For the first time since I left Northern Ireland back in 2008, I am the owner of a guitar.
I’ve really missed my guitar. I never had any proper lessons – just taught myself chords from charts on the internet, and took the occasional nugget of wisdom from Jay next door. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to allow me to entertain myself by learning to strum simple songs. As I’m entirely fine with my own company, I spent many a pleasant evening alone at home with my guitar, learning to play Beatles songs (albeit badly).
American Friend Three is leaving Korea soon, so he had a moving sale, and I knew I had to have his guitar as soon as I saw it. I got it cheap, so it won’t matter when I have to get rid of it next time I change countries – and in the meantime, I have one of my favourite forms of entertainment back again!
Unfortunately, I’d forgotten the pain of starting to play guitar. Actual, physical pain, I mean.
I played on through the pain, as I was teaching myself to play More Than Words – one of my favourite songs, and quite difficult for a beginner, by the way! – and didn’t want to stop until I’d perfected it. Unfortunately, my fingers reached bleeding point before this happened, and I was forced to sit there looking in frustration at my silent guitar while my fingers throbbed and stung and bled. Hurry up, calluses!! I may have said aloud, which I admit is a rather strange thing to say. At one point I even bandaged them all up in band aids, which looked utterly ridiculous, and only really allowed me to practice the chords, as obviously my massive, monstrously deformed fingers were touching far more than one string each, making it impossible to play properly.
Come Saturday night, then, I found myself sitting with the fingers of my left hand soaking in a glass of egg white. As you do. I’d read on some guitar advice forum that soaking them in vinegar, methylated spirits, or egg whites before bed would help speed up the skin-toughening process, and eggs were all I had. Rock ‘n’ roll Saturday nights I have, let me tell you.
Still, matters seem to be improving, and I am practicing like mad, determined to fulfil the ambition I’ve had since I was a nipper – being able to whip out a guitar at a party, and start casually strumming along to a sing-song. I am years away from that, I suppose, but I’m determined! I’ve started real guitar lessons, too, with a charming Korean guy who also teaches Terri and Jennifer. I’ve only had one lesson so far, and he has me doing scales and all sorts of boring stuff like that, but I’m studiously doing as I’m told and practicing them until I can do them backwards and with my eyes closed.
He’s also given me a song to learn – one that requires me to pick out the notes instead of strum, reinforcing what I’m doing with the scales. It’s called Arirang: an ancient, traditional Korean folk song which is much beloved on both sides of the border.
According to some of my Korean colleagues, it’s a sad song about a woman who loved a man, and the man left her, walking out of her sight forever, over a mountain pass named Arirang. The tune is very sweet, and it all sounds so tragic and haunting until you learn that she was so pissed off with him that she put a curse on him as he left, in order to inflict great pain upon him until he came back to her.
나를 버리고 가시는 님은
십리도 못가서 발병난다.
Approximate translation: Dear man who abandoned me here will not walk even ten steps before going lame.
Apparently he never came back. Strange, that.