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Bunnyeo

LeeHyoseok

Tr ans l at edbyAl l yHwang


Bunnyeo By Lee Hyoseok Translated by Ally Hwang

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Originally published in Korean as Bunnyeo in Joongang, 1936 Translation â“’ 2013 by Ally Hwang

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, Hyo-seok Bunnyeo [electronic resource] / [written by] Lee Hyo-seok ; translated by Ally Hwang. -- [Seoul] : LTI Korea, 2014 p. Translated from Korean ISBN 978-89-93360-30-1 95810 : 813.61-KDC5 895.733-DDC21

CIP2014000381

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About Lee Hyoseok Lee Hyoseok (1907-1942) was born in Bongpyeong in Pyeongchang Province in 1907 and his pen name is Gasan. In 1928 while attending Gyeongseong Imperial University, he made his debut by publishing “City and Ghost” in the magazine The Light (Joseonjigwang). In earlier years, he wrote as a “fellow traveler,” publishing socially critical works. His works are generally categorized as having three tendencies: the tendency of the “fellow traveler,” eroticism, and xenophilia. His well-received works published in the 1930s are highly appreciated; they were considered the most shining artistic achievement during the colonization period over all. Along with the general decline of proletarian literature, he sought a new genre of literature: lyricism. Publishing “Hog” (1933) as his turning point, he became absorbed in the world of eroticism, using idyllic settings, and freeing himself from his political tendency. The works that show this new tendency are “Bunnyeo” (1936), “In the Mountains” (1936), and “The Buckwheat Season” (1936).

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Bunnyeo

1 Everyone was wondering – how could this happen on a farm where there isn’t even a pigsty? The gigantic hog passed in front of the barn and came dashing toward the seedbed plot. It looked, perhaps, like a wild boar, or like a horse with a full load. Surely, this was not a common pig. Making the situation worse, a ferocious dog was chasing after it. In leaps and in panic, the hog aimlessly jumped around, landing on the plot. Overcome with fear, the friends who were picking out weeds scattered and ran away in all directions. Of all directions, the hog chose Bunnyeo’s and charged forward at her. Bunnyeo started running away in fright, but no matter how hard she tried, her feet weren’t moving fast enough. She was running out of breath and starting to feel faint. Making matters worse, a wide earthen wall in front blocked her way and she was cornered. She tried to make a sharp turn to one side, but the hog jumped onto her. She didn’t even have enough room to wiggle a single finger. It felt like her body was bursting and her limbs were falling off, as if she were trapped under a heavy rock. She couldn’t move her arms an inch; she wanted to cry out, but her mouth didn’t move. Filled with disgust, Bunnyeo opened her eyes. Her back grew heavy and her body felt ill. The sudden fright caused her to scream but no sound came out. She found her mouth stuffed with something; she was gagged with a piece of cloth. She wanted to move her hands but something was pressing them down. Her legs, waist, head, and entire body were beneath the heavy hog. Unless her body grew a knife, she could not defeat this attacker. The calamity, one grave enough to paralyze her, made her feel ashamed, even in the darkness. Her body was in a condition even her mother had never seen; she tried to cover herself with clothes but succeeded only in her mind. Thinking, ‘What about mother,’ she struggled to turn her head and saw her mother lying near her. She can hear her brother’s snoring from beyond her mother. ‘Letting a thief into a room with three living souls, what kind of idiots are we?’ she could blame them and herself. But she couldn’t as they were sound asleep, dead tired after working hard all day. She wanted to kick her mother awake, but her feet were hopelessly far away. Perhaps it was past midnight; the night was hopelessly silent. There wasn’t a breath of wind through the open door, and it was desperately dim inside the room and outside the door. Far away in the sky, there wasn’t even a single shooting star. “There’s no need to be too bitter about anything. Everything will be fine as long as we keep this just between the two of us. As for who I am…whoever does it, it makes no difference.”

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A warm breath of exhalation covered her forehead. There was a sound of rustling. It seemed that he was tying her goreum1 into a knot to close her dress. Everything was simply back to normal; there was nothing to suggest otherwise. The thief left swiftly without a trace after stealing what he came to steal. As her body was freed, Bunnyeo quickly got up off the floor. She finally managed to take out the gag, but felt it pointless to belatedly cry out. Who in the world was that? She ran outside and looked, but there was no trace of him. Trying to match his voice led nowhere and feeling the tied goreum was pointless. The sky was pitch-black. She felt ashamed of standing there, under that pitch-black sky and on that ground. Even facing the dark of the night made her feel uneasy. Her body felt heavy. She drew a couple of buckets of water from the well to wash her face. She went back into the room and lit the oil lamp. The inside of the room that held secrets in the darkness seemed innocent in the light. She thought that a corner of the earth somewhere must have fallen off, eroded. A star somewhere in the sky must have disappeared. Some part of her body must be missing, having fallen off. She picked up a mirror and looked at her face. She was amazed that her nose, mouth and cheeks were intact without injury. The experience was to come to her eventually. But it came so abruptly, hurriedly, and absurdly that Bunnyeo couldn’t free herself from the feeling of dissatisfaction. She touched up her face and body. As she cast an idle gaze on her sleeping mother, all of a sudden, her heart trembled with fear. She had a sudden fright and wanted to wake her mother. However, when her mother responded with a blank stare and tired, bloodshot eyes, Bunnyeo couldn’t help but digress. “It’s all so dark and cloudy. It looks like there’s going to be a thunderstorm.” ‘Was it Bakchu, the supervisor at the seedbed?’ she wondered. He was so careless and unstable; he might be capable of doing such a thing. Could it be Myeongjun who came to work there among the crowd of girls? He was a keen-eyed, bright boy but because his family was in such poverty, he had to drop out of high school and came to work in the seedbeds. Bunnyeo had sympathy for him. But would she have consented had he threatened her so blatantly? Could it have been Seopjun, the errand boy at the regional government office? He was a petty, sly boy who carelessly dared to try to have a conversation, even on busy streets, out in the open. If it was that clown, what was she to do with the spite? With her sleep already disturbed, Bunnyeo tossed and turned the whole night. She took the next day off, blaming the coincidental rain. She finally went to the seedbeds the following day. With a head full of suspicious thoughts, she felt quite uncomfortable facing people; casting doubt on everyone based only on her suspicions couldn’t be honorable. 1

Goreum is a pair of narrow pieces of cloth attached to each side of the front opening of traditional Korean dresses. They are tied to keep the front of the dress closed in a manner similar to buttons.

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Bunnyeo was dissatisfied that the sky cleared up and the earth was intact. Perhaps the earth and sky were indifferent to a disaster fallen upon a person as if it deserved no more attention than a piece of fruit scarred by an insect. But of course, this was a good thing. If every single thing that happened to a person were written upon the sky, it would be known to all her friends–Sunya, Oknyeo…–and what they thought of it would also be revealed. When this thought occurred to her, a suspicion arose in her– maybe they were not wholesome either. Suddenly the innocent looks on their faces began to look suspect. However, in front of Bakchu and Myeongjun, she felt like they already knew what was on her mind, and she couldn’t hold her head up. Even with a second look, Bakchu was a brute with scanty sideburns, arrogant yet only a minion. If it was he who did that to her, what could she do about it? Myeongjun, usually a reserved boy, was pulling out weeds in silence. ‘Would a prim boy be hiding such a brutish force in him?’ she wondered. But she reminded herself that she couldn’t know a person completely by his appearance alone. For a moment, she thought it was Myeongjun; for another, she hoped at least let it be Myeongjun. However, just by looking at the faces and trying to read them, she was unable to decide with any certainty which one was the culprit. At this rate, perhaps she might never know who he was. Myeongjun finished picking out weeds from the plot for which he was responsible. Then as told by his supervisor, he mixed the chemicals for the planted larch and started spraying it with a knapsack sprayer. He was pumping with one hand and waving the nozzle left and right with the other. The nozzle missed its target and the blue chemical water hit Oknyeo’s face. Oknyeo was startled and suspected that he might be flirting. She told him off: “What’s wrong with you, going around like a dimwit!” Myeongjun dismissed it with a snicker. He saw Bunnyeo, whose hands were idle, and asked her to hold the nozzle and help him. As the two were working together with a single sprayer, Oknyeo had no more to say. After spraying all the liquid in the container, Myeongjun went down to the ditch to refill it and Bunnyeo followed him. The ditch was covered with tall plants and hidden from view from the plot. Myeongjun started splashing the water with his fingers giving Bunnyeo a tender look. “Aren’t you sick of working?” Suddenly, he started saying tongue in cheek, “Who would you marry? Perhaps Bakchu?” “You idiot. What are you saying all of a sudden?” “Are you a maiden or are you married?” Her face blushed with embarrassment; taking pity on her, he continued in a more serious tone. “You’re never going to marry?” “You, you good for nothing!” “I’ll disappear from here. Nothing has meaning for my life here. I’m not exactly proud of working alongside girls, either. No matter how hard I work, I can’t bring my parents back to life and

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I’m getting dragged around because I can’t even pay petty tax. What good is this so-called hometown? No thanks. I’m going to Manchuria. I’ll wander around and maybe I’ll find a goldmine and strike it rich. It sounds crazy. But who can say anything about where my destiny lies?” “Will you really go?” “Do I have any other choice? What good is tilling a useless piece of land like this? Over there is a land just like any other land. There are people living there as well. It’s not like it’s a wilderness only populated with beasts.” They brought the water to fill the spray container and went back to the ditch. Suddenly, Myeongjun grabbed Bunnyeo’s arm. “Will you wait for me until I come back with gold nuggets?” The loose end of Myeongjun’s goreum started waving and came into Bunnyeo’s sight. Seeing this, something struck her mind like lightening and she came to a realization. The knot tied on his goreum looked just the same as the knot tied upon hers. “It was you, wasn’t it?” Bunnyeo blurted out as her head fell. “Will you wait for me forever and ever?” They heard Bakchu, and the two quickly moved away from each other and headed to the plot. Bunnyeo felt faint and suddenly dizzy. That was it, and Myeongjun never again showed up at the seedbed—neither the next day, nor the day after the next day. In a few days, of course, people began saying that he ran away to Manchuria. Bunnyeo couldn’t think clearly and felt lost. She missed work often. 2 Such was how Bunnyeo awoke to it. It had been two years since she was violated, causing a crisis in her life. Her body had blossomed and even the vestige of her past secret had faded. It was like the unnoticed disappearance of engravings on a tree as it continued growing. Now that this violation was happening a second time, she couldn’t help but remember the past. Just like a strong scent, it overwhelmed her whole body, each and every one of her senses. Her blood boiled, she became fearful of the world, her heart raced, and her fingers trembled. Just like when she broke a water jug by mistake, fear caused her chest to tighten. Wondering to herself, ‘How did I end up in this situation again?’ she was dumbfounded. Was mouthing off on the street wrong? What allowed Mangap to think that she’d be easy? Visiting his shop and coveting this and that even when she had no money was wrong to begin with. What good were new clothes for Dano2 if the whole family was in such destitution that even pajamas would suffice? Celebrating Dano was for the affluent; would it ever be a concern for the poor? 2

Dano is a traditional Korean holiday that falls on the fifth of May on the lunar calendar.

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While looking at this and that, touching and asking, and rolling her eyes and sighing, she was sized up and read by a scoundrel out of nowhere. Mangap was just waiting for the chance when there was no one else in the store. He simply lifted her up, leaving no room for her to resist, put her in the backroom, and locked the door. Such brutes! She thought that all men were like the hog she had seen in her dream and treacherous thieves; they lost interest after they were done stealing. “Tell me what you want… I’ll give you anything you need.” “Haven’t you insulted me enough! What do you take me for!” Bunnyeo vented, a little exaggeratedly, and slapped him in the face. After what happened, she could not seem as if nothing was wrong. That was all she could do. “I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t like you.” “I don’t know what you are talking about.” She told him off and started crying abruptly, raising an arm to cover her eyes. She genuinely needed to cry. When it happened the first time, she was frightened, and she could not even cry. But now she couldn’t hold back the tears. She felt as if she had lost something. It seemed that she would never be able to get it back. The pity of it made her body tremble. “What’s there to cry for? This is how people live… I’ll get you a dress for Dano.” While touching her hair and caressing her shoulder, Mangap said, “If you’re just kind to me, I might even give you half of this shop.” It sounded like there was a customer in the shop, so Bunnyeo quickly stopped crying. After the customer called for the owner a few times without a reply, he left. Mangap hastily resumed what he was saying. “After the stroke, my wife’s life is coming to an end. When that happens, I’d like to marry you and put you in charge of the shop. What do you think?” Even while crying, Bunnyeo couldn’t help but hear what he was saying. “You should think about it.” Mangap thought he used enough persuasion. He went out first. As soon as he saw another customer off, Mangap opened the door and called her to come out. “Take this with you.” He stuffed something up her sleeve. Bunnyeo didn’t know what he put there or why. After she arrived home, she reached up her sleeve. A bill fell out. It was green and much wider than ones she was used to seeing. Looking at the undeserved money, Bunnyeo found herself rather relaxed. It was more than the monthly wage she earned working as a cook, working morning and night at the official residence at the county office. That wage was only four won3, which was far from enough to cover the monthly expenses. Her family made ends meet harvesting grain from a

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Won: A monetary unit.

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tiny rented plot where her mother and younger brother labored all day. Without this, with only Bunnyeo’s wage, the family wouldn’t have enough to make ends meet. The family wouldn’t be in such poverty if the elder brother, who lived somewhere else, did his part. While her family was suffering from hardship, he provided no help. He worked for a co-op in the next town and was paid every month, but he didn’t bring home anything, not even a penny. If he, at least, took care of himself properly, he wouldn’t cause concern to the family. But arrogantly showing off beyond his means, he brought everything to ruins. He started frequenting brothels and wasted all his earnings. In the end, he started stealing from work. When he was found out, it was already over some five hundred won that he had stolen. Of course, he was immediately arrested and detained by the police and was handed over to the district attorney. Not only that, the elder family in their clan that acted as a guarantor for his employment was demanded to repay the stolen sum by the co-op. In turn they came to Bunnyeo’s family and caused a scene. Bunnyeo’s house was bleak and dreary, as if the family was facing an omen of ruin. With an unexpected gain before her, Bunnyeo felt proud of herself. What should she do with it? To use it for the family would be thankless and to use it for only herself would be too selfish and made her uncomfortable. Where should she tell her family the money came from? If she said that she borrowed it from work, would they believe her? Instead of a blessing, an undeserved gain was causing a great fear. She was overcome with fright. She thought, ‘Isn’t this what prostitutes do?’ She wouldn’t be able to face her family. On top of it, she wouldn’t be able to face Myeongjun or Sanggu. Although he was in Manchuria, Myeongjun was the one who took her body for the first time. What was she to do if he suddenly appeared bearing gold? Moreover, what was she to do with Sanggu who she had to face every day? Indeed, she had not taken him seriously for the past six months, and although they were affectionate toward each other, she had not allowed him to so much as touch her. He also didn’t even dream of touching her body. Yet, he was no one to be looked down on. Just like Myeongjun, with his keen, bright eyes, he was not a commonplace, dime a dozen bachelor. He went to the same school as Myeongjun but had no reason to drop out. And he said that he would go to Seoul after graduation and finish with upper school. If he did all that, he would be able to get a much better job than someone graduating from the school in town and going to work as an elementary school teacher or an intern at the local co-op. But it would take a considerable amount of time to complete that much schooling. He still had two more years until graduation, and it was going to be much longer time until he would graduate from the upper school. By then her family would be in ruins. She had made promises for the future but hadn’t let him lay even a finger on her because she feared that once she allowed him her body, their relationship might go horribly wrong. Sanggu also did not want this to happen. It seemed that he was very focused on studying. While they let the time pass this way, it only resulted in Bunnyeo’s current ordeal.

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‘How am I going to face Sanggu with a body like this?’ thought Bunnyeo. Even in her condition, her difficult life did not let her give up on him right away. It was no less impossible for her to confess to him and cry for pity. Bunnyeo’s mind was confounded by thoughts, fears, and shame. 3 Perhaps Sanggu was busy with school. Bunnyeo wasn’t able to see him for a few days already. Not having to see him face to face, her fear subsided and she started having different ideas. The truth was, Bunnyeo was going to return to Mangap’s shop the next day, but she was hesitant for a few days because she felt a little embarrassed. Because she was leaving in a hurry, she left something there that day. Of all things, she left clothes and she couldn’t just leave them there. Bunnyeo waited until late into the night and set out to the street. There were only a few groups of people on the street. Unlike before, she entered the shop a little hesitantly while looking all around. As soon as she entered, Mangap rushed to her as if he had been waiting the entire time. “Doesn’t look like anybody is coming.” He closed the sliding door noisily, let the curtains down and closed the shop. “I’m not staying long.” “I just guessed by sizing you up; I wonder if they will fit you.” Mangap opened the door to the backroom and took out a box. Opening the box, he revealed a new pair of shoes. The black brilliance almost made her dizzy. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her towards the room. Rather than being glad, Bunnyeo was a little scared. ‘Only a plain pair of shoes,’ she thought. He turned off one of the lights; the shop dimmed. Mangap sat down first and pulled her toward him by her arm. She tried to push him away and run but was caught next to the telephone stand. “Let’s take some hand measurements.” Mangap forcefully drew her near. Before reaching the room, Mangap swiftly turned off the last remaining lamp. In the dark, Bunnyeo fell as if wrestled. A warm breath of exhalation snuck up on her neck. She felt as if she was tied up with a thick rope and suffocating. ‘Crazy bum,’ she thought in her mind. She did not come there in joy, but there was no reason to resist, either. Her body still trembled but after a few times of experience, her mind had become more forgiving towards it. Above all, she was not as ashamed in the dark, as no eyes could be watching.

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There was the sudden sound of rattling door and her body coiled up like a snail. Mangap tried to pretend not to be there but gave in to the loud noise. He shouted, “Is that you, Cheonsu?” He reluctantly opened the door. Cheonsu started to say, “There’s a big problem.” He was already inside the shop and said, “You are requested at the house right away. The lady’s illness has become worse.” “What do you mean worse?” “She had another attack and no longer recognizes people.” “I’ll be there soon. You, hurry up and go back.” Because Cheonsu turned on the light so quickly, Bunnyeo could not avoid having her vulnerable state on display. She pretended to ignore his presence, but cowering she could feel Cheonsu’s eyes glued on her back. “Cheonsu, don’t make such a fuss!” Cheonsu was more surprised by seeing Bunnyeo there in that state than by Mangap’s scolding. The next day Sanggu came over. He said that it was the examination period, which did not make sense as it wasn’t even May yet. At any rate, it had been a long time since Bunnyeo saw him. He used to come to see her almost every other day. But after that stopped suddenly, it had been quite some time. Nevertheless nothing much changed of him; the school bag he was carrying also was the same as before. It was only that his face was a little tanned and his eyes stared into space, perhaps lost in some kind of thought. She suspected that something was going on. Sanggu asked about things in detail, and Bunnyeo tried her best to distract him from his questions and his attention from focusing on the changes in her life. In her mind though, she felt hurt and sad because she realized she had already grown distant from Sanggu. It made her uncomfortable just staring at Sanggu’s mouth that told no lies. “This country school is boring. I’m thinking about going to Seoul.” Bunnyeo found this unexpected and unusual and said: “No matter where you go, no school will be without exams. What do you mean you’re suddenly going to go to Seoul?” “They are censoring so hard that I can hardly read what I want to read. I already had so many books taken from me. If I go to Seoul, I’ll be able to read whatever I wish and I’ll be able to make lots of friends. “Books, it’s always books. Don’t you read enough at school? Why all this fuss about books all the time?” Upon opening his school bag, a few books fell out that were not textbooks. They weren’t English, mathematics books or novels. They were thick books with dark red covers. For a while now, Bunnyeo had had the idea and suspicion that Sanggu was reading books like these and suspected what the they were about.

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“I thought keeping them at home would cause trouble and so I brought some of them. Keep them for yourself and you can return them to me later.” “You don’t know your place, do you? Sneaking around all the time. If you keep this up, you’ll end up like Geonsu and Yunsu’s bunch.” “Don’t talk like that about things you don’t know anything about.” Sanggu glared at her. “You know, you’ve been acting suspicious lately. You’re a lost cause.” As he yelled, he picked up the book and slapped Bunnyeo in the face. “You don’t know anything. How dare you say that!” He slapped her face as she was turning away and spotted the ring tied at the end of her goreum. “What is this?” As he pulled on it, her goreum snapped off. Quickly Sanggu’s eyes turned to glare at her fiercely and he started screaming in anger. “Which idiot did you smile at? You, vulgar trash.” He grabbed her by the hair. Her face was sore and like a new tooth coming in. But Bunnyeo remained silent. She wanted to take the chance and get beaten senseless. She thought maybe she wouldn’t feel as guilty that way. “Why don’t you just kill me, please?” Her words were genuine. Tears welled up. “I wasn’t born to kill a complete nothing like you!” As if to put an end to all, Sanggu kicked her down and left. Something made her feel that this was the end with him, and she regreted the way she had treated him. In the evening, as soon as her mother returned from the fields, she started talking in a hurry. “Have you heard? About Sanggu?” Bunnyeo’s face was still marked with tears. “Have you seen him lately? Wasn’t there something strange about him? … They say he’s been taken in.” “What? When?” Bunnyeo’s eyes opened wide. “I just heard it in the street on the way back. It seems that he’ll be charged together with Yunsu and Geonsu’s group. I guess you never know about people.” “He was here during the day. He even left some books here.” “Maybe he knew it was going to happen and came to say goodbye. He’s been hanging around with a good for nothing crowd; he must’ve been involved in some devious plan.” “He kind of seemed strange but I can’t believe this happened.”

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Bunnyeo really couldn’t imagine this, although she thought he was acting differently from the usual and suspiciously. She did upset him and had an argument with him during the day because he was acting differently from the usual and suspiciously but she could not have imagined this. “Either they were framed or they just went ahead without knowing anything. I guess you can’t really judge people by their appearances. What a disaster!” There was no reason for her mother to be concerned like this. “Going to upper level school is out the picture now. Acting out like a clown. I was wrong about him.” She cast a furtive glance at her daughter. The expression on Bunnyeo’s face hinted at being, perhaps, peaceful or lost. “Everyone has his own ideas. Nothing can be done about that.” “I mean, what are you thinking? Aren’t you upset?” “Upset? Why would I be?” Glancing at Bunnyeo’s awkward face, her mother lowered her voice and asked, “Has anything happened between you two?” Bunnyeo’s face blushed because of the thoughts in her mind, and she turned away to dismiss her mother’s gaze. “It’ll be a disaster if anything has.” Bunnyeo was so relieved when her mother left, embarrassed by her own thoughts. She felt more ashamed at the thought of facing Sanggu than her mother. Suddenly, she felt dirty and ill at ease. Feeling restless, Bunnyeo went out late at night. She knew that she could hear most of the important news of the day, if she just stood in a corner around West Gate street. In the crowd gathered around the bulletin board at the center of the street, over everyone’s loud chatter, Bunnyeo was able to eavesdrop on the rumors about what happened to Sanggu. Geonsu was the ringleader. They were found out while trying to form a reading group. There were two more people other than Sanggu from his school and in the streets, three from Geonsu and Yunsu’s group. Sanggu had done no more than borrowing books from Geonsu. Despite that, his house was searched and he would be expelled from school when he became released. Bunnyeo thought to herself that there was no more future for Sanggu and turned to go home. She was upset and uncomfortable because she felt as if she had hidden her relationship with him and behaved the way she had, having somehow foreseen all this. When she came back home, the books Sanggu left stared at her in the face. More than making her miss him, they looked like spiteful ghosts blaming her. She took them down to the fireplace in the kitchen. ‘Burning them will get rid of any evidence and be better for the both of us.’ Once set on fire, the fire started burning from the inside out. There was the smell of burning paper and ink, and quickly the whole of the thick books became engulfed in flames. The flames

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suddenly lit up the inside of the dark kitchen. This must be the end with Sanggu forever. She felt faint and her thoughts ran cloudy, thinking herself too cold and harsh toward Sanggu. 4 As the days passed, Bunnyeo’s burden lessened and her indifference towards Sanggu grew. She thought perhaps it was because she was heartless. She felt like a bird freed from its cage. She started thinking that she didn’t belong to anyone and didn’t have anyone to answer to. It seemed that this change in her thinking set her mind to run free and turned her into someone entirely different, out of nowhere. One late evening, after feeding the pigs, she stood looking aimlessly inside the pigsty, leaning to one side. A whispering voice made her turn around, and she saw a figure of a person on the side of the gate. With a tight-fitting suit and a straw hat out of season, it was none other than Mangap. Fearing that her family might find out, she ran to him, waving him away. “Would you come wait outside the East Gate? I’ll be waiting beneath the town wall.” As he turned away, Mangap pled forcefully, “I need to talk to you about something. It’s important. You must come.” He forced those words on her and left in a hurry, without even giving her a chance to have a good look at his face, as if he was hiding from someone. He ran away and disappeared into the darkness. His quick, decisive demeanor gave her confidence in him but the sudden haste caused Bunnyeo to stare at his disappearing figure with certain uneasiness. Could it be that his wife’s illness took a turn for the worst? She hesitated for a bit after returning to her room, but because she felt that something was odd, she mustered up the courage to go and meet him. Of course, she went to see him partly because she had grown fond of him. Exiting East Gate, the field stretched into the darkness and the swamps sat in gloom. The sea a mile away was just a silhouette. The moonless night was bewitching. Walking up a small hill without a path, Bunnyeo was full of fear and doubt as she approached the town wall. ‘Is it a night like this when foxes come out to lure people?’ she wondered. When she spotted Mangap, who was hiding by standing right next to the wall, she felt almost happy to see him, thinking to herself that it was better to be lured by a person than by a fox. The man came rushing, quickly pulling her body in tightly. Because she was scared after the walk there, the forceful pull made her feel secure, and she just surrendered her body to his arms without much resistance. “Bunnyeo!” He called out her name and didn’t say anything else. He hurriedly tightened his grip on her waist and pushed her roughly. “What are you doing? I’m not some animal!”

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His strength was too much for Bunnyeo. She complained as she fell down but a determined face covered her mouth. The arms were trembling and the body moved awkwardly. “Say what you will. Words have no use.” The voice startled Bunnyeo. “Who are you?” She screamed but her mouth was covered. “You thought I was Mangap, didn’t you? You’re so gullible.” “You evil snake!” She only managed to slap him once and was immediately subdued. “I knew you wouldn’t give me the time of day. So, I disguised myself as Mangap. It’s so easy to fool girls. Just a tight suit and a straw hat, that’s it.” Cheonsu was also a man and Bunnyeo couldn’t fight him off by force. “I guess you’ve taken to Mangap, coming out here and all. That Mangap is a dreadful mess. His wife’s life is almost over and he is corrupting all the girls of the town by promising them nice things.” Every time she recalled Cheonsu’s malicious trick, Bunnyeo got so angry. But there was nothing she could do as it wasn’t something that left any mark behind. She just kept it inside her. She had no one to plea to or anyone to talk to. Strangely, as days passed by, her anger subsided little by little. After all, she was ill-fated from the start. With Myeongjun, and in the same way with Cheonsu, she surrendered her body to force. At first, she blamed herself and cried but looking back Myeongjun, Cheonsu, and even Mangap… they were all the same. Their strength, desire, and how they made her feel. ‘Men are just men all the same,’ she thought. It was just like everyone having only one nose and two arms. Insofar as what the body knew was concerned, there was no man better or worse; there was no one to fear and no one to dislike. Once given to Myeongjun the body had nothing stopping it from being given to Mangap; what was allowed to Mangap had no reason to be kept from Cheonsu. It was only that she felt ashamed. It was a natural instinct of a woman, just like the urge to cover up her naked body. ‘All men of this world are affectionate once inside the door. There’s no reason to be spiteful against Cheonsu either,’ she concluded. Bunnyeo’s thinkings had changed so much. Perhaps, now she was more inclined towards empty things. For sure, after she came to know this new world, her mind opened up. No matter how hard she tried to curb her thoughts, there was no other way for her to think. She couldn’t just sit and keep on complaining about Cheonsu. Her mind was distracted and her body was tired. Her family was still in poverty just as before and one day something made the situation worse. The trial of her brother, who had been transferred to the district attorney, was going to be held at the courthouse in the next town.

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Naturally, all the involved parties were notified. The police acted generously and sent a notice to Bunnyeo’s family as well. It had been quite some time since her mother saw her brother. Her mother just wanted to see her son even once before he was taken away to serve his sentence. The trial was about to begin and the next town was only a few hours away by train. However, her mother did not have the money to go and see her flesh and blood. Bunnyeo and her mother just stared blankly at each other and spent the whole day in a restless state. After thinking things through over and over again, Bunnyeo set out to the street late at night. Mangap was the only one she could come up with. She thought that if she begged, it would work. But the thought of asking him made her uncomfortable and she hesitated. “Are you here to see Mangap? He’s gone on vacation to a hot spring spa.” Since Bunnyeo had nothing to say in Mangap’s absence, she just stood there. As if taking pity on her, Cheonsu tapped on the nape of her neck. “Are you upset about the other day?” Continuing, he said: “Why don’t you tell me instead? Well, I’ll tell you since I brought it up. It’ll be no use talking to Mangap. He hasn’t been interested in you for some time now. Nowadays it seems he’s going with Wolseon at Namdo shop while his wife is at the brink of death.” Bunnyeo felt like something struck her in the head. She grew faint. “Didn’t he say that he’d give you half of the shop? Didn’t he say that after his wife dies, he’ll marry you and put you in charge of the shop? He says that to everyone. That’s his trick, you know.” She felt like a chair had been pulled out from under her. Her body trembled. It wasn’t as if she was about to trust her entire life to him. Still, what a malicious deception. “I’m not sly like Mangap. Nor do I need to deceive you for anything. Tell me, whatever it is. Or are you saying it’s something I can’t take care of?” “It’s nothing.” “I don’t know how you’ll take this but here. If it’s money you need, there’s some change in here. Don’t try to think too much about it and just use what you need.” Cheonsu took out his wallet and put it in Bunnyeo’s hand. Without knowing exactly why, Bunnyeo’s eyes welled up. In the face of an unexpected kindness, she became full of emotion and then felt rather sad. 5 Since returning from court, Bunnyeo’s mother had been restless with worries. It seemed that she couldn’t fall asleep because she was seeing the image of her son dressed in the prisoner’s uniform. The tears didn’t cease and her eyes were swollen from all the crying. How many years of

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imprisonment would it be? Bunnyeo was scared rather than curious about the verdict. She could still see the stern look on the judge’s face. The elder family stopped coming to her house entirely. Everything was bleak, but, nevertheless, Dano was coming around. The people of the town were excited about the annual sports competition, which was held in the main street of the town. Perhaps for some people, this annual holiday gave them continue living for. There were ssireum4, the standing swing contest, archery, and a bicycle race. The stores would close and everyone would gather wearing their new clothes and crowd the main street. Bunnyeo was in no situation to celebrate. Nevertheless, she looked forward to the holiday. Above all, this year, she might be able to win the swing competition. Cheonsu bragged, “I’m going to participate in the bicycle race again.” Upon hearing this, Bunnyeo’s heart started beating faster. “Are you sure you can beat Eulson?” “This year, definitely. It’s a sure thing. If I get to ride around the town with the winner’s flag, would you move in with me?” “Move in, move in. Is that all you can talk about?” she said dismissively. The day of the festival finally arrived, yet somehow she couldn’t bring herself to become excited. As she was watching the bicycle race among the crowd of people standing shoulder to shoulder, Cheonsu, who was in the lead, grazed Eulson, who was gaining from behind. Then, as Cheonsu made a sharp turn around a corner, he fell down, and by the time he got back on his bicycle, he was already in last place. He screamed that Eulson was guilty of foul play. Eulson took first place and, no one really cared about Cheonsu’s complaint. Holding her breath while watching the entire race, Bunnyeo was so let down that when it was her turn to get on the swing, her heart faltered. She started pumping herself up and was determined not to fail. The wobbly stand beneath her feet became steadier and the ropes in her two hands bent and straightened tightly like a bow just the way she intended. Her body and the swing were working together and she felt good as if she was riding on a wagon. As she swung higher, a wide view opened up in front of her eyes and her skirt fluttered proudly. The thousands of eyes of the people lined up underneath the bridge moved back and forth, following her movement. She felt like she could fly, like she owned the world. All her life’s concerns seemed to have disappeared. At any moment the rope attached underneath the swing was going to hit and ring the hanging bell. From below came words and shouts of encouragement. Her body extended fully and first place was within reach. Suddenly, as she used the last of her strength to push herself forward like a wildly running river, her eyes met with an outrageous scene in the bushes on the other side of a field. In a flash, her sight grew dim and her back gave in. She lost her strength. 4

Ssireum is a traditional Korean sport similar to wrestling.

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‘Is that Wang?’ she wondered while propelling herself high up again. When she looked down from above, she had a wide-open view of him standing there without any movement in the shadows of the bushes next to the brook. This scandalous guy wasn’t standing there because he couldn’t hold it anymore. For sure, he purposefully stood there and was lost watching in this direction. Probably, he had been standing there for a long time while doing that and was spotted by her only by chance. It was Wang, the Chinese merchant, with a textile shop on the street. ‘How appalling.’ She clicked her tongue in disapproval but inexplicably, she found herself distracted. Her force that kept the ropes taut subsided and the swing started slowing down. Her back started giving way and her legs began to shake. She couldn’t tighten them anymore. The ropes started wobbling as her arms shook and the foot stand moved unsteadily as her legs lost strength. Her posture was already off and her body and the swing started twisting. The rope underneath the swing that came so close to hitting the hanging bell was no longer swinging at full extension. Her ride was coming to an end and first place was already out of reach. All of Bunnyeo’s hard work came to nothing due to one small mistake. The people below had no idea about the secret in the air. So, they just shouted out, lamenting the inadequate talent of Bunnyeo. ‘Since there’s nothing I can do…,’ thought Bunnyeo and decided to defeat Wang by glaring at him boldly. Strangely, the more she glared, instead of defeating him, the more confused her posture became. Her knees were shaking and her skirt fluttered in shame. It was a kind of a seduction. Among these hundreds of people, the only person looking at Wang in that condition was Bunnyeo. It was like the two were meeting in secrecy, ingenuously avoiding the eyes of the crowd in a way. Wang’s wicked moving hand and Bunnyeo’s eyes that met it were like a silent conversation. Bunnyeo felt ashamed and her cheeks blushed. Even after she came down from the swing, the excitement did not easily go away. She did win some minor prize but regardless of the consolation, her body was sweltering because of the bizarre image in her mind. ‘Who should I talk to about this bizarre scene?’ she wondered. While wondering whether she should keep it to herself, she found Cheonsu. But, she couldn’t speak to him surrounded by so many eyes. When she managed to get a chance to talk to him after returning home, Cheonsu, who had been drinking out of anger, was already intoxicated. “Would you come out to the brook? I want to tell you a bizarre story.” “I’m so angry at that Eulson. I just can’t stand it.” Bunnyeo left first. As she took step after step, she didn’t see Cheonsu coming out and following her yet. ‘Would he try to pick a fight with Eulson out of anger?’ she wondered. The sky darkened as she walked around the poplar forest. She headed down to the brook and on the way back around to the bushes, she started thinking about Wang. It had been five or six years since he first came to the town dressed in shabby clothes. He started selling used goods at first and then expanded his business. Now his was the largest textile shop in town. According to the rumors, in reality he was the wealthiest man in town, but because he hadn’t been able to marry yet, he went

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to drinking houses from time to time and gave away large bills, spending his money like water. ‘Why is it that Chinese people get married late? Could it be because there aren’t enough women?’ she wondered. Right when she was about to step into the bushes, Bunnyeo stopped in surprise. It was none other than Wang himself. He stood smiling in front of her, blocking the way like he had been waiting there for her the whole time. It was indeed where he was standing earlier the day. She felt like she was possessed. Even before her hair, which was standing on end, settled down, she was in Wang’s arms. It happened so suddenly and absurdly that she didn’t even have time to scream or fight him off. ‘Poor me, why is my life so full of misfortune?’ she thought. Afterwards, sitting by herself, she tries to look back on what happened. If she did everything that she could when Wang grabbed her in the bushes, could she have escaped her fate? Maybe biting him in the arm or hitting his face with a stone, perhaps would have allowed her to escape at that moment. But she couldn’t do that. When a strange feeling spread throughout her body, she had no strength or intention to escape. And that was it. She felt like maybe she was drunk on something at the time. She thought that she couldn’t face Cheonsu anymore. But then Cheonsu, who already knew about her and Mangap, might not have a reason to criticize her for the same thing with Wang. Cheonsu took her from Mangap and in turn had her taken away by Wang. ‘The body is like a boat that freely flows from one dock to another,’ she thought. Of course, if Cheonsu had come out to the brook as promised, there would have been no such misfortune. Should she fault Cheonsu? Or should she blame Wang? Bunnyeo let out a deep sigh; her thoughts and sight were all unclear. She couldn’t fault Cheonsu. Nor could she blame Wang. As embarrassing as it was to consider, she thought Wang was a special human, something above an ordinary man. Bunnyeo’s eyes opened entirely because of him. As she started seeing him differently from before, there were days when she rather missed him. Sometimes her heart raced, her body felt hot and she became dizzy. When this happened, she could only walk up and down her yard, or go out past the town wall and let the wind chill her. And yet sometimes she couldn’t cool off. One night she went out past the town wall. On the way back, she passed by the main street. She knew in the back of her mind that she might run into Wang. Passing the South Gate with a throbbing heart, she unexpectedly came across Cheonsu. Perhaps Cheonsu read Bunnyeo’s mind as she was hurrying along. He pulled her into the dark and immediately scolded her. “You’re no good lately.” Not knowing what he meant, she retorted: “What do you mean I’m no good? You mean I’ve gone mad?”

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“Perhaps, you’ve also gone mad.” “What do you mean?” “Something’s driving you crazy these days, isn’t it?” “You’re drunk again? Ever since you’ve lost to Eulson, you’ve been drinking constantly, you know?” “Don’t try to change the subject,” said Cheonsu. Then with a change of tone in his voice, he said: “One shouldn’t be that easy. I realize it is you we’re talking about. But if everyone starts avoiding you, that’ll be the end.” “Just what are you talking about?” “Are you going to play dumb? I mean what you did with Wang.” The words pricked her and she couldn’t say anything. “Someone was watching in the bushes. You can deceive the sky, but you can’t deceive the eyes of people.” He slapped her in the face. She flinched and lost her balance. “If you ever do that again, I’ll put Wang down even if it means that I have to stab him. Oh, I’m so mad right now.” Bunnyeo stood silently for a while, but then managed to open her mouth: “Who do you think you are? Am I tied to you somehow? Between you and Wang, who could say who’s better or who’s worse?” 6 After that day, Bunnyeo grew distant from Cheonsu. Many thoughts were crossing her mind and she stopped going to the main street. Even while going to work at the official residence every morning and evening, she took backstreet alleyways on purpose. Other than going to the official residence for work, she spent the rest of her time at home. While at home alone, as she took care of pea plants next to the fence and showered with water from the well, her fever went down and soon she seized control of her heart. Now that her body was clean and her mind was clear, if she just stared at the plants in the yard, all the things in her past only seemed like a dream. She felt refreshed as if she had just fought off a grave illness. When she wished that everything that had happened was only a dream, she regreted the preposterous acts she committed with her maiden body. She spent the days trying to erase the images of Myeongjun, Mangap, Cheonsu, and Wang as they appeared in front of her eyes. However, it seemed that there was nothing more mysterious than the human heart. She couldn’t cool it down and freeze it with cold well water forever. A strange event set off Bunnyeo’s heart again. An indecent scene ignited lights in her eyes.

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During summer, the official residence could often be a place of big embarrassments. All the doors and windows were opened up and only thin blinds were hung instead. Then words from within the rooms could easily seeped out into the open. A door was the mouth that whispered the secrets inside the walls. It seemed that a door enjoyed embarrassing the owner of the room when he lacked so much common sense that he couldn’t distinguish day from night. Around evening that day, it was extraordinarily muggy. It was one of those hot days when people would dress lightly on the beach or at home. After finishing her kitchen work, Bunnyeo went to the bathroom to check the bath water. While letting the water run to adjust the temperature, she could only think about getting her body into cold water before anyone else. Then, wondering what the owners were doing, she peeked in the crack between the boarded windows. She shouldn’t have committed the indecent act. Through the crack, one could see everything that was going on in the room on the opposite side. Bunnyeo couldn’t avoid seeing everything going on inside the room. She held her breath. Her blood pumped, flushing her face. Her throat made sounds from time to time. Nerves in her entire body came alive and she spread both of her arms and put her body flat on the boards like a gecko. Water overflowed from the tub. Bunnyeo didn’t notice. She was lost in peeking, stuck at the boarded window. Perhaps it was the warm steam or the effort her eyes were making; her body was hot like a burning flame. Although days passed, the sensation did not subside. ‘I’ve known too little about this world,’ she thought to herself. In comparison to what she’d just learned, she thought that the world she had known was too simple and was nothing. She felt like she just walked out from a tiny room in to the wide world. Her feeling of guilt over her various past experiences melted away. Moreover she started to consider her feelings natural and even felt that she had been missing something essential. The scene at the official residence, for sure, was a tremendous seduction. What was once dormant, awoke again. This time it started moving with even more force. No matter how much well water she poured on herself, she couldn’t put out the fire growing inside her. She couldn’t sit calmly even for a minute and her heart was restless like a running engine. She couldn’t have controlled herself if Sanggu didn’t show up in front of her all of a sudden. Like magic, Sanggu unexpectedly came to see her. It had been about a month since he was taken in. His face was a little swollen but with his short haircut and all, he appeared composed enough. She was glad to see him. Her feelings made her voice a little higher and louder. “It must’ve been really hard. How are you?” “Right. I feel sorry for my friends.” Something had changed in him and Sanggu opened up to her being quite talkative. Regardless of the reason, Bunnyeo welcomed change. “Your body looks swollen. Are you all right?” “Haven’t you missed me?”

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He just pulled her toward him. Bunnyeo chose not to resist. “I’ve never missed you like now.” “Why, I feel suddenly cold.” With that excuse, Bunnyeo stood up to close the door. She forgot about all the regrets and complaints she had about Sanggu and let her body to take his lead. More than anyone else, at this moment, she yearned for Sanggu the most. There was no past. There was no future. To the body in full flame, there was only the present. Sanggu’s lips were like a beautiful flower. The following day at the official residence, Bunnyeo silently laughed at the clueless faces of the owners. She felt herself wicked for carrying on pretending to be innocent. Sanggu came back to visit at night. But he was no longer happy to see her. He took the trouble to come so late at night. However, his attitude was the same as it was before he went away, and he was angry. The anger showed in his voice. “I’ve been mistaken about you.” As he stomped on the ground, he said, “I regret having given you my virginity.” He continued on: “You animal. I shouldn’t have come to see you again. How could I have known what happened with you?” He ended up slapping her. “I’ve heard all the rumors.” “…….” “I guess there’s no reason to name all the names. At any rate, I’m leaving for good.” 7 Sanggu left for good as he had said. She felt that perhaps she might have felt better to have been beaten for what she did. But he left the next day without even giving her a chance to talk things over. There was nothing else for her to do. ‘Could he have gone to Seoul? Why is it that people are missed as soon as they are out of sight?’ she wondered. Yet a greater ordeal than Sanggu’s disappearance awaited Bunnyeo. Upon returning from town, her mother rushed into the house and picked up a stick. “Is it true, Bunnyeo?” Instantly, Bunnyeo had an idea why. She lost all of her strength and felt like a soul-less body floating untethered in the air. “Of all places, I heard about the terrible rumor at the elder family’s house. How disgraceful is this?” Bunnyeo just remained quiet, thinking to herself that her past finally caught up with her. “Tell me all the names. Tell me everything right here, right now.” The stick started to land on her.

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“Mangap, Cheonsu. Who else? Tell me! I just can’t believe this. I should’ve known it when you started going around all dressed up. I’m so angry, I can’t stand it.” The rain of lashings continued falling on her. She took it in silence. When she couldn’t take it anymore, she grabbed her mother’s arm. Her mother grew even angrier. “You can’t live in this town any more. It’ll be better to just die.” With the harsh lashing, Bunnyeo felt like her back was collapsing. Blood spattered from her leg. Finding no other way, Bunnyeo escaped the beating by running out from the house. She couldn’t let out any sound; only her tears flowed without stopping. ‘Should I throw myself in the sea or should I hang myself?’ thought Bunnyeo. With so many thoughts driving her mad, she went out the town wall gate and started running through the field. Ashamed to step onto the main street, she walked into an alleyway. She tottered and fell on the side of a field. She didn’t have the strength to pull herself up again. So, she just lay there waiting for the night to fall. She felt it pointless to go to the sea as well. So, she stayed awake lying on the grass. The next day, she didn’t go home. She didn’t have anywhere to go, either. She wandered around the field the entire day avoiding people’s eyes and sleeping in empty guarding posts in the middle of the fields. After four days of carrying on like this, her family found her and took her home. They had been looking for her all over the fields. Instead of beating her, her mother started crying. She felt like a great peril had passed. She minded her body anew and had a better control of her mind. She felt like she was reborn as a different person. After she lost her job at the official residence, she helped out with the work with her family in the fields. She started to forget about the streets and grew close to the fields. Summer was at its height and already the signs of fall began to appear. In the fields, among the scents of grains, the smell of perilla leaves overflowed. The scent of perilla brought close the memories that were now far away. Everyday Bunnyeo returned home from the fields intoxicated by the scent of perilla. One day, out of the blue, a young man came to her house. “Don’t you remember me?” No matter how hard she looked, scrutinizing each of his features, she just couldn’t remember. “It’s me, Myeongjun.” Upon hearing the name, she realized that it was none other than him. She was glad to see him. ‘Has it been around three years?’ she thought. “I’m on the way back from Manchuria. I know that I’m a changed man, but you’ve changed a lot as well.” “So, did you find your goldmine?” “None of that. But I’ve bashed a few people to death.” Myeongjun smiled wide. While his life must have been hard, his appearance showed no hint of that. On the contrary, his body seemed in better shape than before. “I guess nothing much has changed in my hometown.”

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Fearing that the conversation would lead to her life, which had seen many changes, she quickly changed the topic. “So, what are you planning on doing now?” “Should I rent some land and try my hand at farming? I can just run away again if it doesn’t work out.” His words rang hollow but she felt like she could trust him. Come to think of it, Myeongjun was her first. It was much better that he did not come back with lots of gold, which would’ve only brought trouble. Bunnyeo thought maybe she should spend the rest of her life with him if only he would agree.

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Bunnyeo  

Lee Hyoseok’s works are generally categorized as having three tendencies: the tendency of the “fellow traveler,” eroticism, and xenophilia....

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