By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Media Services
March 13, 2012
Born in Sao Paulo to Korean parents, author Samuel Park is a dual citizen of Brazil and the United States. “I left Brazil at age 14 (for Los Angeles), so my Portuguese is pretty fluent, even though I don’t have any Portuguese-speaking friends,” says Park, 36. “But I watch Brazilian soaps obsessively every day! So I can understand the language as well as I did 20 years ago. My Korean, incidentally, is quite weak, and much worse than my Portuguese.”
His novel “This Burns My Heart,” just released in paperback, tells the story of a smart, passionate woman who did what she was supposed to do, only to end up with a life she didn’t want. The novel made the year’s-end best-of lists at Kirkus, Amazon and BookPage and has been selected as a Starbucks Bookish Reading Club selection. Starbucks customers who sign into the Starbucks Digital Network may read it for free for up to two weeks. For more on the author, check out his website at http://samuelpark.com.
Q. What are your memories of Sao Paulo?
A. Sao Paulo is a walker’s paradise with wonderful public transportation. The traffic is absolutely terrible, but you can circumvent that by taking the subway. My parents had a house five minutes away from the beautiful Aclimacao Park, in the neighborhood of the same name, near downtown Sao Paulo. The park has a gorgeous lake in the middle and is surrounded by dense, thick trees, not unlike Central Park. About a third of the population there is Korean. The neighborhood next to it is Liberdade, which is kind of like Asia-town. I went to a school next to the park and after school I would walk to the padaria down the street to feast on salgadinhos, which are essentially meat pies and pastries. On Saturday afternoons, I’d go to the art house movie theaters in downtown Sao Paulo, which would show foreign films, mostly from Europe. On Sundays, my family and I would go to the farmer’s market in the morning, and then spend afternoons at the University of Sao Paulo, with its endless green lawns, where my parents and their friends would play volleyball.
Q. Did you fit in when you visited Korea for the first time?
A. It was exciting to be around people who looked exactly like me. I loved going to Korea for the first time. I remember walking through the ancient temples and feeling like I was back in the 18th century. I spent most of the time tagging along as my parents visited relatives, so in any given week, we would travel miles and miles, and I would spend the day in a completely different living room. What I remember the most was just how delicious and fresh the food was. The service in Korea was bizarrely good. When my mother ordered delivery, it would come on actual dinner plates. Or we’d go to a restaurant, and we’d leave carrying little parting gifts, like tissue boxes.
Q. What untapped destination should people know about?
A. This is going to sound insane, but I have a real fondness for Columbus, Ohio. Hear me out! It has a wonderful bookstore called the Book Loft, in German Village, which consists of 32 little rooms, one after the other, kind of like a maze. It’s a bookstore experience unlike any you’ve had. Victorian Village, not too far from Ohio State University, has some of the most charming Victorian homes you’ve ever seen. You walk down Buttles or Neil Avenue, and you feel like you’ve been transported back to the 19th century. Columbus also has a surprisingly large number of art galleries. And being a college town, you have access to the kinds of shows, concerts, and museum exhibits you’d find in bigger cities, but at a fraction of the price.
Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?
A. Manhattan. This is a writer’s cliche, but it’s my favorite place to go. New Yorkers are supposed to be rude, but nowhere in the world am I treated as well as when I’m in New York. New Yorkers really value writers. And it’s one of those cities where as soon as you arrive, you can feel the molecules in the air changing. Its energy is completely its own. Last time I was there, I loved going to Ma Peche for dinner. Their noodles were insanely good, followed by a great, sugar-rich dessert at the Momofuku Milk Bar. I’m also a big fan of Ippudo in the East Village, which really does have the best ramen ever. When I’m on vacation, I like to walk a lot and be surrounded by city energy. Nothing beats Manhattan for sheer kinetic excitement — the yellow cabs, the high rises, the fast-walking people.
Q. To someone who was going there for the first time, what would you recommend that they do during their visit?
A. Everyone goes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art when they visit New York, but I actually prefer the Guggenheim. You can digest more of it and nothing beats its winding architecture. And the MoMA. I also love the drama of the lions in front of the New York Public Library. If you have any interest at all in writing and authors, they always have incredibly well-done exhibits, using archival material and manuscripts. I would also recommend sitting at one of the chairs in Bryant Park to end the day and relax. You might need it after a long day of walking.
Q. What are your favorite hotels?
A. The Hotel Rex in San Francisco’s Union Square is utterly charming. It’s set up like a writer’s studio, and on the hallway walls you’ll see quotations by the likes of Jack London and Dashiell Hammett. It has the tiniest elevator, which only adds to the feeling of being back in the ’20s or ’30s. The Cooper Square Hotel in New York’s East Village also has a writerly vibe. It’s very modern and sleek. I love the shelves in the lobby filled with books. Even the rooms are decorated with old hardcover books from the ’20s and ’30s. The service is impeccable.
© 2012 JAE-HA KIM
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