In Korea, he was Chey Won Suk. In Canada, he was Jason Choi. Won Suk fled to Toronto before being forced into two years of mandatory military service. Won Suk was a painter, who couldn’t stand the thought of being separated from his paints for any length of time. Won Suk had gotten a visa for a language exchange through Busan University to study at the University of Toronto, knowing the Canadian government gives a fast-track to citizenship to anyone who graduates from a Canadian school.
Won Suk never returned to Korea. After four years studying fine arts, Won Suk got his degree. Four years after that, he got his citizenship.
Life changed drastically for Won Suk in Canada. The hardest thing to get used to was missing his friends and family, knowing he could never get back into his country, having skipped military service. The next hardest thing was the weather. Coming from the mild climes of Busan, South Korea, going through six months of Canadian winter was sometimes almost too much to take. There were days when the windchill dropped below minus thirty, lonely days when Won Suk wondered if Canada was worth the pain.
Each Spring would remind him it was. After eight years in country, Won Suk had all but mastered the English language. He was a quick study. Knowing he could never see Korea again, he wanted to embrace the culture of his adopted land. Won Suk knew culture starts with language.
Won Suk hated how his name sounded in English. Chey Won Suk. He changed it after his first semester to Jason Choi. “Jason” because he loved the story of Jason and the Argonauts, and “Choi” because that’s what all Koreans who are named Chey do; they change their family name from Chey to Choi because they think it’s easier for westerners to remember.
Jason’s graduating art exhibition had generated a pretty sizeable buzz, which had translated into a pretty sizeable profit for Jason. It bought him the time to spend painting his days and nights away.
Jason found the longer he stayed from Korea, the more he expressed it in his art. More and more Korean themes kept popping up on his canvas. Here he found himself adding the final dapples of sunset over the volcano on Jeju Island. Suddenly, Jason was struck by a mad impulse to have the volcano erupt and destroy the city below.
The man was in a trance when he exploded hell from the mouth of Mt. Halla. His erupting emotions were fiery and implosive, pouring onto the canvas as liquid fire, sparing no one who lived and died in The City of Jeju.
Jason looked at the painting. He had covered the entire canvas red. His painting was the equivalent of a red square, nothing more, nothing less. He wondered if it could be less.
‘Sure,’ he thought, ‘it could be orange.’ Jason had an aversion to everything orange, except orange juice.
The red read as a mirror. Jason saw himself in that mirror, having bled red paint all over what had once been a beautiful painting of Jeju Island. He hated what he saw, both artistically, and personally. He signed the painting: I AM JASON, then threw it in the trash.