Our most recent Dragon Hall Cottage resident, Shin Jung Keun, shares his experience of Norwich in ‘Photo Letters from Norwich’, a series of poems and short pieces of writing. He wrote these pieces while staying with us here in the Cottage, pairing them with his own striking photography. They were translated from Korean to English by Mattho Mandersloot. Shin’s residency is supported by the Arts Council of Korea.
Here are three of our favourite poems about Norwich, holding loved ones dear and storytelling:
Photo Letters from Norwich
Written by Shin Jung Keun
Photos by Shin Jung Keun
Translated by Mattho Mandersloot
1. Phone Booth
The ringing of a phone reverberates around me
and then I hear a recognizable voice.
It is your voice that enters my ear.
“Where are you? In the UK still?”
“Yes, unfortunately I’m still far away.”
To stay on the line I slide a one pound coin with a clink
Into the slot of the machine, as it sometimes cuts out or goes haywire.
“Can you hear me?”
“Yes, I can hear you. As if you were standing right next to me.”
“And I’m glad that you love me.”
“I love you, my baby.”
Tuutuutuu… Tuu, tuu-uu.
I’m completely out of coins, the trees around the square are running out of leaves
and we’re out of touch, or at least physically so.
That’s why I call you so often.
Today, too, I walk slowly past every phone booth.
Hoping you might ring.
7. Old Smells
Norwich has a particular smell. It’s an aroma equally as unique as the city’s longstanding history. Maybe it’s reminiscent of the smell of old books. Some people call this place a city of stories. It’s a place that fostered mythical tales about legendary dragons. A mere few hundred years ago, it was the most important city after London. I have never been to the capital, but based on hearsay London seems so enormous I would almost call it obese, while Norwich, by contrast, gives me the impression it has retired from its duties as a city, secluding itself from all grandeur. And yet, the stories of those who live here and even those who merely pass through seep into every street corner, continuously creating new smells. Many untold stories lie hidden within the smells wafting from the shelves of second-hand book shops and university libraries. Who knows, perhaps someday another attentive passer-by will discover the smell that I have left behind. Without letting too much time pass, I would like to come back here. And that time, I believe, your hand will be on top of mine.
13. Train Station
If my memory serves me right, the last train station we visited together was Jakarta Kalibata. A station where time-worn trains started rumbling early in the morning, stirring the surrounding apartment blocks and waking the residents from a good night’s sleep. Norwich Station, on the other hand, is rather quiet. The place where I’m staying is not too far from the station, but I don’t hear any noise. In line with the calmness of the city, the trains seem to move along the rails more cautiously, as if they were never there at all. The first train of the day departs just as stealthily as it arrived. Dashing off, the trains take people to Great Yarmouth, Eccles, Manchester, Cambridge and London. British men with cups of coffee in their hands, migrants with large backpacks, people from Asia with a similar hair colour and skin tone to mine, pace up and down, inside and outside the train. Sometimes, when I wait for my train, I miss the damp air of Kalibata Station. I remember it as the smell of Indonesia in midsummer. But the journey I have ahead of me before I reach you is as long as that sense of longing is deep. Of course, it’s impossible to hop on a train in Norwich and make it all the way to Jakarta. And your hometown is on an island way off to the east, much further than Jakarta, so far that the word ‘far’ doesn’t do it justice. And yet, as soon as I finish my work here, I’ll go find you.
I’ll run back to you as fast as a train travelling at top speed.
You can find the rest of ‘Photo Letters from Norwich’ here.
Shin Jung Keun is a writer and painter from South Korea. Born in Seoul, Shin studied Sculpture at Kangwon National University, Korea, and Language, Performance and Batik Dyeing at Batara Gowa Artcenter and PPPPTK Art School in Indonesia. He lived and worked in Makassar, Indonesia from 2016 to 2018. In 2017, he was awarded 1st prize for the first Equatorial Literature Award in Jakarta as a rising international author. He received other grants from Arts Council Korea and the Gyeonggi Artists Fund. His publications include Flying Boy, The Moon Leans Towards the Equator, and Temperature of the Equator, the Language of Travel. Shin’s residency is supported by the Arts Council of Korea.