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Title Listening to the Stories of the Heart: Bayahero Storytelling Concert
No Inquiry 366 Date 2018.07.17

Upon news that the Bayahero Storytelling Concert, where Korean children tell stories to a Canadian audience, was being held in Toronto, I headed into the bustling downtown on a weekday evening thinking that the idea of this storytelling concert sounded unique. I got off at Bathurst metro station and followed the address to arrive at a place called A Different Booklist, which did not look to be a space for performances at all. The small bookstore sold books on various cultures, mainly African and Caribbean, and held cultural events. Inside, I could see children speaking in Korean—maybe fifth or sixth graders. The people in the audience greeted each other as sat down.


A small bookstore turned into a cultural space


On a table placed against the wall, Korean food and snacks—bulgogi, kimchi, tangsuyuk, japchae noodles, ssamjang sauce, sujeonggwa (persimmon punch) and snacks such as chili and kelp chips, red ginseng, and chestnuts—were generously laid out with detailed explanations in English. The children were serving food while explaining about them to the guests. It was like a fair. In the corner between the bookshelves and the space for cultural events, Korean culture-related items made by the children were on display—pins, accessories, small hand mirrors, clothes, trivets, and books. The visitors smiled at the children who explained in earnest as they looked through the items, making it look like a sort of marketplace with Korean culture theme.


Ornaments made by the children with explanations


Korean food for the guests


As the storytelling concert began, seven children shared their stories. In 2016, the children talked about Korea’s traditional culture. This year, they shared stories they created and their own personal stories. They talked about being torn between video games and schoolwork, seventh heaven and taekwondo. Some were nervous and some were not fluent in English, but one could feel the affection towards them in Han Tae-jin, head of the Small Library and Storybean program, as he introduced them one by one. The sweet introductions made the audience listen more attentively to the children’s stories. The audience members, who may have been grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, moms, and dads, were all ears till the end of each story when they applauded and cheered.


Yoon Hee-joo, who lives in the Toronto area, shared her story with the children from Korea and the audience. Her story was inspiring for the children and deeply resonated with the adults. Language didn’t seem to be a barrier for people trying to listen to each other’s stories and hearts. The willingness to approach others and listen to their stories appeared to create an energy that overcomes language differences.


A young storyteller who spoke about taekwondo


Danso, or short bamboo flutes, and the ukulele were played after the storytelling sessions. Those in the audience said the gathering was not about who spoke fluently, but about the storytellers meeting the eyes of the listeners and sharing the moment. Encouraging each other and building a place where
people can grow together is the reason for international solidarity, and this constantly inspires storytellers in Canada as well, they said. While there are similarities between the stories of children in Korea and Canada, the storytelling session provides an opportunity to hear about the differences and uniqueness in cultural backgrounds. The Canadians especially applauded the children’s courage and efforts in telling their stories in English, instead of their mother tongue, and thanked them for making the city culturally richer with their stories.


The audience listens to the children’s stories


Han Tae-jin, who runs Small Library and created the Storybean program in Korea, said she wondered what made storytelling keep going in Toronto as she often visited the city. She began to approach storytelling, which is often perceived in Korea as “speaking in English,” from a different perspective. What started by listening to each child’s story and what they want to say continued to develop as she saw how stories, education, and community connected in the cultural mosaic of Toronto.


Han Tae-jin introduces each young storyteller.


The considerate gestures of the Canadian audience at the storytelling event may serve as a bridge between Korea and Canada. The love and support of Canadian adults listening to children from Korea will create the energy for more stories. This is how culture is made. I expect stories to grow into another powerful stream of Hallyu.


Image source: Koh Han-na


Koh Han-na (Correspondent of KOFICE in Canada)