Korean Storyteller Spreads Love in City of Joy

Storytelling is very special for me. Having grown up listening to stories by my grandmother, I instantly felt connected to Seung Ah Kim who established Arirang Storytelling in the memory of her grandmother. Seung is on a very special mission- to spread the Korean Culture throughout the world through Korean traditional stories.

She is the first Korean Storyteller to have been bestowed with The Parent- Child Mother Goose Certification. Having visited places like Italy, Greece, Malaysia, USA; she is currently in Kolkata, as part of her K- Culture Storytelling tour. She has been conducting various storytelling sessions and I was privileged to attend her session ‘Stories and Fingerplays from Old Korea’ at The Orange Door. She is being hosted by Priyanka Chatterjee of Wild Strawberry. Priyanka Di, whom I know personally for quite some time is a storyteller of international repute having delivered sessions in not only Kolkata and India but also in places like South Africa and Malaysia. I am thankful to her for giving me this opportunity to conduct Seung’s interview.

Here are the excerpts. . . . .

  1. How did storytelling come to you? Why did you want to become a storyteller?

It’s Destiny! In 2007, I went to Toronto to study TYC course called Teaching Young Children because I was an English teacher and my interest was always in doing research about storytelling. One day I found that there is a storytelling festival. It was the last day and the last programme. I got the ticket and I attended the show. I cried throughout the programme and I decided to become a storyteller because I thought it is very needed for adults. Since I became an adult nobody told me stories, but I thought maybe adults need to be loved and to be talked. That’s it. This is for adults! So I started as a storyteller for adults.

  1. How important do you think is storytelling for a child?

For a child, we observe so many things, by listening to stories. For example, when I was a child, I read a lot of books and my grandmother told me a lot of stories from all over the world. That’s the way I can travel to each country. So I learned a lot from the stories. But you know a child cannot go anywhere without their parents. But through stories they can go anywhere. So, that’s why for children it is very important to explore the world and also explore some experiences which they cannot do it by themselves.

  1. Tell us something about your K-Culture Storytelling Tour.

I learned a lot from telling stories to people. This is one of the popular ways to introduce Korean culture. Also for myself I learned a lot from my culture. It gives me confidence, identity and empowerment. Once you know about your culture, then you can feel proud of your culture and also of yourself. So, that’s why I realized that this is the thing I can share with the people in the world. Nowadays because of K -Club and K- Drama people would like to learn more about Korean Culture, especially traditional culture. That’s why, I thought, if I establish K -storytelling centre in Seoul, it would be nice for everybody who wants to learn more about Korean Culture. That was kind of my dream and how I can make my dream come true. So that’s why I started to think if I tell stories, Korean stories to one million people. If they donate one dollar each, then I get one million dollars. So I can donate the money to establish K-storytelling centre. Then I made a one year plan that I would travel all around the world to show Korean culture and stories.

  1. What made you come up with the idea of storytelling as a platform for parent and child bonding?

One of the reasons I established my company Arirang Storytelling is in the memory of my grandmother.  As a child I couldn’t communicate with my mother, because my mother was so busy. She had to take care of her husband, who is a businessman and also she had to take care of three children and her mother-in-law, who was my grandmother. I missed so many things with my mother but luckily I had my grandmother. So my grandmother told me a lot of stories. Since she passed away I realized that it’s a great heritage for me to keep. But if I keep it to myself, I am not a good person. So, I decided to share it with more people. Just imagine if you are a millionaire and if you just want to keep the money only by yourself, it’s not fair. So it’s time for me to share my heritage, my treasure with the people.

Stills from the Session at The Orange Door
  1. Please share some memorable experiences that you had on your tour.

Oh yes, already I had so many memories especially in America. I met my Facebook friends face to face. They were so happy to see me and then I didn’t have any chance to tell Korean folktale to them. But just seeing me in Korean traditional costume they were so happy. So I find it a good way to share my culture wearing Korean traditional costume.  I thought wearing Korean traditional costume and telling Korean stories is the way I can make people happier.

Then in Taiwan, I participated in a show with my Taiwanese storyteller friend and a little girl came to me and talked to me in Mandarin. I couldn’t understand what she said. Then her mother translated.  The girl had said , “When are you coming back?”. I was so touched.

Another girl, she gave me a box of sweets. The last day I had to pack to go back to Korea. We realised that the box is too big. The wife of my storyteller friend in Taiwan, she said “Okay let’s take out the sweets, outside of the box and then you can just keep it inside your bag. So let’s throw away the box. “This happened in the airport. The people in the airport said that your bag is too heavy so we started to sort things out again. And then suddenly she came back and said, “Seung Ah look at this”. She, you know, tore off the box and then there was a picture done by the girl. She drew me. You know it was very touching. Then I realized that even though children look as if they don’t pay any attention but they remember everything. So it’s a great moment.

  1. Who is your favourite storyteller?

My grandmother. Also, nature. Nature tells me a lot of stories. It gives me a lot of inspiration.

  1. What advice would you give to budding storytellers?

I think if you follow your heart, you can be a good storyteller. I mean, I realised it is very difficult for us to follow our hearts because we think too much. So, that’s the simple rule for me to follow. So sometimes people you know cannot understand what you are doing. But if you truly follow your heart maybe among them even if one person is touched by your story, touched by your love, then that is enough.

Seung Ah will be performing on the 5th of August at Gyan Manch, Kolkata from 10 – 11 am and 11:30 – 12:30 pm. If you want to catch her in action, then do get in touch with Priyanka Chatterjee to get your tickets as soon as possible.

Around the World in 6 Folk Tales

“Pay heed to the tales of old wives. It may well be that they alone keep in memory what it was once needful for the wise to know.”  J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

 Folk Tales are a unique blend of the culture and tradition of different parts of the world. Though some are known to the people through translations and graphical representations, there are thousands of them that are still missing from the pages of man’s memory. Kolkata Storytellers, in yet another one of its stellar performances brought to the children six of these lost Folk Tales from around the world. These were enacted by Kavita Gupta and Arpita Nag to a group of around 25 children at the Oxford Bookstore, Kolkata.

“Malaysia is a country unlike any other: Full of promise and fragility. Its history, cultural and religious diversity make it a rich, compelling and surprising land.” -Tariq Ramadan

The first story narrated by Arpita Di, took us on an enchanting journey to the jungles of Malaysia where lived a trickster mouse deer. Being clever and smart it evaded the clutches of a tiger through its intelligence and speed. And the best part of the mouse deer was that it sang- “I am as smart as quick can be, try an try but you can never catch me.”

“I have a better internal and intuitive understanding of folklore and myth than science and technology, so in that way fantasy is easier.”-Sarah Zettel

Moving on, Kavita Di took over with a beautiful folk tale from the North America. She narrated the story of how dream catchers came to exist. Dream catchers are meant to act as filters for years and pass on positive energy and dreams to the people; trapping negative thoughts and dreams in its mesh of webs. A quick discussion about what the children dreamt of each night revealed dreams like ‘a big bowl of chocos’, ‘a swimming pool of chocolate’ and even an ‘Ethiopia without diseases. Often scientists and researchers have studied dream catchers and their exact role; but more than technology and scientific understanding, the folk lores about dream catchers have attracted children since centuries.

Arpita Di narrating a story to the children Source: Kolkata Storytellers

“While the rest of the world has been improving technology, Ghana has been improving the quality of man’s humanity to man.”- Maya Angelou

A story narrated by Arpita Di based on a folk tale from Ghana depicted the story of an eagle who was a big bully and how the other birds taught it a lesson. In fact, according to the tale, if you look at the moon on a full moon night, you might be able to see the trapped eagle waiting to be released, even today! Though a very light- hearted story narrated with beautiful actions, this brought across a very important message- to not become a bully ever and to teach other bullies a good lesson in life. Bullying is a very bad habit which often starts at a young age. Thus, it also needs to be prevented at a young age; and what better than stories to do so rather than moral science lectures!

“Japan, not only a mega-busy city that thrives on electronics and efficiency, but actually has an almost sacred appreciation of nature. One must travel outside of Tokyo to truly experience the ‘old Japan’ and more importantly feel these aspects of Japanese culture.” Apolo Ohno

Greeting everyone with a bow and Konishiwa (Nice to meet you in Japanese) Kavita Di, began her next folk tale from Japan. She involved the children to enact several characters in the tale, as she narrated the story of an old couple who had a naughty pet sparrow. Though she bid Sionara to everyone after completing the story, the lessons of the repercussions of being greedy would be forever etched in the minds of the children through this story.

“India may be a land of over a 100 problems, but it is also a place for a billion solutions.”- Kailash Satyarthi

The penultimate story for the evening was an Indian folk tale narrated by Arpita Di. It told the story of a kind and obedient young boy who wanted a drum. As he was poor, it was difficult for him to buy one. But as the story progresses one gets to learn about how good deeds come back to you and helps you achieve your wishes in the most unexpected ways possible. It taught that kindness, honesty, obedience and humility are important virtues of life that  shapes an individual’s personality.

Kavita Di narrating a story to the children

 “If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.”- Nelson Mandela

The final story for the evening was an African folk tale by Kavita Di. It highlighted the tradition of Ubuntu in the African tribesmen. According to the story an anthropologist once asked the children to stand some distance away from a basket of sweets and run towards it. The one who reaches first would get all the sweets. Surprisingly, all the children held hands and walked towards it together so that everyone of them can enjoy a piece of sweet. When asked the reason for this strange behavior the children replied that it was Ubuntu- I am because we are. It is a very strong lesson that the world needs to learn as it is indeed impossible to survive without inter-dependency on the other.

Thus, ended another vibrant story-telling session by the Kolkata Storytellers. As usual the stories narrated had much color and vigor to them. Apart from graceful enactment and narration, the involvement of the children in the stories made it more enjoyable for them. It made them a part of the story, rather than being just another silent listener. Folk tales are often lost in modern times, but one must remember that they are ultimately the treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge and reviving them through storytelling once in a while, especially for the younger generation is indeed a commendable gesture.

Kolkata Storytellers hold regular story-telling sessions in different venues in Kolkata. You can always get more information about their upcoming performances here and take your little ones for a captivating session.