LeeMu-young Tr ans l at edbyMi -Ry ongShi m
Act 1, Scene 1 By Lee Mu-young Translated by Mi-Ryong Shim
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
Originally published in Korean as Je1gwa Je1jang in Inmunpyeongnon, 1939 Translation ⓒ 2014 by Mi-Ryong Shim
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and Literature Translation Institute of Korea. The original manuscripts to these translations were provided by Gongumadang of Korea Copyright Commission.
The National Library of Korea Cataloging-in-Publication Data Lee, Mu-young Act 1, scene 1 [electronic resource] / by Lee Mu-young ; translated by Mi-Ryong Shim. -- [Seoul] : Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2014 p. 원표제: 제 1 과 제 1 장 Translated from Korean ISBN 978-89-93360-47-9 95810 : Not for sale 813.61-KDC5 895.733-DDC21
About Lee Mu-young
Lee Mu-young (1908 – 1960) was born Lee Yong-gu in Eumseong County of North Chungcheong Province. After dropping out of Huimun Common High School, he went to Japan and studied literature there. While he had published a piece in the journal Joseon Mundan earlier, it was not until 1932 when his play “The Daydreamers” was selected for publication in the daily Donga Ilbo that his writing career took off. After this, he also began working as a reporter for the arts section of the Donga Ilbo in colonial Korea. He became a member of the Research Group for the Dramatic Arts and in 1933 he also joined the modernist literary circle known as “The Group of Nine.” After liberation, he served as a professor at Dankook University. He became a member of the executive committee of the National Association of Literary Organizations in 1946 and the vice president of the Association of Korean Writers for Freedom in 1955. Lee wrote various works on the subject matter of the farming village and he has come to be identified as one of the representative writers for agrarian literature in Korea. He showed talent for creating narratives that demonstrated the devastating poverty of the farming villages as results of the broad structural contradictions existing in society. The short story “Act I, Scene I” tells the story of a main character who quits his job as a newspaper reporter to begin his life as a soil-covered farmer. The short story is often read as a work based on Lee’s own autobiographical experiences, as well as a model of the Korean agrarian novel. Lee’s other major works include: “The Spinners of the Earth’s Axis,” “The Mind that Draws the Earth,” and “The Farmer.” His short story collections include Intoxication and The Mountain Hut.
About “Act I, Scene I” Lee Mu-young’s “Act I, Scene I” tells the story of Sutaek, a writer who leaves his city life behind to create a new life for himself as a farmer in the countryside. Through this transformation, he comes to reconcile with his father, a man of the soil who rails against the “city folk” for placing their self-interests and material comforts over the ethics of neighborly love and hard work. Sutaek also finds new inspiration for writing in the process of becoming a proper farmer. A work within the subgenre of agrarian literature, “Act I, Scene I” can also be read within the context of the Asia-Pacific War. The war and the total mobilization of society under the Japanese empire at this time, can be read in both the various details and the overall messages embodied in the text.
Act I, Scene I
1 The clackety-clunk of an ox-drawn cart echoed forlornly along the wide main road. The road was quiet, with few passersby, and only the poplar trees planted along the roadside cast their long shadows in the late afternoon sun. At the entrance to a nearby village, an old man smoking a long pipe looked after his grandchild, who was naked, playing with some pebbles on the ground. The cicadas left behind by the shrewdly changing seasons, sang plaintively like a captive princess wailing her laments in a foreign land. “Haw now, haw!” The ash tree whip cracked loudly as it hit the ox’s flanks, flat and large as a kneading board. The ox did not react, perhaps simply relieved that the whipping drove the flies away. It continued ahead with the same plodding steps. Every time the oxcart passed through a neighborhood, there would be a few people – like laborers sitting on straw mats spread in front of the local tavern, drying their brows – who followed the luggage piled up on the cart with their eyes. It was not the first time they had seen someone’s belongings bundled up for a move, but they were intrigued nonetheless by the kinds of furniture and household things loaded up on the cart. There were none of the usual clay pots, blocks of fermented soybeans, or gourd dippers to be found up on the cart. There was a wardrobe, but it was a different size and shape from the ones usually found in the countryside. They could also see flashes of the setting sun glancing off a large mirror mostly covered up with straw bags. In place of a wooden trunk for a trousseau, there was an ornate single-drawer chest, as well as a large rectangular wicker basket. They could also see an elaborate hat for god only knows what occasion, a shiny oxblood leather bag, and a desk fit for a town chief or a property manager with a fancy matching chair. “Some concubine’s maybe, all that stuff,” muttered one of the onlookers. He seemed like the gambling type, a tall fellow with thin yellowish whiskers. “Bet you’re right,” another man rejoined. “You just lost your bet then,” said the third. “That doesn’t look like a concubine’s things. A concubine would have a mother-of-pearl wardrobe or something flashy like that, not this stuff. Well, let’s see what the owners look like.” Some distance behind the oxcart came a young man dressed in a navy blue shirt and white trousers, a hat perched neatly atop his head in spite of the still-hot sun. He looked to be around thirty-four or thirty-five. He walked along holding the hand of a little girl of about five or six years dressed in the Western style. On his other side was a young woman, probably ten years younger 4
than him, pulling along a little boy also dressed in the Western style. The boy looked about four or five, with a chubby little face. He was clutching in his right hand a red pouch that looked to be a bag of sweets. “Daddy, is it still far?” the boy asked wearily. “Just a little bit more. Our little Cheol-i is such a good boy, isn't he?” the man answered. He lit a cigarette and continued to follow the oxcart in silence. “As far away as Hwashin department store?” the little boy asked again. He seemed exhausted. “Yes, only that far and then we’ll be there,” the young woman answered this time, feeling sorry for the little one. “But how do you know, Mommy? You've never even been there,” the little one looked up at her defiantly. “No, but I know. Don’t I, Daddy?” “Yes, Mommy knows.” The man and woman took turns with the little boy, alternating between carrying him in their arms, giving him piggyback rides, and making him walk a few steps. The whole thing looked terribly troublesome, but they didn’t show it. They continued on in silence, as if they themselves were being dragged along by the ox. Whenever the oxcart passed by another neighborhood, the locals would call out, “Hey, where to with all that stuff?” almost as if to the ox. “To Saenteo,” the driver of the cart would answer gruffly without turning, as if to say ‘I am not an ox.’ “Whose house in Saenteo?” “How should I know?” he'd say, whipping the ox's flank. “Whoa, whoa, ox! Let's hurry on now; I’ve had enough of these questions.” When they had passed the last neighborhood on the main road, the man and the woman took turns looking back. The woman, especially, looked visibly relieved, as if she had emerged from a surveillance zone. “Now it’s my turn to ask,” she said. “Do we still have a long way to go?” “No, not much more now. I remember the walk being shorter than this, though. I wonder why it seems so far now,” the man murmured, half to himself, but the oxcart driver responded, “The roads get longer in the summer, too.” A bit further along was a small stream. Remembering his childhood days of catching mudfish, the man Sutaek decided they would take a short break here. They could dry their sweat while resting underneath the shadow of the poplar trees. He also knew that his hometown Saenteo was not far from this little stream. “Old man, why don’t you rest a bit too. Here, have a cigarette.” “Would you also happen to have some ointment?” “Ointment?” “I don't know if my lips could handle smoking a cigarette like this.” 5
Hearing this, Sutaek laughed for the first time that day. ‘If I'd known the old man was such a character, I would have talked with him from the station all the way here. It would have been nice to pass the time,’ he thought. After sending the oxcart ahead, Sutaek took the time to wash his face and feet. He undressed the little ones and washed them off in the stream while his wife took out a small hand mirror from her purse and fixed up her face. As he sat on the edge of the stream with his hands in the water, childhood memories of playing there, as well as the memory of his struggles for survival over the past thirty years, bubbled up in his mind. The fading clackety-clunk of the loaded oxcart sounded even more despondent as an accompaniment to his memories. “You're a failure,” he said to himself in a low voice. The water babbled softly through the small mound of pebbles under his feet. Oh the stories to be heard if one could only decipher the babbling of the stream. For Sutaek, however, the sound of the oxcart, loaded down with the baggage of a failure, grew louder and louder, covering over the sound of the stream and the memories of his past. “A failure? What makes you a failure? This is just the beginning of the life you've wanted for so long!” he objected, as if in response to someone else calling him a failure.
2 This journey was, in fact, an important turning point in Sutaek’s life. Whether this journey marked a fresh new start or a defeat was a matter of fate. Sutaek was filled with emotion, but he did not know himself whether it was hope or fear. When he submitted his resignation letter at the end of the summer, he had not yet thought of himself as a “failure.” On the contrary, he'd been dreaming of a life in the countryside since spring, and had been going around with the resignation letter at the ready in his pocket. Wrapped and rewrapped in several envelopes, the letter remained in his pocket until the end of the summer. At eighty won a month, his salary had not been bad, and, as the Chief of General Affairs at the company liked to remind him, hundreds of college graduates would gladly line up for his position. But it was rather difficult to live in the city on his wages alone especially after the war broke out and the high inflation that followed. Nevertheless, it went without saying any income was still better than none. Almost all of Sutaek’s friends used this simple calculus when they urged him to reconsider his plan. The incredulous look on the Chief of General Affairs's face confounded by Sutaek’s decision to throw away his own good fortune and the patronizing voices of his colleagues who thought he was being frivolous actually ended up strengthening his resolve. More importantly, Sutaek’s plan was not as baseless as they thought. Almost all the friends and colleagues who advised against his recklessness pointed to the difficulty of earning a living as the most important factor. Very few of the men who were around Sutaek’s age, however, had struggled through as much economic hardship as he had. He left his hometown at age 6
twelve and supported himself through junior high school. At seventeen, he left for Tokyo and enrolled in the vocational program at C University. He managed to complete his education, surviving on leftover bread crusts and half-eaten rice balls he bought from nearby restaurants. After graduation, Sutaek found himself roaming the streets of Tokyo for another five or six years, without steady work or even the means to treat himself to a decent meal at a common restaurant. He lived like that into his thirties. Even when he returned to Korea, he continued to live off cheap ten-jeon meals for three years until he landed a job as a local news reporter at his current newspaper company. After he started his job and got married, he still had to fret over every purchase. Then, he found himself without wages for a long time when his newspaper was put on a ten-month-long suspension. During that time, he had the bitter experience of going a whole day without any food, while looking helplessly on as his wife panted and tore at her swollen pregnant belly. Husband and wife could find nothing more to do besides sit and stare at each other, waiting for the time to pass. During this ten-month period, he saw his usually close friends' visits dry up once his income ran out. By this time, he already knew well that he couldn't get a single measure of rice or a bowl of ox-bone soup on credit when his salary envelopes were not coming in regularly. “Nothing left to sell now, right?” he asked his wife. “Nothing but the shirts off our backs….” Her disconsolate reply, the bitter experience of having to repay the ten-odd pawn tickets he took out at the time over three full years—these memories were still fresh in his mind. A month before the newspaper was put under suspension, Sutaek went to borrow three won from M, one of his closest friends. It was M’s payday, a deliberate choice on Sutaek's part. When his friend refused him, however, Sutaek became incensed and cursed M. He had recorded all this in his diary, probably still tucked away somewhere in his desk. Therefore, it came as a great shock when this very same Sutaek turned in a resignation letter. “What will you do if you up and quit?” his superior R, the last to process his resignation letter, had asked. At the time, Sutaek had not felt even the slight twinge of concern explaining his future plans. Fortunately, his family back in the countryside owned some dozen plots of land. Plus, the cost of living would be much lower down in the village and some of his income would come from his writing. He had sounded confident, as though persuading R to come with him. “You might do well to think about it some more.” R advised good-naturedly, but Sutaek rejected the suggestion out of hand as if R had attacked him. “I don’t need to anymore.” The stated reason for his resignation had been an “illness.” Upon hearing this, management had responded in kind, asking, “What illness?” 7
Sutaek was certainly not an invalid, per se. His was more of a psychological type of illness than a biological one. The doctors’ warnings about his lungs or his pleura were a bit worrisome, but he had also secretly believed that he would be fine. Sutaek had had a friend H, who had also been nurturing a dream of writing literature. When Sutaek heard that H had unexpectedly dropped dead, he had experienced real fear. Even so, he was not so weak-hearted as to give up his job over something like that. When he composed the resignation letter this spring, keeping it a secret from his wife and carefully applying his seal to it, he did so with a sliver of heroism. Sutaek had been writing novels since his days in Tokyo. Of his writing, some had called him a stylist. During the heyday of “tendency literature,”1 he had been called a sympathizer, or a fellow traveler. Still others had mocked him for being a nihilist. The fact was, none of it was accurate. He was a writer who did not know his own color. It was around the time he began to be recognized as a novelist—or perhaps it was because of this—that he landed a job at the newspaper company. And that was the last of his life as a novelist. And so, he continued to eke out his life through this so-called literary medium of journalism. The happiness he had felt receiving his first salary quickly faded with each article he wrote that began thus: “Around midnight on the night of XX when every thing had laid down to sleep, a terrible shriek rent the silence in the area around XX in XX Street. According to reports….” Before the year was out at his job, he had almost completely forgotten that he once loved literature. At first he had hoped that frequenting the police stations and hearing about all the incidents of robbery, prostitution, and fraud would eventually provide fodder for his literature. But these hopes soon faded. Initially he had believed that he was exposing evil and providing valuable information to the public, but he realized soon enough that his sense of valor was nothing more than an empty shell trotted out for his own self-justification. With this realization, he felt his life was no more than that of a machine. He left his house in the morning and moved about from here to there all day long. Then in the evening or more commonly, late at night, he would return home. Some days he was swept up by a group of friends to go drinking, while on others, he had after-work meetings that went far into the night. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and then into years. He lived this life for five years and all he gained from it was vanity and laziness. He also made many so-called friends, acquaintances rather, whose relations were particular to such societies. Compared to what he gained, he had lost so much more. He once had at least three true friends, but the relationships grew distant as years passed by. Also, the small successes he had had as a novelist were now worth nothing more than a name, a single
“Tendency literature” (gyeonghyang soseol) was a literary genre that addressed the classed realities of modern Korean society from a socialist perspective. It was part of a larger movement of radical art and activism that quickly gained prominence in colonial Korea and in many other parts of the world in the mid 1920s.
line barely visible on a list of supporters compiled for the anniversary of a publication or the like. Whenever he saw his colleagues’ literary works published in the monthlies, he became depressed, staring glumly at the white plaster walls of his office. On more than one occasion, even the phone ringing off the hook failed to shake him from these ruminations. “Hey! What’s the use of having a phone if you don’t answer it?” Sutaek would look up to find his editor, nicknamed The Clairvoyant, glaring at him. After being held up for hours at useless after-work meetings, Sutaek would return home alone on the last streetcar of the day. The sense of emptiness and futility at such times was incomparable. Every now and then the car would be completely deserted and, all alone in the big car, his eyes would well up with hot tears. He would start to sober up by the time he got home and once inside, would notice his desk draped over with a cloth. The inkstand with the pen still sticking out, the manuscript paper that hadn't been touched in over a month – they looked utterly pitiful, like an abandoned ship adrift on a vast sea, waiting for a commander who will never return. No doubt pressed by the lingering strength of the wine, he would fall on his desk and weep aloud, “No! Not like this! I'll start writing again tomorrow!” After a year of promising himself, he was finally able to start a short story entitled “The Novelist Who Could Not Write.” The plot of the story went like this: a novelist gets a job. Soon he starts living like a bat, writing only at night. A burning desire to create propels him forward, but before he is able to put his ideas into practice, it is time for him to go back to work. He runs around completing various tasks until sunset, and then it is time for him to drag his limp body, drooping like a daffodil in summer, to another latenight meeting. His other days are followed by rounds of drinks and overnight work. He tries to organize the bits of his life into a sad tale of sorts, until he finds his thoughts turning to the question of how he should cajole the detectives tomorrow to get a story lead, how he should proceed with an article proposal, and the like. He weeps…. But in the end, he abandoned this story as well. One blisteringly hot night, he put written reminders of principles to live by on the wall, as children do. 1. Rise early. 2. Come home right away after work. 3. Read or write fiction. 4. Go to bed early. These resolutions would be broken in less than two days, however, when a meeting for the local news department lasted until nine o’clock at night. After enduring nearly four hours of heated debates about this, that, and everything else, he dragged himself home and promptly fell asleep. The next day he had to work overnight to write 9
up an article on the soccer match sponsored by his newspaper company. And the day after that, he returned home at three o’clock in the morning after attending a mandatory meeting and being dragged around for three rounds of drinks. ‘What am I living for? And for whom? For the so-called cultural affairs? Ha!’ It had been a while since he even asked himself this. It was around this time that Sutaek made another great discovery about himself. He realized that he was not well suited to be a newspaper reporter. He recognized that not only had he not enjoyed his job so far, he would probably never succeed at it, even in the distant future. Rather, he discovered only then that success as a newspaper reporter would mean the end of his literary life. It was a comedy. Or more accurately, a tragedy.
3 It was around this time that Sutaek started taking a few days off from work here and there. He wandered the outskirts of the city without any real purpose. One day, he persuaded his friend S to accompany him on a trip out to Cheongnyangni. Although he did not reveal everything, he confided to S that he intended to quit his job. Their conversation had turned to the topic of making a living when Sutaek suddenly noticed a familiar odor. At first he did not know where it came from. It was a pungent smell that assaulted his nose, then burrowed deep inside him until it reached his heart…. It was the smell of the soil. When he realized it was soil, he could hear his father’s voice ringing in his ears: “A person has to smell the soil in order to live. Come and work on the farm with me after you finish your studies…. All that learning. Well, learning can be good too, but it can also be a burden.” Sutaek had scoffed. He had even pitied his father. Poor old man, he was held captive by the soil, but he still felt so emotionally attached to it. Now, however, Sutaek found himself captivated by the very same idea: “Return home. Feel the soil with my own hands.” This is how Sutaek’s starry-eyed plans materialized. The first order of business was to sell all their furniture. His wife was reluctant, however, and their things fetched less than half what Sutaek had anticipated. As a result, all they had left was his severance pay, which totaled less than two hundred won. Sutaek and his family finally arrived at his childhood home. A yellow dog barked loudly as they entered through the brush gates in front of the house. No one seemed to be there, however, and a cold wind blew through the house. Had they come to the wrong house, Sutaek wondered, and he hurried out to check the nameplate on the door. It was indeed the right house. “Maybe they ran out to greet us after receiving our luggage,” his wife ventured. She did not know whether to enter the house or leave it.
Then someone yelled, “Big brother!” and a swarm of children surrounded him. Amidst these children whose faces Sutaek could not recall, was also his father, who he hadn't seen in six or seven years. Behind them were his aunt, holding a pair of rubber shoes with ripped backs, and his mother, now looking much aged. “Oh you rascal, you! How could you…” As soon as his mother started with the reproaches, Sutaek went out to the parlor. The long room was now partitioned by a new sliding door. He could hear an abacus rattling in the room on the other side the partition. Perhaps his parents had rented it out to someone. “That stuff outside, is it all yours?” “Yes.” “I see. Why the sudden change?” “I’ll tell you soon enough,” Sutaek said and went into the back room attached to the main building of the house, which had been cleaned out for his stay. Inside, the wallpaper sagged along with the mud from the brittle walls drooping within. Left unused for so long, the room reeked of mold. The crate pasted over with colored paper, the jar without its rim – these things in the room gave it an appearance of a haunted chamber. Old clothing left hanging on the clothing rack sagged down like a corpse. Sutaek’s beautiful dream of the country life was first shattered in this room. The way he had envisioned it, the room was not so barren as this. That night, father and son had a chance to sit down with one another for the first time in many years. The merchant who had been flicking his abacus in the upper room was gone now, and they were alone. Although Sutaek had decided to come back to his hometown, he knew little about the affairs of the household. When he first left home, the family had over five durak2 of rice paddies and more than ten gari of farming fields. When he visited home upon his return from Tokyo, the family’s rice paddies had decreased by five majigi 3 and the fields by almost one whole gari. Seven years had passed since then and in that time, father and son had been almost complete strangers. Not a single piece of correspondence had passed between the two. There was no real reason for this, nor had it been intentional. It was only that the son, now a cultured man, had looked down on his primitive father, while the father had kept his overly cultured son at a respectful distance. “How can someone be a proper person if he hates the smell of the soil? That fool has his nose in the air now,” Sutaek's father had mocked his son. As for the son, he hated to see the way his father lived, always covered in dirt. His father had been born in the soil, grew up touching it, and continued to live off it. Sutaek had no respect for the common farmer who even clothed himself in dirt, making it 2
A durak is a measure of farmland that can vary according to region, but measures roughly 500-1000 square meters. Another measure of farmland, a gari is equivalent to the total amount of land that one can plow with an ox over the course of a day. The exact measure varies by the region, but it is approximately 6000-7000 square meters. 3 A majigi is another word for durak.
difficult to tell the difference between the man and the earth. A proud cultured man, the son was ashamed to introduce dirty Old Man Kim as his father. He felt it a great embarrassment to have such a father. When he failed to invite his own father to his wedding, Sutaek provided a convenient excuse to his friends and colleagues. In truth, however, his vanity had made him feel ashamed of his father’s dirt-covered appearance. Of course, Old Man Kim was well aware of this. When his relatives and neighbors asked why he was not going to his son’s wedding, he angrily answered, “How can this wretched father dare to show up at a party celebrating that idiot, all high and mighty?! Why I heard that when someone asked Gwak Jusik’s son from Daeng Valley who his father was, he answered, ‘He’s just the farmhand at my house.’ So who’s to stop fools like that from calling their fathers their man servants?” In truth, Sutaek would have readily answered that way at the time. He had decided to not invite his father, knowing this. How many such sons might be found in the city now? “A person needs to smell the soil. Those city folks can make all sorts of fancy food, but they don’t have that down-to-earth taste of country food. It’s the same with people. A person has to smell the soil and taste fermented soybeans to get that earthy flavor in him. Sure, whether it's food or people, city folks are clear and have better manners, but a person can’t live on manners alone! Let’s say that I step on your foot by accident: now you’ll get all fired up mad. But country folks like us here will just think, oh it’s just an accident, and let it go at that. If you go by proper manners, the one who stepped on someone else’s foot is in the wrong, of course. But how can you live on manners alone when you live with all these people?” Old Man Kim had lectured Sutaek this way when he visited home during his years in the junior high school. At the time, Sutaek, having become familiar with city life, had simply sneered. Several years later, Sutaek was home again, ostensibly to spend the New Year’s holiday in his hometown. The newspapers had been claiming the season to be one of the coldest winters in the last twenty or even thirty years. Sutaek had told his parents he had come down in order to spend New Year’s at home since he had not seen them in a while. The truth was, however, that he had been sent on a business trip to a nearby village and stopped by the town on his way back. That night, a robber had snuck into the house. Sutaek had been up, unable to sleep because of the smell of red clay coming from the walls and the musty smell of fermented soybeans that permeated the room. Suddenly he heard the sound of footsteps in the yard. After a few moments, Sutaek heard a voice say, “There's nothing worthwhile in there, so you should come on out! Come on now!” It was his father. Sutaek peeked through a crack in the door and saw a man who was clearly a burglar. His father was telling him to come out to the yard but was blocking the path out, leaving the man confused as to what to do. The robber became desperate, and began pleading with him, “Sir, please sir, clear the path so I can leave!”
By this time, Sutaek was already near the yard having snuck out of his room and around the kitchen. When he saw that the man was an unarmed petty thief, he shrieked and leaped on him. Then, using the judo he had learned from his school days, he threw the man over his shoulders and bound his hands with his belt. By now the whole house was awake and Old Man Kim ran into the yard. He was brandishing a stick used to prop up an A-frame. Everyone, including the burglar, Sutaek, and the whole household, thought the old man would begin clobbering the thief. They were wrong. It was his son whose calves took a beating with the stick. Everyone present thought the old man must have hit the wrong person in all the commotion. With this in mind, Sutaek quickly dodged the stick and breathed a sigh of relief. But they were wrong again. Old Man Kim found his son again and again with the stick. “You heartless bastard! Why did you hit this man when nothing of yours was stolen? Think about the situation he must be in for him to go out stealing in this freezing weather. Country folk like us would never imagine acting like you did!” The robber wept at the father's words, and when he left, it was with a full bag of rice strapped to his back. The next day, Sutaek was forced to listen to a terribly long lecture from his father. “People don’t live by the law alone. Heck, if that was the case, right now would be the best of times since there are more laws now than ever before. If people could live solely by the letter of the law, then why do we still have people breaking the law? You think there’s no reason why people can’t work and live according to the laws of the land, but that’s not how it goes. Just this autumn, someone was sent to jail for eating an apple from the orchard behind the township office. Of course, taking someone else’s things is bad, but a person shouldn't be sent to jail over it. Last night, you looked like someone who wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to send someone to jail for taking an apple from your orchard. Do you know who that man was? I pretended not to know him, but I know his father well. Most people turn out to be people we already know if you look into it since everyone knows each other in the countryside. Everyone is family… that’s how we live!” This was difficult to understand for a man of the city. But today, as Sutaek conversed with his father, he felt that he could vaguely understand the gist of that “scentof-the-earth" sentimentality. Old Man Kim was overjoyed when he heard about his son’s unexpected plans. Sutaek only asked for five majigi of rice paddies and one gari of farm land, but his father insisted on giving him over eight majigi of rice paddies close to the best water sources. The old man also agreed to help his son get a new house. Of course, all it meant was that the rights to tenancy were transferred from father to son. His family only had less than five majigi of rice paddies and a few patches of farmland left in their name, a fact that Sutaek only discovered now. 13
“Seems you can’t deny your bloodline,” the father said, “I never imagined it in my wildest dreams, you coming back here to live side by side with me. You might find farming stuffy business at first, but you will find enjoyment in it by and by … The real problem is though, will your wife agree to live in the backwoods like this?” “Of course. She was even more eager than I was to come down here so she should be fine.” “Is that right? Well, that’s settled then. I guess I will get to hold my head up around here from now on.” the old man said, hinting that he had been embarrassed in front of his neighbors that despite having two sons, neither lived with him. Whatever the case, Sutaek’s life in the countryside had begun.
4 Sutaek agreed to buy the house that the head of the township had had built for his concubine. The house, located at the base of a small hill, cost one hundred and thirty won, almost the entirety of his severance pay. In front of the house was almost a thousand pyeong 4 of farming land that was owned by Sutaek’s family, and the radishes and cabbages that had been planted there were also transferred over to the new owners. Having been made for a concubine, the house was washed with lime paint and it even boasted a small attached dressing room. Nonetheless, it was still a house in the countryside. Sure enough, Sutaek and his wife could not fit their large chest of bedding through the doors. In the end, they ended up leaving the chest propped up on the dirt floor between the rooms, to use as a closet of sorts. When the couple expressed some interest in at least putting some flooring down under it, Old Man Kim talked them out of the idea. “My children, what a waste! What use is it to spend the money on flooring at a time when everything is so expensive? You can eat and live without flooring, can’t you?” Sutaek’s wife sulked at this, but she did not object. Old Man Kim was displeased with how his son and daughter-in-law still acted like city folk. The sight of their Westernstyle clothes and the way his daughter-in-law kept her hair loosely swept back bothered him. Soon enough, Sutaek had bought some unlined summer clothing and his wife began to part her hair in the old style. “This place is too much, even for the countryside!” Sutaek's wife exclaimed. “There's absolutely nothing here, not even a descent mountain range or a cold stream to go visit. I’d rather plow the Manchurian wilderness than live in a place like this.” As a matter of fact, Sutaek largely agreed with his wife’s sentiments. When he was a boy, he had looked only casually at his surroundings and assumed that the scenery here was just as good as anywhere else. The fact was, however, that save for a forest of tall poplar and acacia trees growing near the small stream, there was nothing special about the natural surroundings here. When Sutaek thought back on his childhood, he 4
A pyeong is a little over 3 square meters.
seemed to remember a pond of some considerable depth in the acacia forest and the large fish with glistening silver scales swimming there. He also remembered the sounds of cicadas and bush warblers in the forest, but had never revisited those places as an adult until now. When he made the trip out to the forest, however, all he could find was a tiny puddle with water that only reached up to his knees. Perhaps it was due to the seasonal drought, but in this puddle there were only tiny minnows swimming haphazardly around his feet. He also remembered the atmosphere surrounding the lookout shed in the forest as indescribably poetic, but when he saw it in person again, it all seemed utterly ordinary. At least the forest was humid. Even though the dry season had lasted for over a month now, the moist earth made smacking noises under his feet with every step. The memory of the singing bush warblers must have been a figment of his imagination too. He thought that if a bush warbler entered a forest like this, it would instantly go hoarse. If there really were a bush warbler crying in a forest like this, it must certainly be one that had been widowed. ‘Was the landscape here always this unremarkable?’ he thought, feeling hollow as if he had been deceived, when his father came by with an A-frame for carrying hay. “Here, this is yours. You have a lot to learn if you are going to live here,” his father said. Along with the A-frame, he also handed over a sickle coated white with dried mineral deposits from the pumped water. Sutaek took them without a word. As father and son started to walk together, Sutaek inquired about the surroundings. “What? The scenery? Boy, do you think you can survive on scenery? What’s wrong with the scenery here anyways? We have mountains and we have water. We have a forest. If you walk a bit further, we have a reservoir built by the irrigation association….” “But what’s here to see?” Sutaek looked around sullenly, as if all this was his father’s fault. “So, you think the scenery here is not as nice as in Seoul?” muttered Old Man Kim, immediately taking the A-frame off his back. He roughly grabbed his son by the scruff and shoved his head down between his legs. “Look, take a look there! You can see the mountains and the forest and the streams. Is that good enough?” As his father continued on animatedly, Sutaek remained baffled. He felt terribly uncomfortable, as if he was meeting a strict teacher all by himself. “Take a good look. You see, everything in the world has to be seen upside down. You talk about scenery this and scenery that, but everything that looked so dull when you were upright looks extraordinary when you look at them upside down from between your legs. Life is like that too. The people here look so pathetic to you, don’t they? But actually, people here are a happy lot. If you go further in to some of those rural places, you’ll see people who can’t even get one meal a day, whether it’s millet rice or barley. It won’t do to look down on people like that. Try looking at them upside down! To you, we 15
look like dogs or pigs living like this, but if you got to know us, you’d see that we actually live like gods. You can’t compare us to your salarymen. Those people in Seoul who live on stone fields full of smoke? See how I look, how other people here look. Our faces are not pale and wan like you, are they? If that’s not living like the gods, what is?” Sutaek, hastily made into a “young god” by his father’s logic, found himself dragged around all day. He cut hay until sunset, the tough straws slashing his hands. He had assumed that he would get the hang of using the sickle if he tried, but to his amazement, it was considerably more difficult than filling letters into the narrow lines of manuscript paper. Every morning at dawn, Sutaek was dragged out for work. Exactly at daybreak every morning, a stern “Ahem, hem!” could be heard just outside his door. His father would be outside already, holding a large straw basket full of cow dung. “Look here now. Sure, spreading this stuff around makes your back ache, but if you put it on your rice paddies, those stalks of rice turn a deep gold. Why, you can’t compare this stuff to junk like ammonia! Instead of paying five won for a bag of that garbage, just pick this up for a few days and you save money and get some manure for the paddies…. Well, hurry up and get ready. And wake up your wife. How can you two laze around when the sun is already so high up your rear?” At first, Sutaek and his wife had been extremely vain. It was charming to imagine themselves becoming the center of attention in the neighborhood. The villagers would surely talk about how Sutaek, who had finished college and even used to have water brought to his room to wash his face, and his fancy wife were now doing hard labor everyday. The villagers did gawk whenever they saw Sutaek weeding a rice paddy wearing his old Western-style suit, going to check an irrigation gate while using a shovel as a walking stick, or stumbling clumsily across a rivulet with an A-frame on his back. When his wife twisted her ankle while carrying a large water jar on her head and shattered the jar, the villagers looked at her with sympathy rather than derision. And when his wife followed Sutaek out to work in the fields with a hoe in her hands, the villagers called over their neighbors to take in the spectacle, as if it was some great event. Sutaek and his wife worked under the incredulous gaze of the others, but their novelty provided a sense of comfort for the pair. When they succeeded it was a matter to be proud of, for sure, but even their missteps were not sources of shame, given their lofty positions. “My dear, if you keep digging so deep with your hoe when you weed, it will make the cabbage roots all brittle. Hold it like this and scratch at the dirt just a bit, like that, then pull out the weed with this hand. Yes, that’s right, that’s it,” the old man would say to his new daughter-in-law (who was actually his old daughter-in-law). He would then materialize suddenly behind Sutaek. “No, no, you fool! You are weeding the cabbage patch the way you would eat at the table: a scoop of rice here, a bit of banchan there…. That’s not the way to do it! You
dig up the dirt with one hand and weed with the other. How will you ever get it done if you do them one at a time…?” “It’s just that I am not used to it yet, Father,” Sutaek had no choice but to make excuses for himself. At night, the old man would put a straw mat on his son’s back and tell him to go out and guard the irrigation gates. “Once I’ve passed the land to you, it becomes your own responsibility. Now that you are done with the planting, you also have to clean up with your own hands. You must put everything in order if the land is to survive through three months of winter.” As Sutaek walked past the village entrance, he could see the moon, its shape slightly distorted, hanging low near the forest of acacia trees. The last of the dog days had passed, but the wind was still hot. The village women were gathered by the stream, cooling off the sweat that had poured from their bodies while eating their meals of boiled barley. Nearby the children played, knocking pebbles together to make small tapping sounds, accompanied by the gurgling of the water flowing downstream. With the twinkling fireflies bobbing in the grass and the croaking of the frogs blending into the scenery, it was still clearly a summer night. Sutaek crouched down on a flat rock used for washing clothes and rinsed out his mouth. He found it strange how his teeth, which he had brushed day and night with toothpaste, could feel so clean now just from swishing some water around in his mouth. He got up and walked across the stepping stones to reach the path marked between the rice paddies, dragging his shovel behind him. When he was walking along the undulating ridges between the paddies earlier it had felt like he was walking across a tightrope. The ridges seemed flatter tonight though and the dew clinging to his calves felt invigorating. In the city, Sutaek used to get in fights with people walking across the asphalt if even a single drop of water sprinkled on the sidewalks to settle the dust touched him. Those moments now felt like a distant dream. “Perhaps now I can consider Farming Village, Act One completed,” he murmured to himself as he inhaled the earthy scent of the grass. It passed through his nose and permeated deep into his chest. His shirt, wet with the night dew, was slowly drying and did not feel as clammy as before. As he listened to the water flow from the upper paddies to the lower through the irrigation gates, he could sense the rice stalks growing noticeably fatter; this sense seemed to stem from a knowledge more profound than his literary sensibilities. Some ten narrow rice paddies away at the corner of a farming field, someone played a plaintive note on a bamboo flute. That person was probably watching the irrigation gate too. Across the way up on a hilly spot lined with acacia trees was a lookout shed. The voices of young people singing wafted down from it, punctuated occasionally by peals of women’s laughter; perhaps the tavern maids had come for a visit.
After looking around the irrigation gate, Sutaek strolled up to the lookout shed. The singing from inside the shed stopped suddenly at the sound of his footsteps. A voice called out, “Who is it?” “It is I!” “Oh, it’s the gentleman from Seoul! So, are you getting accustomed to the Aframe on your back these days?” This was followed by a burst of laughter. ‘Can it be that country people's voices even smell like the soil and fermented soybeans?’ he thought as he climbed up the ladder of the lookout shed one rung at a time. ‘When will I finally smell like the earth?’
5 Sutaek was sure he heard someone crying – a woman. The more he listened, the more familiar it seemed. ‘Who could it be?’ he thought as he came fully awake. He was not sure of the time, but save for the sound of a water wheel turning somewhere in the distance, it was silent. Even the sound of his children’s breathing was barely audible. He felt around next to him, but found only his children there. His wife, who should have been lying next to him, was nowhere to be found. He lay as still as a corpse, trying to focus his eyes in the dark. Once again he heard the crying. It was a terribly mournful sound, like the reverberation of a long bow across a fiddle. It was his wife. “Dear!” There was no response. “Dear!” There was still no answer, only the sobbing grew louder. Sutaek got up and went to his wife’s side. “What’s wrong? How will I know if you won’t tell? Did someone say something to you?” “No.” “Then are you ill?” Again his wife did not answer. “I won't know if you won’t tell me. What is it?” “I have diarrhea!” his wife blurted out, and instantly fell back to sobbing. Speechless at first, Sutaek burst out laughing. “A woman close to thirty years old wakes up in the middle of the night in tears because she has diarrhea? Ahahahaha!” “It’s because I keep having diarrhea,” she said through her tears. He laughed loudly again. “Dear, if you have diarrhea, why don’t you get some medicine or skip a meal or something…” he asked. 18
“Oh stop it. How can you be so oblivious? The children and I, we’ve all had it since the first day we came here. We all look gaunt, but you haven’t said a word about it.” “So get some medicine. I am out all day so I couldn’t have known.” “Medicine won’t do any good for diarrhea like this. The only way is to change what we eat!” Only then did Sutaek finally understand the reason for their illness. Thinking back, he realized that his had also started from the second day of their arrival here. He had initially thought the change in the water was the culprit, but it had continued for several more days. In truth, his stomach had still not fully recovered. “I think that after we eat boiled barley, the rough grain keeps poking at our intestines from the inside. Someone told me that Pilnyeon keeps complaining about stomach pains and she always cries before bed.” “Humph, I guess our innards have to learn to smell the soil also…” he muttered, but he had nothing else to say. Sutaek’s family had been eating at his parents’ house since they arrived. Their house had yet to be properly arranged and besides, stoking two fires in the summer heat had seemed impractical. It was also the time of the year in the countryside when people were waiting for the new crop of rice to ripen for the harvest. And as they waited, they subsisted mostly on boiled barley. When the rough barley grains entered bellies only used to rice, their digestive tracts, long accustomed to the cultured life, went on an all-out strike. “Then you should have asked my parents to add some rice to the meal. Actually, my stomach always hurt too, but I never realized why.” “It would have caused such a fuss if I'd asked! Your father might tell us to try eating with our intestines hanging upside down,” his wife said. She seemed to have remembered the story of looking at his surroundings through his legs. “Go to bed. I will talk to Father tomorrow and arrange to have some rice mixed in for now,” he said, trying to coax his wife to sleep as if she was a child. His wife had known well that Sutaek’s only hope in their new life was to get some time to himself after finishing with the harvest. Not wanting to trouble him, she had not spoken a single word of complaint about the diarrhea, even as her suffering had gone on for more than twenty days. Sutaek was deeply moved, even if he did not express his feelings to her. He hoped she would hold on to her thoughtfulness. From the following day on, rice was added to their meals in equal measures with the barley. Knowing his father, Sutaek had not dared to ask for it himself. Instead, he had sent his young daughter Pilnyeon to pester her grandfather. “I suppose we have to. It’s a pity that even your intestines are weak.’ I bet he’ll say that.” Imitating her grandfather’s voice, the young daughter giggled. As the days went by, however, the amount of rice in their meals gradually decreased and barley and millet were added in its place. Sometimes potatoes or other grains like Chinese millet were also mixed in. Everyone waited for the day when the new 19
rice crop could be harvested; it was the only thing Sutaek, his wife, and everyone else could do at this time. It was also around this time that Sutaek’s desire to write began to grow. By the time his long-gestating idea for a historical novel was nearing full maturity, the seedlings he had weeded and irrigated were also ripening into a golden brown hue. The cabbages in the vegetable garden in front of his house had also laid down their roots and were growing fatter by the day. Sutaek felt that man was indeed full of desires. Although this was only his first year, Sutaek felt an affection more intense than anything he had ever felt before toward every ripening grain of rice and every head of lettuce that he saw. It was a feeling akin to the joy he had felt gazing down at a sheet of manuscript paper entirely filled up with rows upon rows of his own words. He thought he could finally understand the deep sorrow tenant farmers must feel when they found themselves emptyhanded and unable to taste a single grain of their own crop after a year of cultivating the land with their own sweat and blood. Now Sutaek could grasp why these farmers could not give up on their farming, despite knowing the situation would repeat itself year after year. Of course their affection for farming was based on the incentive to get the most rice on the threshing floor, but still, the way that they loved each and every rice seedling and cabbage leaf – could this be explained so cheaply by a desire for profit? It seemed no different from a writer who would be seized by a blind passion for his work, losing himself to it completely despite knowing well that the payment for his manuscript would barely cover the cost of the paper on which it was written. Sutaek was reminded again of how affection could rise above personal interests. It was the only way humanity could go on living. He began to think that humanity could only find happiness by making affection the basis for ethics. He wondered if his father, with his talk of “the aroma of the soil and fermented soybeans,” had actually meant this type of affection. When his father told him that “city folk” did not smell of the earth, perhaps the old man was saying that they lacked the affection necessary to rise above their personal interests, he thought. When a thief had come to their house, Old Man Kim had beaten his son for catching him. Robbery was clearly an evil, of course, and that which prevented evil was essentially good. This was a noble principle of truth that was also an instinct that one should follow. His father, however, had bestowed upon this good instinct a sound thrashing with a walking stick. Did his father not recognize robbery as evil? That wasn't the case. The old man was born of the soil, had been raised in close contact with it, and continued to live alongside it. Sutaek’s father had grown up surrounded with the feeling of soft dirt and was accustomed to the affection that the soil bestowed on everyone. He thought that as long as a person sowed seeds the soil would grow them, no matter if the person was a Kim, a Jeong, or any other name. Therefore, the father had felt a greater hatred for his son than for the thief. Whereas the robber stole out of scarcity, his son, one of those “city folk” through and through, did not know how to smell the soil and had trampled on its affection. 20
Now Sutaek loved his crops with the burning passion with which he had loved his literary work. So when he found a wilting rice plant, he felt the same shock he had had upon finding a line in his writing completely changed. Utterly distressed, he immediately ran out to the paddy. The plant was yellowing and drying up from the bottom of the stalk, its ear empty, devoid of even a single grain of rice. In a fit of anger, he yanked out the plant. He could see that hard-shelled bugs had attacked it and eaten through most of its base. In the thirty-odd years of his life, Sutaek had never felt as angry as he did now. Never before had he felt such hatred toward an object or other living thing. He also discovered only today that he had a streak of terrible cruelty inside him. Tearing up the surrounding plants, he hunted for each and every hard-shelled bug he could find, then placed them on a flat rock and pounded them to pieces. Catching himself, Sutaek thought that he had experienced real hatred for the first time in his life. When he first arrived back in his hometown, Sutaek had felt a chill in the way the villagers looked at him. In truth, the village was his hometown in name only and he was unfamiliar with almost all the people living there. Most of the current villagers were actually people who had come from the outside, pushed around and chased out from here and there like a ship left wandering on a stormy sea. At the time, Sutaek had returned those cold stares with his own hostility. Reflecting upon it now, he felt that their attitudes had at least been preferable to the hatred that his own father had harbored toward him. ‘Yes. I must throw off this mask of the city folk and become familiar with the soil as soon as possible. I must become a person who knows how to smell the soil,’ he told himself. His musings were interrupted, however, by another voice shouting in his ear. ‘What you're talking about is devolution!’ said the other voice in his head. This was the side of him that remained a city person, the fellow who was angered by a single stray drop of water, who grimaced at the sight of a single fly, and who could spend over an hour at the department store to purchase a necktie. This fellow was rebelling now. ‘Devolution? Then I will accept devolution!’ ‘More than devolution, it is failure! It is the sophistry of one who has failed, a self-defense mechanism deployed by one who has failed at the competition of city life, or life in civilized society. It is --” ‘I don’t care if it’s any of those things!’ he railed against the voice. The internal struggle became more vehement with each passing day. Sutaek had believed that the tradition of the soil was in his blood, but that belief had been a mere illusion. The rebellion of the urbanite thirsty for civilization grew stronger with each attempt to suppress it. The sensation of hard pavement through the leather soles of his shoes – how much more modern it was compared to the ordinary feeling of soft earth under your feet! It was akin to the difference between the sensation of a new bill crisp
enough to hear and sharp enough to cut your fingertips, to that of a worn-out one. All around him, in people and in nature, Sutaek yearned to see the beauty of that crisp line. ‘No, I must persevere and become intimate with the earth!’ he cried, shaking himself free of his thoughts as he stood up. A flock of sparrows scattered up into the sky. While this young urbanite was caught up in his fantasies of city life, the sparrows were pecking at the rice plants and eating the grains. “Whoa whoa!” Sutaek shouted, running along the ridge set up between the paddies and chasing the sparrows as they flew over to an adjacent field. The birds numbered in the hundreds. If each sparrow had eaten even one grain of rice, the flock must have already taken more than several hundreds of grains. Sutaek slowed down to examine the rice husks. Many of the plants, now golden and ripe, drooped limply and he felt something well up inside him. It was hatred. The hatred of a modern man who had become accustomed to the sophistications of city life. He was filled with hatred for the sparrows that so casually ate up the crops he had nurtured with such care, blood, and sweat. It was enough to make his head spin. “Whoa whoa!” he yelled, but the sparrows refused to budge. They continued to sit as before on the drooping husks of the rice plants, swaying to and fro under their weight. Sutaek wished for a machine gun with a terrible passion. He imagined himself swinging the gun around like in a war movie and watching the sparrows fall to the ground in droves like so many raindrops. This urbanite was able to find some comfort just by imagining such a scene. He wondered if his father had felt a similar hatred while watching Sutaek beating the robber.
6 The rays of the sun had softened, the cries of the insects more plaintive, and finally the moon emitted a sentimental glow. From the houses here and there, one could hear sweeping in the yards. And the crack of fulling clothes rang out deep into the night. At Sutaek’s family home, as in many other homes, rice threshing had already begun at the break of dawn. In one corner of the yard people carried sheaves of rice on their backs, while in another corner, others occasionally yelled out, “Beat it again!” to cheer on the threshing. In yet another corner, a threshing machine throbbed and hummed continuously. Even the women rushed around, fluttering their skirts and taking care of various tasks. Sutaek also rolled up his sleeves to carry an A-frame on his back. Although his legs were unsteady, he could still manage to carry a few sheaves at a time. By now no one looked at his labor as anything extraordinary; no longer was it considered a thing to be admired or pitied. He was now a proper farmer. And due to his inexperience with wielding the sickle, he had two of his fingers bandaged up, but the person next to him had the same. Sutaek also no longer considered such things to be major injuries. His wife too 22
had hands still raw from using the hoe to weed, but she no longer sat up in the middle of the night crying alone. This was due in some part to her knowing that if her father-in-law heard her cry over any illness, he would scold rather than pity her. Sometimes Sutaek’s wife complained to him that his father, while gracious to strangers, remained much too harsh on his own children. Sutaek would readily agree with her, however, and the complaint did not go any further. But in fact, Sutaek himself believed that his father’s treatment of his own children was really too much. When the inexperienced Sutaek sliced his hand while using a sickle, Old Man Kim came over immediately to scold him. In some ways, his father's attitude was still born of a certain hatred. Sutaek hurried back and forth, carrying sheaves of rice on his back. He knew well that most, nay possibly all, of these sheaves would be handed off to a certain impudent young man, who wore his threadbare straw hat precariously far back on his head. Sutaek, however, tried to shake off this thought. When this man came and stood lording over the threshing floor, Old Man Kim’s face also darkened visibly. Nonetheless, the old man tried hard to not betray his feelings to his son. Seeing this, Sutaek tried to aid his father by averting his eyes from the exchange. Twenty-two majigi of rice paddies had yielded forty seok5, and of the forty seok, twenty-five seom were deducted as payment for the tenancy. Forty seok minus twentyfive seom equaled fifteen seom. It seemed that Sutaek’s knowledge was finally serving a useful purpose for once. But this knowledge did not produce entirely accurate results. From there, an additional seom and two mal6 were subtracted for the cost of fertilizer. The rice they had borrowed earlier to ease the wife and children’s diarrhea had been borrowed at some fifty percent interest, so that now twelve mal were taken to pay it off. Then there was the land tax, which was split evenly between the landowner and the tenant, so that several mal more were deducted. As the official market measurer of grains sifted through the rice, Sutaek glared at the man’s wrist, as if it belonged to the landowner. Sutaek could barely suppress the urge to lunge at the man and, grabbing him by the scruff, shove his face down into the heap of stacked rice plants. Instead, Sutaek turned to look at his father. The old man’s sunken eyes seemed to shoot flashes of light that cut through the coming darkness of dusk. It was a light tinged with terrifying bloodthirst. As he watched, Sutaek was reminded of the bright beams of light streaming out from the searchlights used during the air raid drills. The old man stayed perfectly still. He was not looking at the rice sheaves, nor was he glaring at the man who managed the tenant farms for the landlord. He was already thinking about how to survive until this time next year. “Put this on your back,” the Father instructed, startling Sutaek from his musing. Almost ten seom of the remaining stalks were loaded onto various straw bags. He was not 5 6
A unit for measuring the volume of grains, a seok or seom is equivalent to approximately 180 liters. A mal is approximately one tenth of a seok or seom.
at all sure that he could lift the two hundred geun7 of rice on his back, but he also dreaded to admit that he could not. So he crouched in between the two legs of the A-frame carrier. “Hup!” Someone in front of him had already stood up and was now walking away. Sutaek also yelled, “hup!” but he could not lift himself an inch higher. “Here, I’ll hold it up for you. Heave ho!” With some help, Sutaek tried again. He squeezed out all his power to straighten his knees, but after a little movement, they remained tightly bent. “Not gonna happen.” “Someone else take it.” Various suggestions were given, but Sutaek persisted, waiting until he received another order from his father. He gnashed his teeth and made desperate efforts. Once again he struggled with all his might. His knees seemed to budge bit by bit, until suddenly, his legs gave out beneath him. As he collapsed over to one side, Sutaek heard the onlookers gasp. Just as his body hit the ground, he heard his father shout, “You idiot!” A broom then suddenly appeared before Sutaek’s eyes and knocked off the towel he had tied around his head. “Come out from there now. It’s my load after all. Come out of there,” someone said, but the voice was interrupted by the old man’s loud reprimands. “Let him be! Let him be! A bloke almost forty years old should be able to carry at least one seom on his back. Put it on your back and get up now, get up!” Sutaek clenched his teeth and struggled again with all his might and bit by bit, his knees straightened. As he staggered a few steps forward, a hot flash passed across his eyes and nose, and he could feel something dripping, but he did not know what it was. “Blood! He's bleeding from his nose. Put it down!” the villagers shouted. “Let him be! When a man grows crops with his own two hands, he should be able to carry it home! Let him be!” Sutaek, tears and blood flowing down from his face, continued to walk. ‘Tomorrow, we thrash the rice from our own land!’ He tried to force himself to derive enjoyment from such thoughts.
A measurement of weight, a geun is approximately 600 grams.
Lee Mu-young (1908 – 1960) was born Lee Yong-gu in Eumseong County of North Chungcheong Province. After dropping out of Huimun Common High...
Published on Sep 16, 2015
Lee Mu-young (1908 – 1960) was born Lee Yong-gu in Eumseong County of North Chungcheong Province. After dropping out of Huimun Common High...