True friends

"True friends are hard to come by" (Calvin & Hobbes comic)

It was Oscar Wilde who supposedly said, “True friends stab you in the front.”

Never has this adage been proven more true than with this war-faring business going on between North and South Korea!

So I was hard at work – yes, I am; I will find some way to show everyone what I’ve done so far in due course – this afternoon when I suddenly heard the sound of helicopters heading north.

Uh oh, I thought to myself. Can’t be good news, can it?

So I posted this as my Facebook status:

Uhhh… Just saw a military helicopter heading northward. Don’t need to get worried, yet, right?

I received a couple of inane responses; nothing too inflammatory. But there were actually people who ‘Liked’ my status! The audacity!

So I resumed my work – but half an hour later, I heard the sound of fighter jets flying westward!

So I posted this as my Facebook status:

In addition to helicopters, I just heard fighter jets roaring westward over the mountains. This is too stressful; I didn’t sign up for this!

Then I received even more inane responses, and even more ‘Likes’, which didn’t do much for my cortisol levels; I was super jumpy and I couldn’t write anymore.

Anyway, I recognised the “fight or flight” feeling, so I was thought to myself: Ah, fug this shizz, let’s go for a run before dinner (actually that was the plan all along, lah; the anxiety came at the right time.)

But I had already been crafting something humorous to take my mind off the whole matter, so I posted this before I left for my run:


A young writer quits his teaching job to pursue his writing dream, and is awarded a prestigious residency in South Korea, finally hitting the big time – or so he thinks. Within days of his arrival, North Korea declares war on South Korea and The Land of Morning Calm is thrown into a tumultuous turmoil.

Disgruntled (for he had, obviously, been gruntled before this) at having had a curveball thrown at him yet again, the writer must now decide: fight or flight?

Will he pack his things and head for the southern coastal city of Tongyeong in the hopes that his NS friends will jet over from neighbouring Japan to rescue him – or will he join the South Koreans and provide them with his military logistics expertise (and humour) in their attempt to rid their lands of the North Korean scourge, once and for all?

Find out in this exciting adventure-packed film starring all the friends of Laremy Lee who are cruelly ‘Liking’ his panic-stricken status updates on Facebook and providing irreverently irrelevant comments and suggestions to alleviate (or mock) his plight.

Guess what kind of responses I returned to when I was done with my run and dinner?

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting to you a (curated) list of comments I received from the bastards I have to call my “friends” (on Facebook):

“start digging a foxhole, just to be safe. :)”

“laremy. go there for combat stress training. you will get a medal.”

“Write a poem about it.”

“Think u shld do a Dennis Rodman, jio mr Kim to play touch rugby with u”

“can help me buy Dashida beef stock”

“mmmmm cruel liking.”

“If you faster get plastic surgery, you can at least look good before you die!”

“Hi Laremy, please e-register. It’s useful when MFA needs to find the body.” (This one received 9 ‘Likes’ and counting… Kaninaseyo, indeed.)

“I did my part and contributed some ‘Likes'”

“I remember reading a book about a writer trapped in a war once. Despite the war, she kept on writing. Didn’t turn out well for the writer though. Go read the book, ‘Diary of Anne Frank’.”

Can I have pooters?

True friends or what? They were probably competing to see who could come up with the cruellest comment!

Arrival at Toji Cultural Centre (토지문화관)

Farewell, folks.

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So I left on a jet plane to Korea on Sun night/Mon morning.

This trip has been in the works for the last three months, so I’ve spent that time prepping for it – buying clothes, handling administrative matters, having a Laremy Lee Farewell Tour, etc.

Which was all fun but super tiring, considering the other two big things I had to juggle consecutively/concurrently: relief teaching and an In-Camp Training.

Spending my 30th birthday the same way I spent my 19th: bearing arms while bedecked in green; serving the nation at the rifle range.
Spending my 30th birthday the same way I spent my 19th: bearing arms while bedecked in green; serving the nation at the rifle range.

I also spent the last three months informing people that I was making this trip, usually in response to having to politely decline meet-ups, wedding invitations, work, etc.

Most times, I managed to stun the people I was talking to into silence by telling them that I was going to Korea for plastic surgery.

Of course I did eventually reveal to them the real reason, which you can read about here.

I got the plastic surgery idea from my friend Yanhe, who – unbeknownst to me and his fiancee – told his fiancee I was going to Korea for an operation to improve my face.

When the three of us met for dinner, I spent a large part of the conversation trying to figure out why Yanhe’s fiancee was trying to avoid talking about Korea – until Yanhe revealed to us his deviousness.

Does not trust him... anymore.
Does not trust him… anymore.

Anyway, I’m finally in Korea.

So far I’ve been updating friends/family about how life is like, recovering from jet lag (and possible Laremy Lee Farewell Tour fatigue) and settling into the routine of breakfast before 10am, lunch at 12pm and dinner at 6pm.

I also made a new friend.

Oh look – I made a new friend.

A post shared by Laremy Lee (@laremylee) on

After reporting this news to the Checkpoint Theatre Whatsapp group, I promptly got scolded by Koh Bee Bee, who said, “We asked you to make friends with Korean ladies, not Korean ladybirds.”

Bee Bee is one of the many who has either encouraged me to bring home a Korean girlfriend (why, Singaporean girls not good enough, is it?) or shag as many Korean girls as possible (why, Singaporean girls not – OK, let’s not go there).

You can see where Singaporeans have their priorities – between making love and making art, they choose making love. Very pragmatic.

Although a friend did point out to me that making love to some people is akin to making art.

For the record, in any case:

  1. Bee Bee falls into the former category i.e. she wants me to bring home a Korean girlfriend;
  2. I’m here to work on one act of a play and about 12 poems.

Some pictures of how Toji Cultural Centre looks like:

The courtyard outside the dining hall.
The courtyard outside the dining hall.
Inside the Cultural Centre.
Inside the Cultural Centre.
What I mistakenly thought was the other housing block of residences.
The other housing block of residences, where the Korean writers are housed.
The block which I'm housed in.
The block which I’m housed in, along with some of the other “foreign” writers.
View of the Centre from my block.
View of the Centre from my block.
A writing bench outside my room (look at the mountains in the background).
A writing bench outside my room (look at the mountains in the background).
The door to my room (No. 505)
The door to my room (No. 505)
My somewhat spartan cupboard.
My somewhat spartan cupboard.
The attached bathroom.
The attached bathroom.
I have a mini-bar fridge as well (nothing in it yet, though).
I have a mini-bar fridge as well (nothing in it yet, though).
My bed and my writing table.
My bed and my writing table.

More (and better-taken) photos over here.

So that’s it for now, folks. I’ll provide more updates on the weather, language, food, activities, etc. in time to come.

Assuming North Korea doesn’t decide to strike first, that is. But that’s a premise for another play.


Last Fri (13 Jan 2013) was quite an eventful day.

As part of my training in the Weapon X project, I went for yet another operation on Fri (a minor one this time: it was the affixment of abutments).

Since it was day surgery, I tottered home from the National Dental Centre after my surgery in some degree of pain.

But before I entered my home, I checked my mailbox out of habit, and I found I had mail.

Ergh, I thought. Bills and the like.

But wait – it wasn’t just bills. There was a letter from the National Arts Council.

Was it the reply I had been waiting for?

Letter of Offer: Participation in the 2013 Toji Writing Residency, Wonju City, South Korea

It was! Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to Korea from 1 Apr to 31 May 2013 as a Writer-in-Residence at the Toji Cultural Centre!

I’m extremely happy because my career plans/plans in general for this year are slowly falling into place.

I’m also very excited because I’ve been reading what others have said/blogged about Toji and it sounds extremely awesome!

Check out:

I’m looking forward to Korea and I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that I get the next residency I’m applying for.

Wish me luck!

P.S. I forgot to mention this: another good thing about receiving the letter on the day of my surgery was that it helped quite a bit with the pain.

Well, I might’ve imagined it, but hey – a little bit of endorphins never hurt anyone (pun intended)!

P.P.S. An ex-colleague had a very interesting contribution to make following my announcement about me being awarded the Residency on Facebook: