It is with an eerie feeling that I greet the reappearance of this book, my first, after 58 years. I might as well behold my own resurrection, not in 3 days but after a whole lifetime, Dem Dry Bones coming together as in the black spiritual.
The 41 stories included in the book are my transcriptions of the tales told me during my preteen years by Daybay Pak, my grandfather, a compulsive storyteller, to whose memory the new edition is dedicated. As described in the Foreword, it is the merest chance to which the book owes its rescue from oblivion: in 1984 Heinz Insu Fenkl, the publisher’s husband and premier scholar on Korean literature and folklore, serendipitously came upon an original copy, discolored and dust covered, at a Seoul hotel gift shop.
The book’s publication in 1961 at age 23 was a turning point in my life. Its first printing of a thousand copies sold out. Elated, the publisher ran a second printing of 5,000, which again sold out in the American PX’s, at the Bando and Chosun hotels, then patronized primarily by Americans. I had a pocketful of US dollars, the open sesame at the time. I forget the amount but it was big enough to make me cocky and flippant about money.
General Junghee Park, entitled Chairman of the Supreme Council after his successful coup, decreed a vigorous stock market as the first step toward the modernization of Korea. As translator of his book, The Path for My Fatherland, I believed in him totally and bought a large chunk of the Korean Stock Exchange shares. The next day their value jumped 20-fold.
In its infancy the Korean stock market had two types of transaction, current and futures: in the former a stock certificate is handed over for cash and in the latter shares were sold short to a long buyer. Discovering that I could leverage my portfolio tenfold by using it as security for futures transactions, I began doing nothing but futures, mostly buying long. By means of bold, more accurately reckless, moves practically every session, morning and afternoon, day in, day out, my net worth exploded more than 10,000-fold in the course of the next few months, making me a legend among traders and brokers who accosted me incessantly to learn my next move or entice my business to their firm.
One of them was a high school alum Gwangmoo Song (fictitious, especially since he is deceased), who had just started working for a stock brokerage and wouldn’t leave me alone until I transferred all my accounts to his firm, resulting in his instant promotion to VP. He said I had the most liquidity among our entire class of 1956, which was saying a lot because we had sons from the richest families of Korea at the time.
After the market closed for the week when I had again doubled my net worth Song suggested that I think of taking over the nation’s largest textile mill in Daegoo, which would launch me as a tycoon of the industry. I wasn’t too excited because I would be immediately involved in running the behemoth with its tens of thousands of employees, whereas I could keep doubling my money doing nothing. Telling him I would think about it over the weekend, I went to the Bando where I had a suite like an American for dinner and a rendezvous with a great lady, whose name shall remain undisclosed forever.
The sky came crashing down the next Monday. Park froze all stock transactions, creating the Stock Market Crash 증권파동of 1962 so he could plunder the mobilized liquidity and give it to his favorites, one of whom happened to be another high school alum of mine, who went on to become a multinational tycoon.
For a whole month or so the market was closed. Stocks traded at drastically reduced prices on the black market but they were current transactions, not futures. My entire wealth evaporated.
No longer one of them, I have nothing but utter contempt for the billionaires, knowing full well that they don’t care, because I don’t belong and am therefore nothing. So the contempt is mutual. I know sheer luck has got them where they are, just as at one time by sheer luck I was catapulted to the apex of my fortune, not any innate intelligence or merit (see The Lottery: the Equalizer, 11-3-2018, typakmusings.com). I was buying or selling on a whim which happened to turn out right. My not getting off the roller coaster in time and losing everything might argue stupidity in hindsight but how was I to know Park was such a crook? Though I attribute extraordinary street smarts to Trump (see Low Gas Price, Not Mild Winter, 1-16-2019, typakmusings.com), he is just a lucky dude with perhaps good advisors around him, though Michael Cohen makes dubious his sanity, let alone smarts.
Betrayed by Park and disillusioned with Korea, I couldn’t wait to get out of the country and come to the States to perfect my English. Resurgent was the passion that had possessed me since 12 when as 7th grader I first came into contact with the English alphabet. To speak and write English like a native I had to live in the States. Writing a column in The Korea Times, I had a fan, an economics professor from Bowling Green State University, Ohio, on loan to the Bank of Korea, who gave my name to the head of the English Department there. In a few months the invitation came through, teaching fellowship with admission to the doctoral program in English, quite a coup considering I had no English BA, not that a Korean English BA would have measured up to an American one. I didn’t have even that.
My exit from Korea still pending, a dicey proposition when one hadn’t completed military service, the publisher of my book wanted me to write a second volume. I did and had a book signing party at the house of a US Army Colonel, whose wife was another fan of mine, in Yongsan where the Eighth US Army Headquarters was based. However, once in the States, busy teaching and writing, I forgot all about it. Now, after publishing the first volume, Bo-Leaf Books wants to issue the second one likewise but not a single copy of it has turned up to date. The serendipity for the first volume doesn’t seem to extend to the second. So if anyone reading this has a copy of A Korean Decameron, Volume II (Seoul, 1963), please contact me at email@example.com.