic immigrant community consumed by the politics of Korean independence that emerged from colonization” (Choi 139). A Ricepaper Airplane, centered on stories depicting Sung Wha’s life as a Korean nationalist and anti-colonial guerilla is similarly consumed by such politics. Anne Soon Choi argues that historical narratives of Korean nationalism in the pre-World War II era have tended to conflate a number of important issues including generational difference, gender, and a politics of place (139). Gary Pak resists such conflation through the formation of a Pidgin ecopoetics, the performative means by which the colonial period is represented and remembered in the present for younger generations who are disconnected from plantation history. In tracing the spatial itinerary of Sung Wha, Pak imagines deep yet transitory attachments to a series of local places, most importantly Kumgangsan in Korea and the sugar plantation on O‘ahu. Sung Wha does express feelings of exile, as did many Korean nationalists living in Hawai‘i in the 1920s and 1930s. Yet, Pak does not develop Sung Wha as a “proper” Korean immigrant: he does not speak standard English, he is not educated, he is not a Christian, and he questions anti-Japanese nationalism amongst Koreans living and laboring in Hawai‘i as a divisive managerial tactic despite the fact that he has spent much of his life fighting the expansion of the Japanese empire in Asia. This fight, as I discuss in the following section, was enabled and mediated by the largest feline predator in Asia, the Siberian tiger. Tigers in the Korean National Imaginary As the seeds of the Korean diaspora began to spread around the world in the early twentieth century, many of which landed in Hawai‘i, so did a vigorous anti-Japanese nationalism. As Choi summarizes, “Korean migrants arrived in Hawaii with a distinct sense of ‘being Korean’ that was firmly grounded in a nationalist anti-Japanese discourse” (141). Nationalist anti-Japanese discourse, both in the homeland and in the diaspora, was constructed in part through images of an animal with deep roots in Korean folk culture, the Siberian tiger. Siberian tigers have historically played a vital role in Korean culture, appearing in folk literature and art variously as tricksters, messengers, or protectors. In the animistic religion of San-sin, which I discuss in more detail in the next section, tigers are viewed as messengers of a mountain god or spirit, a role that appears on paintings typically housed in shrines on mountains where they are venerated by local people, pilgrims, and mountain hikers. Villagers also hang tiger paintings on their front doors to bring good luck and protect them from evil. Summarizing the polysemic fluidity of tigers in Korean cultural history, Zayong Zo writes: We usually think of the tiger as the man-eating cat whose roar sets the jungle to trembling, but to the Korean folk the tiger was much more than that–sometimes the lordly mountain king; sometimes the messenger of the Mountain Spirit; sometimes as beloved as a member of the family; often a clumsy, foolish beast easily tricked by the smaller creatures of the forest. (14) Wild Siberian tigers have an extremely large habitat and can roam up to 400 square kilometers; the semiotic repertoire of tiger meanings in Korean culture is equally large. In the nineteenth century, Japanese artists associated the hunting of tigers with the subjugation of the Korean Peninsula. Woodblock prints from the middle of the century depicted Japanese military commanders hunting and killing tigers in the shape of the Korean Peninsula. This visual production of the Korean Peninsula in the shape of a tiger was refunctioned by Korean nationalists early in the twentieth century as a symbol of resistance to Japanese aggression (Seeley and Skabelund 489). In 1908, a young Korean nationalist, Namseon Choe, inserted a drawing into his magazine Sonyon of a crouched tiger with its legs and body spread in the shape of the Korean Peninsula as in the earlier Japanese imperialist imaginary (Seeley and Skabelund 489). Summarzing this semiotic reversal, Seeley and Skabelund write, “While Japanese deployed tigers figuratively to confirm Japan’s control of the peninsula, Koreans used tigers to imagine rebellion against colonial rule” (491). As Sung Wha moves through the mountains, hiding and plotting and learning, images of tigers, and of becoming tiger, provide a source of endurance, strength, and hope for the future of Korea: We have to turn ourselves into an army of tigers. We Koreans have to toughen our bodies, strengthen our minds. We have to think like tigers, be strong as tigers, become tigers. The Japanese cannot fight an army of tigers. Tigers are too large and powerful for them. Tigers are invisible in the forest. And tigers never lose a fight. (66) This passage, set in Korea before Sung Wha moves to Hawai‘i and conveyed in standard English by an unnamed narrator, depicts Sung Wha’s thoughts when he is on the run. Here, a plurality of tigers are enlisted into an army, a militarized metaphor that borders on catachresis given the fact that tigers are solitary and typically hunt alone, not in a pack that could be described as army-like. A tiger’s solitude is fearful; the multiplication of tigers into an army subtracts from rather than adds to this fearfulness. This overworked description of the tiger, a rhetorical excess that might be attributed to author Gary Pak’s feelings of exile and desire to connect to Korean history and culture, is problematic on another level as I discuss below: tigers did lose their fight with humans. When Sung Wha is telling the story of his escape to Yong Gil in the hospital, his description of tigers, like the description of mountains, is conveyed in Hawaiian Pidgin English: “But we know da mountains and da soldiers, dem never know shit. So little while later we lose dem. We go deep inside da mountains where da soldiers no can find us, we go deep inside where da mountain tiger stay rule” (57). The tiger thus becomes the focus of a political condensation that connects the struggle for independence in the diaspora to the homeland. Seeley and Skabelund emphasize the fact that Korean culture has historically tended to value tigers “more as symbols than actual living beings” (476). Human population and agricultural expansion during the Joseon (Chosun) Dynasty (1353–1910) increased the frequency of violent encounters between tigers and humans. During this period, tigers were hunted for a variety of reasons: to prevent attacks on humans and livestock, for trade, or for sport (Seeley and Skabelund 483). By the 1920s, a time of intensifying nationalist activity, the last of the wild tigers on the southern half of the peninsula had been killed. When Korea was liberated from Japan in 1945, tigers had disappeared from most of the peninsula, while a few could probably have been found living along Korea’s northern border with China and the Soviet Union. The Korean War, which began 5 years later in 1950, devastated the habitat of all of the wild animals living on the peninsula, including Asian black bears, Korean wolves, and Amur leopards. By the time of the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement in 1953, forests were reduced to 35–40 percent of the prewar level (Seeley and Skabelund 492). While material tigers have disappeared from the Korean Peninsula, they have continued to thrive at the level of symbol. Seeley and Skabelund find that “as rapid urbanization separated people from the countryside and the natural world, and as tigers and the possibility of tiger attacks disappeared, cultural identification with tigers and nostalgia for an idyllic pastoral past nourished the idea of protecting tigers as an integral part of the landscape” (493). The tiger was rehabilitated for the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics when officials introduced a cartoon tiger, “Hodori,” as the mascot for the games. The popularity of the comical-looking Olympic mascot did draw attention to the condition of Siberian tigers, which were quickly imported by zoos that previously only housed Bengal tigers (Seeley and Skabelund 495). The Seoul Olympics also generated interest in the history of representations of tigers in Korean culture. An exhibition of Korean tiger art was displayed in a special hall at the new stadium in preparation for the games. In 2011, South Korean officials from the Korea Forest Service announced that tigers would be returning to the Baekdu-daegan mountain range in an enclosed, 6,000 square meters “tiger forest.” The reasons driving the construction of the tiger forest are primarily cultural, not ecological. Given the large habitat needed by wild Siberian tigers, combined with the fact that South Korea is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, a country in which the mountains are packed with hikers every weekend, the proposed habitat is the product of an anthropocentric perspective that represents a “consistent human unwillingness to approach predators on their own terms” (Seeley and Skabelund 478). As Steven Baker makes clear, animal meanings “operate largely independently of the living animal even if they once derived from it” (28). Yet the imagining of the Korean Peninsula in the shape of a tiger is not entirely residual as there are meanings that continue to thrive and evolve and that are having a real impact on politics and culture in both North and South Korea, as the symbolic repertoire of the tiger has shifted from one of cultural nationalism to one of cultural reunification. Kumgangsan: Magic Mountain While resting at Kumgangsan, Uncle Bhak serves Sung Wha and Hae Soon a warm bowl of juk, rice porridge prepared with special mushrooms and other mountain vegetables. Uncle Bhak is the irregular offspring of a union between a Buddhist monk and a tigress. He is a “tiger, a man of the mountains … living his life in close harmony with the natural world” (156). After eating the porridge, Sung Wha begins to have sacred, mystical visions of the mountainous landscape: Time does not dawn here. It never did. Today is yesterday is tomorrow is today … and there are no such things as villages or towns or societies. There is peace in nature, and nature is everything. There is no anger or sadness or happiness. There is no frustration or loneliness. And all is forgotten but the journey of the moment. (147) Sung Wha’s memories of mountains interweave the sacred and the secular, the poetic and the political. Early in the novel, Sung Wha sets the tone for the novel as a whole when he tells Yong Gil, “I tell you Yong Gil, da old country is beautiful. And strange if you no understand it. And full of magic. Da magic everywhere in da countryside” (15). This vision of mountains as strange and full of magic alludes to, and provides a point of contact with, the major folk religion of Korea, Shamanism, and the particular practice of San-sin, which holds that mountains are sacred and inhabited by gods or spirits. James Huntley Grayson stresses that, “The worship of mountain spirits in Korea is one of the most ubiquitous aspects of the nation’s folk religion” (120). Mountain spirits are typically worshipped, acknowledged, or appealed to at sansin-gak, shrines included within Buddhist temples. When missionary Buddhism first came to Korea between 300 and 600 CE, mountain god shrines were included within temples as a way of appealing to the local people. The syncretic relationship between Shamanism and Buddhism was facilitated by the fact that both religions include practices of nature worship. Mountain spirit worship is a place-based religious consciousness that designates those practices organized around, and which aim to recognize, the sacred, life-giving power of an ecologically important bioregion. Mountains play a crucial role in the formation of watersheds, and as Lawrence Buell puts it, “Without water, no life. Without ample supply, no sizable human settlements” (243). More broadly, Jang-tae Kum identifies San-sin with the belief that “every mountain has a spirit, and those who live on or climb the mountain receive that spirit and experience a deepening of their humanity” (Quoted in Mason, 40). The cultural practice of mountain spirit worship is not only distinguished by formal religious displays or icons, but also by casual, minor acts, such as adding a stone to one of the trail cairns which punctuate the mountainsides and are believed to provide enlightenment, safety, or luck for travelers. Sacred mountains can be found all over the world. Rebecca Solnit points out that, “In most parts of the world, sacred meanings are ascribed to mountains, and though the spirit world may be terrifying, it is seldom evil. Christian Europe seems to be alone in having seen mountains as ugly and almost hellish realms” (135). Croagh Patrick in Ireland, Mt. Fuji in Japan, Mt. Shasta in California, T’ai Shan in China, Mt. Parnassus in Greece, Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the Andes in South America, Uluru/Ayers Rock in Australia, and Maunaloa and Maunakea in Hawai‘i name just a few well-known examples of mountains in which gods or spirits are thought to reside and around which diverse religious rites are practiced. Historically, as Robert E. Buswell Jr. explains, a “major locus of pilgrimage activity in Korea, as elsewhere across Asia, was the mountains. Mountains were often viewed as the abodes of important sacred beings, such as bodhisattvas, but also sites where those beings’ most spiritually efficacious activities occurred” (1066). Within the religious topography of Korea, Kumgangsan is the “Buddhist pilgrimage site par excellence,” as monks were still making pilgrimages to the Diamond Mountains up until the division of the peninsula in 1945, “when the Cold War division of the peninsula and its location near the demilitarized zone effectively cut the mountain off from Buddhist pilgrimage networks in Korea” (Buswell Jr. 1069–1070). The representation of Kumgangsan as a sacred, mystical space in A Ricepaper Airplane can be understood in part through Wai Chee Dimock’s conceptualization of “deep time.” For Dimock, the concept of deep time works to register the long-term and long-range influences that flow into and through particular works of literature, influences that extend beyond the time and space of the nation: Literature is the home of nonstandard space and time. Against official borders of the nation and against the fixed intervals of the clock, what flourishes here is irregular duration and extension for thousands of years or thousands of miles, each occasioned by a different tie and varying with that tie, and each loosening up the chronology and geography of the nation. (4) Shamanism came to Korea around 5,000 years ago from the Northern Shamanistic belt that connects Korea to Central Asia, Siberia, and northern Scandinavia. Buddhism, as noted above, began to spread across the Korean Peninsula from China between 300 and 600 CE. From an orogenetic perspective, Kumgangsan introduces a significantly deeper sense of time, as the mountains of this region were formed between 80 and 200 million years ago in the late Mesozoic Period (See Chough Geology and Sedimentology). Through the spatial trajectory of Sung Wha, which interweaves practices of religious pilgrimage, nomadic wandering, and guerrilla tactics with the polyvalent aesthetics of mountain poet lyricism and linguistic hybridity, the deep time of sacred mountains and Buddhist nature worship is brought into contact with twentieth-century Pacific Korean American history. A Ricepaper Airplane is an exemplary cultural site where, following Dimock, the “literary and religious might be fruitfully studied together. As forms of cultural contact, they have done much to integrate the globe, breaking down the separation of periods as well as the isolation of regions, making long-term, long-distance kinship possible” (224). It is important to note that Pak does not arrange an orthodox or mimetic representation of any particular religious tradition, ideology, or practice, but offers rather a syncretic and flexible collection of overlapping mythemes, as Kumgangsan is envisioned as a space of sacred magic, lyrical beauty, and political refuge at the same time. Sung Wha’s spatial stories repeatedly return to Kumgangsan for renewal and inspiration. Sung Wha expresses love not just for Kumgangsan, but for all mountains. An emergent question in the current conjuncture concerns the role that the multitudinous and polysemic love of mountains in Korea and in the diaspora can play in working toward peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula. In the 1980s and 1990s, the meaning of mountains in South Korea underwent a transformation as young hikers began to view the 735 kilometers long series of interconnected ridges and peaks from Mt. Baekdu (Baekdusan) located on the border of North Korea and China to Mt. Jiri (Jirisan) near the southern tip of the peninsula as a continuous whole: the “spine of the tiger.”5 This mountain system was referred to as “Baekdu-daegan” or “white head ridge.” Progressive newspapers picked up on the name Baekdu-daegan and also began to use it as a symbolic reference to the Korean Peninsula as a whole (Ryu and Won 104). As leisure time increased in the 1990s, the result of a rapidly developing export-driven economy, so did the popularity of mountain hiking. The term Baekdu-daegan then began to circulate widely in magazines and newspapers so that by 1995, the 50th anniversary of liberation from Japanese occupation, Baekdu-daegan replaced “Taebaeksanmaek,” the term used by the Japanese during the colonial period to refer to Korean mountains. Rather than view the mountains of Korea as an interconnected whole, the Japanese, it was argued, divided the mountains into separate segments, thus contributing to the fragmentation of Korean identity. The Korean poet Ko Un, whose nickname is “great mountain peak,” a three-time Nobel Peace Prize for Literature runner-up, has argued that the wire fences and other barriers along the DMZ disconnect the mountain range in the north from the mountain range in the south (Ryu and Won 112). The semiotic range of Baekdu-daegan has thus expanded from designating an ecological route for wild animals and plants to a physical route by which the divided Koreas could be reunited (Ryu and Won 112). The governments of both North and South Korea have already begun to identify Korean mountains and mountain culture as a potential symbol of reconciliation. In 2015, both Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, and Seoul, the capital of South Korea, exhibited photographs of the Baekdu-daegan mountain range taken by New Zealand photographer, writer, and mountain guide Roger Shepherd, the first-time photographs of mountains on both sides of the DMZ have been exhibited together.6 In preparation for the 2015 Summer Universiade in Gwangju, South Korea proposed that a torch relay be passed from Mt. Baekdu in the North to Mt. Mudeung in the South. North Korea initially responded positively to this proposal; yet with the opening of the UN Human Rights office in Seoul in late June 2015, North Korea pulled out of the Universiade. Such geopolitical spasms have become a regular, constitutive feature of the unending Korean War, exemplifying what the literary critic, public intellectual, and activist Nak-chung Paik terms the “division system” in which “the North and the South reproduce themselves in a curious entanglement with each other” (2011, 4). In the summer of 2017, the Pentagon installed the controversial Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile-defense system in South Korea, a decision that immediately provoked a strong backlash by China, apocalyptic warnings from North Korea, and a letter of opposition written in blood by Hang-kon Kim the county governor of Seongju where the system is deployed. Overcoming the division system, Paik argues, should not be left to governments and politicians, but requires “active participation by ordinary citizens and common people” working within civil society (65). One example of a relatively successful project in civil society that involved the participation of ordinary citizens was the Kumgang Mountain Tour, which, as Paik notes, “appealed to people’s imagination” and benefited both North and South Korea. These tours, which were sponsored by the Hyundai Corporation, ended immediately on the morning of July 11, 2008 when a 53-year-old South Korean tourist was shot and killed by North Korean soldiers when she entered a restricted military area. Yet despite all of the inflammatory rhetoric and aggressive military posturing on both sides of the DMZ, Kumgangsan continues to function as a space of hope. From September 25–30, 2015, families from North and South Korea separated by the Korean War were reunited at Kumgangsan, the first time the site has hosted reunions since 2010, and efforts are currently being made to resume the mountain tours. Mountain Spaces of Hope Civil society is a critical site where the project of promoting peace, overcoming division, and ending the unending Korean War ought to be instigated. Academics, artists, activists, NGOs, and businesses can play a vital role in constructing a “people-oriented,” “third party” discourse in which the people of North and South Korea are not viewed as separate entities, but as parts of the whole peninsula (Paik 2013, 280). To this list of historically effective agents should be added the vast, mobile army of mountain climbers, mountain wanderers, mountain poets, and mountain lovers that roam the peaks, ridges, and valleys of the Baekdu-daegan, or of their local mountain in or beyond Korea, whether on foot or in their imagination. Literary works like A Ricepaper Airplane enable readers to imagine a shared ecology or mountain commons, a historically determinate, culturally constructed vision of nature that can help denaturalize territorial division. For Paik, civic participation “will greatly heighten the chances of building a new kind of global community, more democratic, more egalitarian, and more conducive to both a sustainable ecology and genuine peace” (Paik 2013, 289). Uncle Sung Wha’s recollections of mountains construct a reading position through which readers from discrepant geographical positions and generations can connect to, or affiliate with, the Korean Peninsula as a whole. In a close reading of Gary Pak’s short story “Language of the Geckos,” Teresa Shewry isolates the representation of water as a signifier of hope. Aiming to “bring ecocriticism into dialogue with theories of hope” (6), Shewry understands hope: as a relationship with the future that is sparked not only by the agencies of people but also by non-human beings. Many Pacific literatures emerge in cultural contexts that take entities such as mountains, rivers, birds, buildings, and the ocean as vital, animated protagonists. These literatures represent a person’s or community’s hope as entangled with a broader environmental world. (10) Shewry’s reading of the blockage and release of water as central to anti-colonial struggles, as in my reading of mountains as central to the desire for reunification, locates and localizes the bioregion not simply as an object of representation or reclamation, but also as an agent or protagonist of hope. Kumgangsan does not encourage nationalist identification with North or South Korea, but offers up an embattled third space, a space of peace, reconciliation, and reunification. Memories of mountains are both retrospective and proleptic, nostalgic and anticipatory, as Kumgangsan has existed long before, and will continue to exist long after, the militarized division of the peninsula. Memories of mountains in A Ricepaper Airplane offer much more than romantic nostalgia, pastoral essence, or nationalist monument; they offer a material ecocritical discourse that can help readers imagine an alternative future in which the military demarcation line separating North and South Korea has become a thing of the past. I would like to thank professor David A. Mason of Sejong University for introducing me to the idea and practice of Korean mountain worship ten years ago. His book, Spirit of the Mountains, is essential reading for anyone who, like Uncle Sung Wha, loves all mountains. Footnotes 1 Roger Shepherd, a mountaineer from New Zealand, has made numerous photography expeditions to the mountains of North Korea. He has told me that given the country's poverty, leisure hiking is not a common cultural practice. Mountains function primarily foraging sites and as spaces of travel between villages. It is unfortunately beyond the scope of this article to include a discussion of ways in which the people of North Korea relate to mountains. The exclusion of North Korea here thus implicates this article in a Cold War demarcation that it is at the same time working to overcome. 2 If mountain hiking is coded into the cultural DNA of Koreans, what about those individuals with physical or other disabilities, does this mean that they are incomplete or partial Koreans? In “Don’t Climb Every Mountain,” Elizabeth A. Wheeler raises critical issues concerning the ableism that dominates discourse about mountains and mountaineering, much of which is centered on the “fit body” (555). In working to “bring disability studies to bear on the environmental imagination” (553), Wheeler works to “critique such exclusionary thinking” while seeking to “widen the repertoire of human responses to nature” (554). My article is partially complicit in reproducing the ableism critiqued by Wheeler. At the same time, as I hope will be clear from my reading of A Ricepaper Airplane, one does not need a “fit body” in order to follow Sung Wha’s adventures, only a healthy imagination. 3 In the Korean language, the word san means mountain. Mt. Kumgang is therefore romanized as Kumgangsan, Mt. Jiri as Jirisan. Confusion is multiplied by the fact that Kumgangsan is sometimes romanized as Geumgangsan, Jirisan as Chirisan. This article follows the most common spelling of Korean mountain names, as outlined by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, in order to assist readers who would like to conduct further research or plan a hike. 4 The defamiliarizing periodization of Cold War history embedded in the expression “unending Korean War” draws attention to the fact that that the Korean War is not over and that the Armistice Agreement, signed on July 27, 1953, must be replaced with a formal peace agreement. The movement to end the Korean War, conducted through organizations such as the National Campaign to End the Korean War (NCEKW), the Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea (ASCK), and Women Cross DMZ (WCDMZ), is gaining traction at the level of the state. On July 17, 2015, National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, the three remaining Korean War veterans in Congress, Reps. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), and Sam Johnson (R-TX), introduced House Resolution 384 “calling for a formal end to the Korean War.” See http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/news/2015/07/28/0200000000AEN20150728000600315.html (accessed October 11, 2015). 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ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and EnvironmentOxford University Press

Published: Jul 19, 2017

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