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Saturday, February 4, 2012
Thursday, December 25, 2008
I've just read an interesting blog article by an ESL teacher (i suppose?) teaching in Jeju island.
It seems he has cheekily vented his dissatisfaction with hagwon (학원, 學院) directors through a review of “Curse of Jeju Island”, based on the excerpt and introduction published on this blog. For those of you who do not know what a hagwon is, it's actually a cram school that offers lessons in almost any subject such as computer, math, taekwondo, English and much more. Korean parents are many times more “kiasu” than Singaporeans, so these hagwons are actually quite prevalent across the country.
The ESL teachers have creatively twisted the term from “hagwon” into “hogwan”, i guess, as a dig from the word “hog”. Why do they associate hagwon operators with pigs? Well, I guess the main issue is on $ $ $ $, as you can see in his review:
But, if you think you signed a crappy contract when you came to Jeju Island to teach English you can feel fortunate you are not Jackie Chang!!
"I take aim and mow it down, then slowly walk towards it to see if it’s dying. If this vampire is fully subdued, the Governor will pay me a quarter million Korean Won for this feat."
Yep, Jackie gets 250,000 Won per vampire. That's about $200 US in today's money. $200 for killing a vampire(!?). Can you say "ripoff?" Jeez, and I thought some of the youngsters that show up on the island to teach English were stupid. Jackie makes George Bush's foreign policy advisors look intelligent! I think Jackie Chang would be a hogwan owner's dream.
Hahaha~! I think he's got a point. While Jackie can make use of US$200 for a decent Samgyupsal bbq and dozens of soju with Master Inada, it really isn't enough to cover rent and other living expenses, let alone the expensive hunting equipment, especially the silver bullets~! Haha... It's time for Jackie et al to raise fees.
I almost LMAO over this, but i think he has nailed himself a good idea for a new storyline.
“Curse of Jeju Island” is currently distributed only within Singapore, as I doubt that Koreans would welcome the historical/political settings of this plot. On a second thought, however, this book might become a hit with the ESL teachers in Korea. I can imagine each of them buying a copy and using it as a dartboard or voodoo against the penny-pinching “hogwan” operators.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
It’s a cold night on Halla Mountain (할라산). Crickets cast creepy choruses on the forest floor. We’re hunting a group of vampires who’ve been lurking on the far side of a ravine. I keep myself alert with my Japanese partner, Master Seiji Inada (稲田 誠治) on the opposite ridge. I was having very little success and I was about to call it a night, until I see a lone bat dashing across the moonlit canopy. I reload my .45-caliber revolver with fresh silver bullets and watch in silence as it morphs into its human form. As the wind blows bitter cold through the leaves, I see the shape-shifted figure moving through the underbrush. My finger hangs wearily over the trigger as I wait for the creature to come into range. There’s no time to check further—I peer around a boulder in time to see the vampire making a mad dash across the ravine. I take aim and mow it down, then slowly walk towards it to see if it’s dying. If this vampire is fully subdued, the Governor will pay me a quarter million Korean Won for this feat.
(picture source: Vampire Knight Anime)
My name is Jackie Chang (张杰齐) and I’m a Vampire Hunter. I'm average built, average weight and have a below-average vocabulary for the Korean language. Not surprising, since I’m from Singapore and my mother tongue is Mandarin. I have chosen to be a vampire hunter because I have always wanted to be different. If I’d followed my country’s blueprint for “economic success”, I’d be mugging for my exams, get a degree, and eventually get holed up in an office cubicle. Or worse, after years of hard work in a company, a new CEO comes in and you get retrenched.
Instead, I bought a one-way flight ticket to Japan and travelled to the Yamaguchi prefecture. There, I enrolled myself into the Tokuyama Academy of Demonology (徳山 殺妖者 学社), and I was trained to be a vampire hunter. My course instructor, Master Seiji Inada has now become my working partner. Although I feel that I’m rather talented, Master Seiji always tells me that my success has more to do with sheer luck than with skill.
Mirae just wants to see Taewoo, that’s all. Do the Shin brothers really have to board their windows up and not answer the door so she can’t get in like this? She growls again, and is just about to try the front door again when she spots a drain pipe conveniently placed right beside an open window. The pipe is rusty, but this seems to be her only option now. Mirae hangs the strap of her bag between her jaws, clenching it with her teeth, and begin to scale the pipe.
Under the invitation of the local government, we arrived here in Jeju Island six months ago to set up a hunting agency. Our office is in the Samdo-1-Dong (삼도 일동) district, which at first glance might not seem like one. Well, the office actually functions as our home and we have a female member living under the roof together. Han Mirae (한미래), our secretary of sorts, helps with the paperwork and housekeeping. She sometimes tags along with us when we do our vampire slaying thing.
Mirae was orphaned at a tender age, and had been raised in a Catholic Convent, until she was old enough to work and make a living. That’s how we met her and invited her to work for us. Apart from secretarial work, Mirae also treats the wounds and injuries that we receive after fighting and killing the vampires. Mirae just doesn’t enjoy that feeling of stabbing a sword across, or gunning a bullet into a vampire’s chest. She feels really bad about having to kill a fellow Korean. It just doesn’t seem right to her about killing a fellow countryman. In fact, this girl had saved the life of a vampire recently, and his name is Shin Taewoo (신태우).
Earlier this evening, I caught her packing a few make-up items into her bag, along with a comb and mirror, and she was out the door before I had time to ask her where she was going. Her hair was pulled into a ponytail, and she was wearing black winter stockings, a red long jacket and a white sweater with a turtleneck. Nevertheless, as she was hurrying away down the street, I poked my head out the door and yelled. “Hey Mirae! Where are you going?”
“Out!” she called back, waving and skipping around a corner. Without further guessing, she must have gone to see Taewoo. I blew out a sigh of resignation, failing to understand why Mirae is so mesmerised by that vampire. However, what pisses me off is that Mirae isn’t the only one who’s being kind to Taewoo. If it wasn’t for Master Seiji, I could have easily finished him off on several occasions. The Japanese hunter seems very protective of him, and there’s just something odd about this. I can’t quite place it, but I know there’s something fishy going on.
I don't actually know if Taewoo is good or bad. Truth is, no one knows much about this vampire. The only thing I know for sure is that he's one of the Guerillas (former rebels). And they have been at war with the Regiments (former soldiers) for more than fifty years.
Walking along the deserted street towards Taewoo’s house, Mirae rubs her hands and blows her breath to keep them warm, as the chilly autumn night envelopes her. Taewoo had brought her home a few nights before, so the route to his house is still fresh in her mind. She has a talent for memorizing things, and her memory is serving her flawlessly now. The house is standing on the high part of a sloping acre, and the surroundings has an unkempt look, pebbled and weedy. A deserted motel, Taewoo’s house has layers of old paint snaking off the exterior. The Korean girl squints at the building before her, looking for any sign of life, and seeing none. Maybe the two brothers aren’t at home, she ponders, beginning to pick her way through the grass toward the front door. The blades of grass reach mid-shin, and it’s a bit itchy, but she carefully skirts the high clumps, and makes it to the front door unscathed.
She knocks a few times on the door, waits, and tries again when she doesn’t get an answer. She then presses her ear to the door, listening for noise from within. She thinks she’s hearing a slight rustling, but that may be something else. Like the rats from the basement. Mirae shivers at the thought. She edges back and tries to open the door, but it doesn’t budge at all. She then leans over to peer in through a window, only to find it boarded up. She scowls, and stomps off around the house, trying to find another way in. To her disappointment however, all the windows on the ground floor are boarded up, and there’s no way she can pry them away, no matter how hard she tries. She growls in frustration, stomping her foot angrily.
Gripping the pipe tightly in her hands, she takes a swing and manages to cling on to the window sill. She then struggles with the partially open window pane, hauling herself halfway over before losing hold of her bag. It drops all the way down to the ground, and she stares at it for a moment, her eyes narrowing. She then huffs and - deciding she doesn’t much want to scale the pipe again, and that she can simply pick it up on her way out - leaves it there, hidden beneath the tall grass.
Mirae dusts the flakes of rust off her hands. The room she finds herself in once she climbed over the window sill is sparsely decorated with cobwebs. The motel bed is now reduced to a dusty mattress on box springs, but her eyes are immediately drawn to the silver flute resting on it. She walks slowly to it, her footsteps seeming unusually loud in the quiet house. Fingering the holes on the instrument, she experiments with blowing, but it’s a lot harder than it seems. Her face is getting red from the exertion, and she eventually lays the flute back down. The door suddenly creaks open, and Mirae gives a little squeak of surprise.
A figure appears, dressed in a black fleece jacket. At first Mirae thinks it’s Taewoo, because of the black wavy hair and red eyes. But she soon realizes it’s Shin Eunwoo (신 은우), Taewoo’s elder brother. She finds the sharp edge of a sword against her throat, not even realizing the blade had been drawn. It glimmers maliciously in the moonlight, and she gulps.
“Annyung haseyo,” she greets with a slight bow, smiling weakly, hoping the blade doesn’t slip on accident. Or on purpose.
Eunwoo observes her silently for a few more seconds, then lowers his sword to sheath it. “How can I help you?” he asks with an aloof scowl on his face, still-crimson eyes watching her. With an unblemished face and two large eyes, Mirae could be more beautiful if Eunwoo hasn’t startled her with his sword. Mirae squirms a bit under his gaze, but replies in a steady voice.
“I would like to talk to Taewoo,” she replies, and Eunwoo nods slightly, then gestures slightly to the door. Mirae walks out, shutting it behind her, and almost instantly hears the sound of the flute she’d been examining not a minute before.
"How beautiful", she reflects as she wanders through the house, searching for Taewoo’s room. She’d found it before in the same manner, and she manages to do it again this time.
Taewoo is lying on his bed, hands interlaced behind his head as he stared up at the ceiling, but he looks up when Mirae pokes her head in. He blinks a few times, clearly not expecting her to pop into his room like that.
“What are you doing back?” he asks, and Mirae can’t stop a slight smile from crossing her face. The exact question his elder brother had asked of her.
“I just wanted to talk to you,” she replies...
This excerpt is found in the sequel to Curse of Jeju Island,
BLOOD ENEMIES OF JEJU ISLAND,
which will be released depending on the sale performance of the first book~
For those of you reading this and have bought and read my first book, I'd like to say A BIG THANK YOU~!! :)
For those of you who have not bought or read it yet, I encourage you to pick up a copy at a bookstore near you, so that the second book may be released sooner...
Thanks for all your continuous support~!
Sunday, April 27, 2008
During the Japanese occupation, thousands of Koreans were used as test subjects (guinea pigs) in secret military medical experimentation units, such as Unit 731, Unit 516, and many more. Towards the end of the colonial period, the Japanese military scientists were working on a new project, which was a "vampirisation process" on humans through genetic alteration.
If the project proved successful, the "supposedly-dead" could remain alive through parasitic life sustenance - a biological mechanism that mimics the blood-sucking vampire bats and leeches. The Japanese Army paid some poor hapless Korean parents to allow the medical officers to perform the experiments on their children. However, the Korean parents involved in the transaction believed that the experiments were merely another series of medical trials, and were not aware that it was actually a vampirisation process.
Theoretically-speaking, the success of this project would allow the Japanese Imperial Army to utilise the "undead" as "immortal soldiers" to fight through the end of World War II. The project, however, didn't seem to yield any immediate nor apparent result, as the Korean children in question didn't seem to show any physical sign of becoming "vampirised". The medical officers could not find any sort of cell mutation nor behavioural change in these children.
The project was finally abandoned, when the Japanese Army were forced to surrender to the Allied Forces in 1945 after the American dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. All documents and project facilities pertaining to the said experiments were destroyed, so as to eliminate evidences of the Japanese Imperial Army's atrocious deeds.
The children grew up normally - some of them joined the US-led South Korean Army (known as the Regiments), while some of them embraced communist ideals and became the insurgents (known as the Guerrilas). The two remained at war until the "Jeju Massacre" , which claimed the lives of more than 60,000 people. Their bodies were then sealed in the volcanic cave of Mount Halla. Amongst these 60,000 people were some of the test subjects who were earlier involved in the vampirisation process. The vampirisation process only became effective when these dead bodies were laid in the cave.
The geological conditions (temperature, mineral make-up, etc) of the volcano cave helped to promote the vampirisation process, and their genetic structure mutated to resemble the feeding patterns of bloodsucking creatures such as bats and leeches. Thus these group of the dead were resurrected to become vampires, as they acquired the ability to shapeshift into bats, and back into their human form. They are now doomed to roam the streets of Jeju seeking living human prey.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Everyone knows whether he or she likes a book, or not, after reading it. DAPHNE LEE finds out how book merchandisers figure out which titles you’ll like before reading them.
YOU can’t judge a book by its cover. But some do. While the prettiest jacket will not disguise a badly-written book, there’s no denying that a customer with nothing particular in mind, browsing indiscriminately in a bookstore and faced with hundreds of books, might well choose the one with the most attractive cover.
Book merchandisers know this and, therefore, the look of a book is something they do notice when ordering new titles.
Seto Kit Sau, who is unit chief of the Kinokuniya Bookstore's children’s fiction department says, “Yes, I like to choose nice covers, but they also have to have good content.”
She names Into the Forest by Anthony Browne as a prime example of a book with an intriguing cover “and a very cool story to boot.”
Children’s book merchandisers agree that children are attracted to colourful covers and parents, too, are often similarly influenced.
“The book cover and design do play a pivotal role in determining its popularity and saleability,” says Samantha Tang, merchandising manager at Popular Book Co.
She says that the first impression is very important and, for busy parents, it may be the only thing that leads to a purchase.
“Most of the time, parents don’t know where to start looking and, if they are not interested in browsing through the book themselves, then the cover is the only thing they have to go by.”
That’s where the merchandiser comes in. He or she has to ensure that, as far as possible, a book’s content lives up to its appearance.
For Kinokuniya's merchandisers, all avid readers themselves, the books they choose must pass the “first paragraph” test.
Teressa Hoon, unit chief of Kinokuniya's literature and general fiction sections, explains: “The first paragraph has to grip you immediately. It must make you want to read more. Even better, it must make you reluctant to put the book down.”
An interesting title is also a plus as it can prompt one to take a book off the shelf in the first place (without which there can be no reading of the first paragraph).
Kinokuniya's non-fiction merchandiser, Yong Jet Yau, picked Rory Stewart's The Places in Between because of its “intriguing title” as well as subject matter: the author's account of his walk across northern Afghanistan shortly after the fall of the Taliban.
Shortly after Kinokuniya started selling the book, it entered the New York Times best-sellers list.
Kinokuniya included it in their Gem of the Month promotion last month and it sold out.
“It's great when a book you believe in sells well,” says Yong. “It makes me feel like I'm on the right track.”
Like her colleagues, she likes the task of introducing customers to books that are new, interesting and surprising.
Says the merchandising manager of the store, Abby Wong, “Informed buying is our ultimate objective. We should know our product and we shouldn't underestimate the intelligence of our consumers.
“Book buyers can start trends by exposing Malaysians to new titles. You often hear customers mention the same old business books, the same old self-help or science books, but there really is so much more out there.”
Yes, there is, but among the many good reads, dross sometimes lurks – and sometimes it ends up on the shelves anyway, thanks to popular demand.
Says Seto, “Sometimes market demands compel us to order books that are not well written. Sometimes, they are popular because they are associated with a hit movie or TV show.”
Although these are books that Seto, if she had her way, would like to keep off the shelves, a merchandiser is required to keep an open mind and not be swayed by personal taste.
“Our likes and dislikes definitely influence our decisions, but we have to be careful not to get too carried away by our own tastes,” says Yvonne Chau, the MPH Bookstores merchandising manager for general books, a department that includes cookery and self-help titles.
Ultimately, bookstores are businesses and the bottom line is to make a profit.
So, as Tang puts it, “We have to try to be conscious of the fact that what we prefer might not be what the public wants.”
What the public wants, apparently, are bestsellers by the likes of Dan Brown, John Grisham and Sophie Kinsella, feng shui books by Joey Yap and Lilian Too, and self-help manuals.
This is why merchandisers must take heed of international bestsellers lists and the latest efforts of tried-and-tested authors.
Hoon says, “Naturally, I will order more copies of a book by A-list authors like Michael Connelly, Mitch Alborn and Kazuo Ishiguro.”
For chains like MPH Bookstores and Times the Bookshop, there is the added complication of differing demands depending on the outlet.
“But, at Bangsar Shopping Centre (in Kuala Lumpur), general fiction titles are more in demand because that is a residential area. We try our best to track the sales in the different outlets to determine the needs of the customers,” she says.
Says Chau, “We take note of the area, the sort of customers and their spending power, and taste in reading material, but sometimes trends change.
“Ten years ago, Malay fiction sold best at the store in Alpha Angle (in Petaling Jaya, Selangor), but English titles are gaining in popularity now.”
“Malaysian authors like Tash Aw (author of the The Harmony Silk Factory) tend to be popular in all the stores,” adds Ramji. “And Devika Bai (The Flight of the Swans) is especially popular in Johor Baru because that was where she lived.”
Malay romance novels are also extremely popular, along with religious books.
Over the last five to 10 years, says Ramji Rabi, MPH’s assistant merchandising manager for the fiction department, Malaysians have increasingly paid more attention to literary award winners.
However, not all winners are hits with Malaysians. Two titles that have been a great success here are Life of Pi by Yann Martell and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.
“What makes the real difference is media attention,” says Wong. “Customers will ask for books that are highlighted by newspapers.”
All the merchandisers we spoke with make it a point to read or at least research what they are choosing for the stores.
“It makes sense to know what we are selling,” says Tang, who says that when time constraints do not allow her to read a book from cover to cover, she then reads reviews in trade magazines and online bookstores, compares sales reports of books in the same genre and seeks the distributors' advice.
“An interest in reading is an asset in this job,” she says. “Thousands of new books are published every year and we must be able to cherry pick titles suitable for our local market.”
Saturday, October 13, 2007
We have decided to go with off-white recycled paper instead of virgin white paper for the publishing of my book.
Recycled off-white paper are more expensive than virgin pure-white paper, but it saves the trees and the yellowish tint means it's less strenuous for the readers to read.