Fr ozenFi sh
Ch’ aeMan-Si k
Tr ans l at edbyMy l esJ i
Frozen Fish By Châ€™ae Man-Sik Translated by Myles Ji
Originally published in Korean as Naengdongeo in Inmun Pyeongron, 1940
Translation ⓒ 2013 by Myles Ji
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 Chae, Man-sik Frozen fish [electronic resource] = 냉동어 / [written by] Chae Man-sik ; translated by Myles Ji. -- Seoul : Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2013 p. ISBN 978-89-93360-15-8 05810 : No price 813.61-KDC5 895.733-DDC21
About Ch’ae Man-Sik Ch’ae Man-Sik (1902-1950) was born in Okgu, North Jeolla Province in 1902. His pen names are Baek-reung and Chae-ong. After graduating from Joong-ang High School, he studied the arts at Waseda University, Japan. Ch’ae Man-Sik is considered to be one of the most emblematic novelists of the colonial period. He produced works that authentically showcased the social realities and conflicts of the time such as “My Innocent Uncle” (1938), Turbid Waters (1937-1938), Peace Under Heaven (1938), Frozen Fish (1940), and the play The Legend of the Mantis (1940), among others. His artistic world puts emphasis on reflecting and criticizing the reality of his day. In his works, he truthfully describes the destitution of farmers under colonial rule, the anguish of intellectuals, the fall of the inner city lower class, and the chaos that ensued after independence. After the restoration of independence, he produced controversial pieces such as “The Story of the Rice Paddy”, “Mister Bang”, and Transgressor of the Nation, that reflected on the history of Japanese forced labor camps and incisively delved into post-independence Korean society. He died right before the outbreak of the Korean War in June 25th, 1950, from pneumonia. Ch’ae Man-Sik’s novella, Frozen Fish, was published in Inmun Pyeongron in 1940. The title depicts Joseon intellectuals that were unable to live autonomous lives due to Japanese oppression during the 1940s when the Japanese Empire’s nationalist, fascist system kicked into full swing. In the story, protagonist Moon Dae-yeong meets a Japanese woman, Sumiko, by chance. His fondness for her develops into a love affair, and in the end, they go their separate ways, with Dae-yeong returning home to his wife. Frozen Fish is sometimes interpreted as a work that reveals hints of the author’s pro-Japanese sympathies, but ultimately, it describes the intellectuals of the colonial era who were unable to play any sort of productive or independent role.
Frozen Fish : The Daughter’s Name …Yearns for the sea and names his daughter Jing-sang
1. It was an afternoon spent poring over revisions of Spring &Fall’s New Year’s issue, holed up in the magazine’s tiny four pyeong1 office in a top floor corner of the XX building. Scratch, scratch… Scritch, scrit-scratch… Between the intermittent scratching of a pen against pulp stock, the rustling of turning pages seemed especially loud. It was a simple operation, with just three employees and one office boy, everyone so immersed in what they are doing they forget to speak. This building is in the middle of Jongro, surrounded by the ceaseless roar of iron hulks howling by on the street below, the yells of the loudspeakers, sirens, guitars, and all the rest of a city’s deafening noise. But in this small room, all that noise seemed to belong to another world, like the recorded sounds of a film, coming from close by, but sounding far off and distant. The steam heater is generously warm, and in the corner, the office boy has dozed off awkwardly on a stool with his mouth open… Dae-yeong sat in the very back of the room, at the head desk. Just like the other two employees, he was buried in heap of manuscripts, his brow furrowed as he made corrections. Then a headache, followed by the thought of a cigarette, interrupted his focus. He stopped work and lifts his head. Across from him, to one side of the entranceway, was a small round coffee table for guests, and on the sofa in front of it Sumiko (澄子) was sitting quietly, concentrated on reading The Story of Constellations, which she had brought with her when she came. Her hair flowed down in thick waves from beneath her jaunty beret, and her jet-black fur coat shone lustrously, its wide collar covering revealing only a small glimpse of the nape of her neck behind her ear. Without even realizing it, Dae-yeong’s gaze came to rest quietly on that spot. Something like a high, handsome brow of a man, there is a particularly feminine appeal in the way one’s gaze softly melts against the smooth white skin of a woman’s neck. Dae-yeong, having just realized that about Sumiko, had found her feminine charm, and through it her womanhood. With pen in hand and supporting his chin with both palms, Dae-yeong had been watching her without evening realizing it, staring at her pretty neckline. Finally, after who knows how long, he nodded his head lightly a couple of times, thinking, ‘Yes, of course!’ He reached out with his left hand to fumble for a pack of cigarettes. 1
A pyeong is a traditional unit of area equal to approximately 3.3m2. 4
The obvious fact that even this woman possessed feminine charm, that it wasn’t just obvious but glaring, had finally hit him: it was strong, a double positive. Maybe “finally” is too strong a word, after all it was only his second encounter with the woman. Maybe there wasn’t anything odd about his not having realized it before. But on the other hand, his interest in the woman had been rather particular. Even after seeing her twice, he had not seen this woman as a woman at all. She was the same person, but his attention had been concentrated on something irrelevant, so it was inconsequential if they had met once or even twice. 2. At sunset the day before yesterday, Kim Jong-ho, who works in the film industry and with whom he hadn’t had much interaction, called him up and said an important visitor from Tokyo arrived a few days ago. She hoped to be able to meet him, and had asked when he might have time, conspicuously chatting up a storm announcing their arrival. Not long after, Jong-ho brought in Sumiko and introduced her to Dae-yeong for the first time. Kim Jong-ho introduced Dae-yeong as an “established master” of the Joseon literary scene, the head of Spring and Fall, the most “popular” literary magazine with a readership of over ten thousand in Joseon, and then went on and on about this and that, like a traveling medicine salesman were hyping up a panacea, absentmindedly running off superlatives to his guest as though it were some sort of introduction. Then pointing to Sumiko, he explained she was a person with a deep understanding, interest, and sympathy for every aspect of Joseon art, and especially for the film industry; that she had come all the way to Joseon in order to research and support it; that she might possibly stay; and, what’s even more joyous and serendipitous, that she had, as her first gift to us, given her consent to make a guest appearance in a film, Weep Not, Youth!, that Jong-ho had written, adapted, and directed himself. He then ended this longwinded introduction—or maybe spiel would be more apt—by imploring Dae-yeong to support the film in the magazine… Dae-yeong reluctantly nodded his head, uh-huh, uh-huh—but, whatever Jong-ho was trying to pull, it was highly unsatisfactory and didn’t pique Dae-yeong’s interest one bit. ‘Heck, like there was ever a woman who liked to work…’ ‘If a woman’s bored she should just sit herself down quietly and take a nap, not go nosing around in tawdry places. And then the tragedy of her having the bad luck of running into a two-bit guy like Mister Kim Jong-ho…’ ‘However you look at it, if a broad has a mind of her own and is a go-getter, there’s no way she’ll put up with such useless, frivolous behavior. The way she sat there, like she had no opinion of her own, and looking like she belonged with Jim Jong-ho, like two needles stuck together in a trashy spool of thread.’ ‘She was probably some lowly office girl with some family or other. Or a third or even fourth-rate film actress with multiple jobs who had either misbehaved or got her heart broken, and then ran off out of spite. That idler was probably more than happy to lap her right up, whisking her off her feet and carrying her around, all while talking up a storm about Joseon’s art, or the understanding and appreciation of film. And what’s this sympathy? What sort of research had he done to be gallivanting around sounding his bugle like that?’ 5
And so, Dae-yeong made a typically spiteful, and therefore rather irresponsible judgment. And based on that judgment, there was naturally no reason to have a high opinion of or be particularly excited about this wayfarer. Dae-yeong himself was one of the lumpen of his generation, his lot was difficult and he too lived in a “crooked, empty house,” but he didn’t seem to be able to get excited or interested about anything. Then, in midst of his sickness, this Kim Jong-ho, whom he had always disliked, brings this woman around and blathers on and on. Without even taking the time to deliberately take in the mannerisms or appearance of this woman he was meeting for the first time, Dae-young had (through the process self-suggestion) already come to harbor disparaging thoughts and condescension toward her, thinking, ‘How useless!’ ‘I can’t imagine what kind of broad this might be…!’ At this point, he had completely written her off altogether. This was his attitude, immediately (at least), after they had exchanged greetings. But… Plopping himself down, Kim Jong-ho—using the national language2 in which he was not too fluent, perhaps for Sumiko’s sake—started grandiosely proselytizing, criticizing the current situation of the film industry, making up in verbosity what he lacked in finesse. Being submitted to this treatment, Dae-yeong was in a particularly painful position. This was nothing but a heinous waste. Dae-yeong futilely regretted having built a nook for guests. He pretended to answer here and there in the beginning, but when he couldn’t handle it anymore, he just sat there facing them mutely. Coincidentally, at the point when the boredom had become completely unbearable, his attention, which had been floating around distractedly all over the place, finally had the chance to land on Sumiko. She was wearing a very expensive fur coat, and on a finger on the hand that lay on top of that fur coat where it covered her lap there was a large, gleaming diamond. The luxury of the two items caught his eye. Surprised, he tilted his head to the side, ‘Hmm…!’ And looking again, he saw that they were prohibitively extravagant. Then he wondered to himself, ‘So she belongs to a social position that can afford such luxury…?’ At this point he went back through his thought process. He had an inkling that his ideas of her being a lowly office girl with some family, or a film actress of the third or fourth-rate, might have been slightly off the mark. ‘Then that means…’ But mischievousness raised its head, ‘Maybe she was some rich old man’s so-called ‘smart second’, and then ran got bored and ran off?’ After trying out this theory, he tilted his head again, 2
I.e. Japanese, within the timeframe of the story. 6
‘What did she look like, anyway?’ Surprisingly, when he lifted his head to look at her, her face (her expression) was extremely gloomy, catching him off guard. Her face, which he had merely glanced at to see what it looked like, harbored an expression that was impressive by itself. He looked at her face to see what she looked like, of course it wasn’t the first time he looked at her face directly, so it must have been because of his carelessness, but anyway, he had no idea she looked so miserable. And he tilted his head for the third time, ‘What’s the meaning of this?’ And saying so, finally he had come around to taking a good look at her. Most of all, her intellectually sophisticated, bright energy seemed very regal. The way she had applied her makeup lightly, so as to match her skin tone, the carefully chosen clothes in matching colors and patterns, and her overall manner all came together quite elegantly. From his observations (even though he was still guilty of judging too quickly), it could be seen that she was not altogether without class. He then started nodding his head back and forth, thinking, ‘Ah-ha! Now I see!’ And he did so due to the fact that the current new findings were ever so surprising compared to his prior estimates and judgments. But that realization didn’t really explain anything. It was a cause to be merry, and could not provide any grounds for why she was so gloomy. ‘She doesn’t even speak that much!’ Thinking about it made one wonder. In the very beginning, when King Jong-ho introduced her to Dae-yeong as Hara Sumiko-san, all she said was, “Douzo yorosziku… (Nice to meet you…)” It was a generic greeting, and she hadn’t opened her mouth since. She sat quietly, until occasionally Kim Jong-ho, in the middle of his blabbering, looked to her and said, “…Isn’t that so? Right, Sumiko-san…” Only after Jong-ho repeated this two or three times would she say, “I’m not sure…” or “Yes…” or other such short answers. Not once did she butt into the conversation or start up a new topic of her own accord. Of course, it is conceivable that she must have had some discretion to behave ladylike and be reserved in the presence of foreign men to whom she had just been introduced. Moreover, being pushed aside by Kim Jong-ho who was chattering up a storm and speaking enough for two, there was no way for her to get a word in, and there was no way that she could have felt at ease. But (even considering all of this) the problem was that the mood of the city had become so depressed that no one even had a smidgen of desire to talk with others or have fun with one another. Even if she weren’t some useless office girl, or a third or fourth-rate film actress, or some kept woman fleeting from heartache, she was still young and fresh. Her age suggested 7
that her suffering would be an emotional anguish begotten from the turbulence of love. But despite the severity of that anguish, she possessed a clear, rational light that was far calmer. Even if she were crunching and grinding on painful troubles, there was no trace of that heartache on her face, and it could only be said that her suffering was a completely different sort of matter than the affairs that relate to the muscles of the heart. The conclusion that naturally follows from this is that it must have been the symptoms of the particularly despairing grief springing from the abyss of an internal world deep within the mind. When Dae-yeong thought this, he suddenly saw much of himself in that woman, and this brought him back to reality. His curiosity towards her had not subsided. Kim Jong-ho was still clamoring on as though he were a deaf rabbit. Sumiko was sitting like a bride at a monastery. Dae-yeong, all-in-all impressed by her, saw her in a different light. But things were then unraveling in a completely different direction than he had imagined, and just as he had once been insolent, he took a step back and thought, ‘Even still…’ ‘Well, now…’ And he thought maybe his excavation had been excessive and began questioned those thoughts as well. But doing so didn’t seem to bring any further proof to light. But at the same time, he was also unable to find anything which would refute the conclusions to which he had already arrived. Therefore once again, he could not but confirm the previous conclusion, which then led him to ask himself, ‘What’s the woman’s story?’ He was curious about just who she was. It was clear that, once the story of her past was revealed, her current actions could naturally be judged (indirectly) through them. So for lack of better options, he went back over the rambling introduction Kim Jongho had provided, but there was nothing in it that revealed what he wanted to know about the woman’s identity. So, although her origins were slightly obscure, it was not at all fair to sort her as useless bum – as a lowly commoner. That had been unfair of him, and he could not help but recognize it. He saw that all that stuff about appreciating and researching Joseon art and film were obviously Kim Jong-ho’s machinations, and that she (although her full story remained undisclosed) had come here for the sake of coming here because it was an unknown place. Not knowing what’s going on or the situation, and not knowing the layout of the city, perhaps she just happened to meet Jong-ho coincidentally as she looked around for a guide, or perhaps she even met him through the (irresponsible) introduction of someone else. Knowing nothing, she was being dragged around and played like a pitiful puppet… it seemed that this much could be assumed. Now that Dae-yeong’s inclinations were leaning towards a more benevolent point of view, he thought, 8
‘Well if that’s the case, it was clear that she’ll be absolutely humiliated, so what should be done?’ Unbeknownst to him, his worries had taken a detour and unrelated to the original question he posed. He worried like this for no reason because of his needlessly excessive scrupulosity. He had always been disgusted by this, which was also a facet of his personality. His reaction to that was, ‘Wow.’ And when he finally came to his senses again, he said to himself, ‘Hmph! Well, in all these years…’ And he cynically called forth yet another staple habit of his—retreating into the so-called “crooked, empty house.” At that point, Kim Jong-ho had finally come to the end of the so-called film-critique he had been holding forth on for a good thirty or forty minutes and was lifting his heavy behind to stand up. It was already four o’clock and, thinking this was his chance, Dae-yeong jumped up to see him off. But Kim Jong-ho motioned for Dae-young to come along. By the looks of it, he wanted to go to a tea house. Dae-yeong had done enough work and had free time. His head had been hurting the whole day, and the thought of fancy sweets and a strongly brewed cup of coffee from Geum Gang San sounded pretty good. However, he would rather go alone and unnoticed, and the thought of accompanying this ear-splitting companion, navigating through the busy streets, drinking candy-sweet slopwater that could barely be called tea, and listening to Jong-ho’s unbearable blathering required more than he had in him. Struggling to come up with an excuse, he said, “Well…” And looked up at the clock and hesitated for a little. Then Sumiko (who knows why) unexpectedly opened her mouth, and said, “If you’re not too busy, shall we have some supper…?” Dae-yeong was completely intrigued by and liked the woman’s simple disregard for convention. Of course, this did not mean that he had any intention to consent to that request then and there, without any class or self-respect. He thanked her and excused himself pleasantly (diplomatically), saying that, seeing as he was the host, the correct thing to do would be to pay his respects to his valuable guest from afar; and that he would happily join her, but later, after he had an opportunity to properly do his duty as host… The woman laughed once and didn’t say anything more, but Kim Jong-ho was stubbornly insistent, “Ah, seeing as we are all ‘in the arts,’ how can we stand on such useless ceremony and protocol? Come on, let’s all go!” Dae-yeong would have held out to the end, despite Jong-ho’s nagging, but then Sumiko said, “Well, if that’s the case why don’t you find it in your heart to have a cup of tea for the sake of the traveler whom you’ve met for the first time, and whose idea it was in the first place anyway?” 9
Rejecting this seemed too harsh, so he had no choice but to reluctantly relocate with them to a nearby café . Even at the coffee shop (even though it was to be expected), Kim Jong-ho blustered on about his so-called “theory of universal stupidity” directed at every single film director in Joseon except himself. This was dreadful to listen to, but there was nothing to do except submit to it. Sumiko again remained silent. Dae-yeong thought, ‘Well, seeing as they came to see me, and seeing as we’ve been sitting together for so long, I shouldn’t just sit here indifferently like a cow looking at a rooster. I should listen and lead the conversation, adding a comment here and there so that it flows. That’s the least I could do to show hospitality’ And, of course, nothing prevented him from doing exactly that if he chose to. But, regardless of the topic of conversation of his interlocutors or whether the ice had been broken, the issue lay in his own feelings. But it was crystal clear that the general atmosphere of the occasion would not call forth any merriment or excitement, and he didn’t have the willingness to ask questions or assert himself without having a good grasp of what was going on. Not only that, perhaps because his first impression of her had been that of a “woman without words,” it seemed as though the way in which she sat mutely looked natural, and could be said to possess a scenic quality. Moreover, he wasn’t the sort to exert himself in conversation, and he lacked the urge to talk or anything like that. So he thought, ‘Tsk! The traveler will have her share of daydreams, and there’s nothing for the host to gain, so it’s better this way… Why should I get myself worked up when there’s no reason for me to get involved… she can just go her way, and I’ll go mine…’ And having made the decision to cut and bolt, the sense of duty that had been nagging him washed away. It felt as though his heart had been weighed down and suddenly became light again. With this wind under his wings, he gulped down the last of the remaining, lukewarm tea. Sitting there until the end of time wouldn’t bring anything about, but the way Kim Jongho was carrying on, it didn’t look like he’d want to leave anytime soon. So Dae-yeong suddenly stood up with his hat in his hand, and said he was going to retire. Unsurprisingly, Kim Jong-ho stood up halfway awkwardly, facing him, saying, “Oh, Alright,” And he shook Dae-yeong’s hand wildly, and apologized for their intrusion. He then said it was urgent he speak with Dae-yeong at his office either the next day or the day after. Then, he turned to Sumiko and said, “We, on the other hand, should spend some more time here and go to the apartment to see if the room is available.” Then, to Dae-yeong, “Well, Mister Moon, please excuse us.” Then he finally let go of Dae-yeong’s hand after blubbering for the longest while. All this time, Dae-yeong had been wordlessly suffering the pain of his bony fingers being barbarously tortured in Kim Jong-ho’s cast-iron-like grip. 10
The woman stood up to say her goodbyes, but instead of saying a simple word, “Sayonara” or how she’d inconvenienced him, she said, “I… I’ll find a place to stay today or tomorrow, and as soon I’ve gotten myself settled, I’ll come by to pay a visit!” Her goodbye was longer than almost anything else she had said. These were, in fact, the first real words that had come out of her mouth despite the fact that they had been together for two hours and changed locations twice. Dae-yeong was impressed that her words consisted of several syllables, but assumed that its contents were simple pleasantries, so he likewise replied in a gracious manner, “Yes! Please come by and spend some time with us!” But the woman must not have been joking, because she added, “But you must be so busy! You said I should come visit you, but should I really? I think if I went, I’d just be wasting your time. Isn’t that so!” For some reason, as she said this, her speech had finally found an outlet and became rather wordy. Dae-yeong felt relieved, and thought, ‘Well, she’s probably a winner. There should be no need to mope and suppress one’s needs and insist on being a mute just because…” He nodded his head in agreement, saying, “Well, alright! I’m not doing anything so important as to neglect guests. If I receive guests, show them hospitality, and talk to them, well, I’m just doing my job!” To this, Kim Jong-ho added, “Ah! How right you are!” Then he continued to blab loudly, “Yes, indeed! And to add: receiving people of culture, conversing with them, introducing them kindly to our situation—this is a duty in the life of a cultured person, just another natural part of that life. Ha-ha-ha-ha… Well now, well said!” And proceeded to chatter loudly. In the midst of this commotion, the woman said something brief in reply to Daeyeong, but her voice got drowned out. That was how they parted that day, then a day passed, and then today she had suddenly come of her own accord just a little while ago. Today her face looked just as gloomy, but perhaps because she came here alone and on her own volition, she wasn’t as stingy with her words. Dae-yeong came to greet her and offered her a seat, saying, “So, did you make a decision… about your living situation? I remember you were looking for an apartment?” In answer to his cursory greeting, she replied, “Inns are horrible places, and I don’t feel comfortable coming and going from a place like that, so I thought I’d get an apartment…” She was almost running on a bit as she replied. “They’re good to come and go as you please. But apartments these days are being snapped up faster than Revival Bonds…” 11
“I don’t even dare to look at places that are called top-notch! I barely managed to get a room in XXX apartment, near that place in front of the government building, that place with the huge red gate… Dang, what’s that palace called?” “Deoksugung Palace?” “Oh, oh, yes, Deoksugung Palace, right near there…” “It’s incredible that you even managed to get a place there! Apartments rarely get too cold… but they’re pretty gloomy, aren’t they?” “A little… but it’s alright, who knows what’ll happen in the future anyway…” Hearing this, Dae-yeong thought to himself, ‘And what happened to everything she was saying before about researching art in Joseon, appearing in films, and living here?’ Only after these thoughts went through his head did he realize that they must have been Kim Jong-ho’s machinations. He was just chasing clouds, so he refrained from saying anything. The conversation stopped abruptly, and they sat quietly together for a while. Dae-yeong couldn’t figure out for the life of him how to deal with this insolent wayfarer, and he became slightly worried. It would be too embarrassing to drag her around here and there. And there was no point in introducing her to people in the literary world as though he were another Kim Jongho, giving her an introduction to (instead of films) theories of modernity and current writers. But blabbering on and on about some useless small-talk interminably every time they meet (since it was looking like she was going to come by often) was even more unbearable. If she just took it upon herself to ask questions about what she wanted to know, whatever it might be, or tell a story about something and provide a topic of conversation, he would guess what to do and explain away. But it could be seen that she was only pretending to listen to a few words, with her mouth closed up stoically. She just wanted to sit tight with her mouth bolted shut, so the situation was going rather poorly. But the woman did not seem to consider this sort of silence and boredom particularly unnatural or awkward, and sat there rather indifferently, without revealing any discomfort in sitting there in a dignified manner. The way she was sitting made him think that she might actually be an hysteric, who was being capricious and pretending to sit pretty. He suddenly felt a cold chill within. Dae-yeong thought of Oscar Wilde’s The Sphinx Without A Secret, and smiled to himself, thinking about how the name suited her. Then, as though she had finally come back to life, Sumiko said guilelessly, “Oh, I… Don’t mind me…” Then, “Please go about your business! And after that, when you’re done, perhaps you’ll take me around with you…” “Oh! Around? Hmm, I suppose that’ll be nice…” Dae-yeong supposed that would be the only way to go about this, and said, “Well then, please excuse me for a bit. Why don’t you just sit there and read the paper or look over that book and wait for a bit.”
After that, he had gone back to his desk to finish working on something that had been on his mind for a while. And even then he had not noticed at all that his male-specific interests had not been drawn to the woman, or her face, or other parts of her such as her hands and feet, or her body, or any part where he might see that woman’s particular feminine charm. In general, if it is argued that all men must always be somewhat interested in all women, this would be a lot closer to popular belief and would be considered a superficial equation. But on the other hand, there are stories of even the famously hard-hearted Seo Hwadam, after having stared only at the courtesan Hwang Jini, had to turn around and sit with his back toward her, as she danced like a floating butterfly right in front of his nose in nothing but a thin, wet summer undergarment, which pressed up tightly against her body. Or how an old monk came down to the secular world, and, the moment he laid eyes on the white thigh of a young woman washing clothes in the stream near the village, his peace of mind was disturbed and decades of training were reduced to naught. These stories are thoroughly wicked, but it is hard not to admit that they contain grains of truth. Just as Hwa-dam’s solemnity could not hold when he saw Hwang Jini dancing in her wet, semi-nudity, and just as decades of training were instantly reduced to nothing by the thigh of a country maid washing clothes, no normal, secular man can remain completely indifferent, like a block of wood, to the simple feminine charms of a woman—unless the man is a cripple or hunched and withered with age, or the woman is a heinous monstrosity or a toothless hag. Even if that interest is deep and subtle, it is an inviolable biological destiny. Dae-yeong was barely over thirty and still young. Although he had a family, he was neither a beardless cripple nor an abstemious prude, and so he did not diverge one bit from the standard of “all men.” Sumiko was, moreover, neither an ugly monstrosity nor an old woman. She had the tidy figure of a certain age, and was an out-going traveler who came to a faraway, foreign land all alone to live amongst strangers. One couldn’t be sure who she consorted with, but it was clear that she was no one’s wife. So there was nothing to prevent “all men” from not only noticing her outer, feminine allure, but of developing that so-called subtle interest. People like Kim Jong-ho recognize these things from the get-go, and the probability that Dae-yeong was ten for ten, as well. Time-wise, however, the time it took for Daeyeong’s recognition to express itself (like the period it takes for an infection to manifest) had coincidentally been delayed. To Dae-yeong, Sumiko appeared, it was like he had been walking alone through a dreary garden or a country forest, filled with the lonesomeness of autumn, and then a brightly colored leaf fluttered down to land on his sleeve. Even though the lonely traveler feels fall ever more so deeply after finding the leaf, he does not realize the color or beauty of the leaf itself. Similarly, Dae-yeong had been so completely absorbed by the woman’s abjectly gloomy expression that he had not seen the “young woman” in her.
That being said, it was impossible for him to remain indifferent to her forever, either. He first recognized the woman’s pretty neckline (at first coincidentally), and was inevitably drawn to her feminine charm. 3. Half-heartedly taking out a cigarette and placing it in his mouth, Dae-yeong sat staring at Sumiko as though transfixed. It was only after a long time that his relentless gaze gradually moved away from the white neck hidden behind her hair and the collar of the fur, caressing the profile of her drooped head. Her small ears set close to the head hinted at a short lifespan, the light hair at her temples floated in front of her ears, her slim, pointed jaw made her cheekbones protruded slightly, and just inside of the long, deeply etched corners of her eyes were fine, straight eyelashes, and, below them, the particularly high bridge of her nose. Each individual part of her face was statuesque and defined, and only now that he had become aware of it was he finally taking it all in. For the first time, it had made a definitive impression. But one layer of the veil of preconception laid on the cornea is such a mysterious thing that, after washing over every single part in turn, these characteristics, which had once been so impressive, were all of a sudden resolved, and her whole appearance was transformed. It was suddenly as though she was an old friend or servant, and was no longer at all unfamiliar or awkward. She had been transformed and suddenly entered one’s heart. But the truth is that they had never been close, and so she was someone in whom he had invested no expectations or imagination. But this did not give rise to any exceptional feeling whatsoever, as though it had been a long-awaited, established fact that he had accepted it in a completely natural way. It is said that, when people who walk home after having had a good drink, a hundredyear-old fox can transform itself into a beautiful maiden. If this isn’t just frivolous superstition, and actually possesses allegorical significance, it might be useful to compare this story with Dae-yeong’s state of mind at that moment. Of course, to Sumiko, this would be a rather groundlessly malicious thing to say… It’s similar to the way the appearance of a friend with whom one has been close to for years, or that of your wife with whom you’ve been living with for a long time, ceases to matter, no matter how attractive or unattractive they might be. You no longer pay any attention to it and become indifferent. What Dae-yeong was feeling towards Sumiko was more or less comparable to that, so whether she was pretty or ugly, the sense of visual beauty or ugliness and the feelings that followed (who knows at what point these had retreated to the back and settled already) did not surface. Those thoughts passed completely, and in their place, feelings of comfort and familiarity started budding. This had been a completely sudden and unnatural transition, but this above-average feeling of being somehow similar was the product of the seed that had been planted when they met the other day.
Without once shifting his position, the preconceptions directed toward Sumiko reached her, became startled, cringed back, and then reached yet another level of subjective value judgment. Dae-yeong, just like before, but this time more appropriately, said to himself, ‘Is that so!’ Saying this, he nodded his head vigorously, and his face lit up as though he were someone else. Satisfied and relaxed, he was able to see her as a woman. He not just recognized her feminine charms, he saw her as a woman whose appearance filled his eyes. He saw her in a new light, and enjoyed coming to accept this new conception of her, as well… And in doing so, by the end (although he had been immersed in his own thoughts), out of nowhere, without a chance to hold back, he abruptly said out loud, “Sumiko-san was a woman?” After blurting this out, the room went quiet without as much as a peep. Everyone was startled, and they all lifted their heads to stare at Dae-yeong. Park, who sits on the left and generally manages administrative affairs, and Kim, on the right and is in charge of editing, both thought about what Dae-yeong said and smiled broadly, thinking he had perhaps talked in his sleep. Sumiko gasped, “Ma-a! (My goodness!)” She looked at Dae-yeong as though there is no way to understand him, and stared expressionlessly as he smiled embarrassedly at what he said. Dae-yeong looked as though he was about to let out a thundering, roaring laugh of embarrassment. For a long time, Sumiko stared at him without moving, as though she had perhaps found out the man’s peculiar secret. She scrunched up her mouth revealing a thin smile, and then quietly lowered her head back to her book. Finally it was time. Ashamed and feeling sorry, the moment Dae-yeong saw himself in an objective light, he condescendingly sneered once, drew a match and lit it despairingly. He lit the cigarette he had had in his mouth, leaned back on his stool with his back tilted, and blew clouds of smoke up to the ceiling. Acting like that towards a woman for whom a peculiar interest was stirring up, and catching himself like that made him laugh at himself more than anything. This was a rather natural course of action for him. Then he said to himself, ‘You’re nothing but an old calendar! Hmph!’ “Old calendar” was a new expression of Dae-yeong’s that he used to make fun of himself. What he meant by this was that an old calendar still tells you the typical weather as well as the season. In other words, dating and doing other such enthusiastic “life” activities were grounds for cynicism and sneers. However, he didn’t have as active intention to ignore a well-established fact, nor to fight tooth and nail against it or feign celibacy. This was perhaps characteristic of a real old calendar, and because of this he finally said, 15
‘Tsk! So what?’ ‘I’m an old calendar anyway!’ And thus, he could easily put a stop to any other thoughts. Dae-yeong sat upright again and looked at his manuscripts, but his attention kept going to the woman. He became confused, and could no longer concentrate. At that point, Kim on the right all of a sudden yelled out, “Ttoo(뚫), ttoo… Damn it!” And then annoyingly grumbled, “Darn, this isn’t even a letter! Two d’s (ㄷ) then an l (ㄹ) and then another h (ㅎ) on the side, what kind of ridiculous eccentricities are these?” Then he called, “Am I right, Mister Moon?” “What?” “Us too, eh? Couldn’t we create our own Spring and Fall-style Hangeul and boycott these monstrous letters in the likes of the heinous ttoo (뚫) and kkeun (끊)?” “Well…” Dae-yeong answered disinterestedly, but Park, who sits right across from Kim adds on, “Ha! There’s no way that can work! That doesn’t make any sense at all!” And he disagreed with Kim’s idea. Kim jokingly grins, “What doesn’t make any sense?” Imitating Park’s Yeongnam dialect in a Jeolla accent. But Park pays no attention to this and is already irritated, “Well, of course not. Now look here…” He lashed out at Kim. To which Kim said, “Why in the hell not? Damn it…” And they were at each other’s throats again. Both were zealous literary young men, but Park was of a neat build, small, and comely, like a classical scholar. Kim was of a wastefully hulking build, and his face was bumpy like it had been made haphazardly. Just as their looks were different from one another, one was as prudish as could be and passive, yet precise and realistic, whereas the other was flighty, rough like a playful boy, and active, but dogmatic: in other words, they were complete opposites. And as such, their opinions differed on just about everything, so that they often fought from their seats opposite one another. “Hey now, you’re wrong…” Park stopped what he was doing, and started picking a fight leaning over the table. “Just looking at the draft for unified Hang-geul, it’s obvious how long our predecessors spent toiling over it and the care they put into it. That’s how they got it to be where it is now.” “So what?”
Kim shot back, looking up. “Who ever said it wasn’t? I highly value their intentions and respect them for it. And I support most of the draft… but the inconveniences?” “We must bear them!” “Forcefully? Against our will?” “For the sake of order, we must endure it!” “I’d say order is stretching it somewhat!” “Stretching what?” “What is this order?” “What is it but order? The Hang-geul unification draft…” “What in the hell is ‘Hang-geul?’ 3 Hang-geul… what kind of Hangeul fanatic pronounces it like that?” “Ha! Wait a minute… Well, look here, since the Hang-geul unification draft had been passed, now we all write according to it, don’t we? So…” “How do we all use it? The first to adopt this should be the newspapers; do any of the three major newspapers use it properly?” “That’s where they differ! Don’t you know that newspapers support the Hang-geul unification draft, but they have yet to procure appropriate printing presses? This is why newspapers will gradually unify under the draft, don’t you see?” “What you’re saying is useless. Not just a unified draft, but goddamn it, why must we follow irrational rules even if they’re the only thing in the world? If it were irrational but inconvenient, that’s another story. But if it’s inconvenient because it’s irrational, why should we not change it? What’s the reason not to change it?” “Let’s say hypothetically that it is irrational… it isn’t actually irrational, but let’s say it is, hypothetically speaking… isn’t that what order is? Even if it is slightly irrational, when the general public is all using it, we should endure for a bit and follow it, and then gradually, depending on the political climate, we can go about improving it. If we just complain about it and go about fixing it little by little, correcting this small thing in the morning and that small thing in the evening, who knows what millennium it’ll be before it’s finished! And how will the people going to deal with the confusion?” “Being satisfied with incompleteness is characteristic of the low class!” “Where in the world is this so-called completeness? History moves forward and institutions are but temporary…” “Worthless defender of the status quo. Stop that and go back to work, now!” “Ha-ha-ha! Where did you pick up Hitler’s dirty old habits? Evil destructionist!” “Ha-ha-ha-ha!” “He-he!” They fought each other to their heart’s content and those watching came together in pleasant laughter to round out the end of it, then immersed themselves back to work with smiles on their lips. Even though their personalities and opinions were different, since they worked in an industry where interests did not much collide, and since the two were nice, scholarly types, 3
Here Kim is making fun of Park’s pronouncing Hangeul with an extra “g.” 17
there wasn’t any emotional conflict. Their fights would always end as intellectual sport, there were no grudges, and the end was always cheerful. Sumiko looked on at the way they went back and forth, her eyes filled with curiosity. She couldn’t understand a word they were saying, but wanted to comprehend what was going on by the look and feel of it. She looked on with a concentrated expression that showed how much she wanted to taste it. When she saw their heartfelt laughter at the end, she was swept up by it as well and let out a grin. Dae-yeong was doing his thing, and amusedly watching what they were doing from the start with a smile on his face. But unlike the others, he was not jolly at the end, and his face darkened. Perhaps it was admiration for the lively energy of the young ones. Or perhaps it was envy stemming from the enormous gap that separated him from them… Of course, the positions they maintained on the topic they were arguing about— Park’s affirmation of what’s been made for the sake of order and Kim’s distaste for irrationality or maladministration based on the idea of some sort of completeness—were similar in that they were both compromises with real-world common sense, and the distance between the two ideas was not so far apart as to be irreconcilable. Neither the content or theory were exactly new or praise-worthy. Therefore, if he had been someone who was not close to either Park or Kim, and so did not possess any particular amicability toward them beforehand, and if they had been seated somewhere else and they had been strangers or young men he looked down on (like Kim Jong-ho), if they were such young men who were stubbornly insisting their useless assertions, he would have undoubtedly said, ‘Hmph! Lowly commoners! This is the so-called world young people of this day are obsessed with?’ And would have pouted his mouth and that would have been the end of it. Therefore, it could not be said that he was jealous of such plebian theories as “two times three equals six (2x3=6).” But Park and Kim each had his own idea of reality (and largely the world), whether good or bad, or whatever others had to say about it. And they were constantly searching within themselves and asserting that idea to the outside world, in order to maintain that reality, that world, or even improve it, and so they were endowed with a lively, undying spirit. Befitting this reality, they possessed both belief and action. Impoverished as it was, that was the aspirations of youth; that was living passion. Dae-yeong looked back at himself, comparing himself to them. If they were like thrifty, industrious shopkeepers, Dae-yeong himself was nothing more than a fallen aristocrat who “lived alone in a crooked, empty house.” The lumpen of his generation, or in other words, a beggar. Unlike Park, not only did he lack an affirmative concept of reality and the world, he criticized and rejected everything; but he was not criticizing it for the sake of this earth like Kim. Instead, he was yearning for Mars. A sort of specter that was unacceptable in the human world. Beliefs are so arrogant, yet brilliant!
Even if a belief would move mountains, if it does not stand footed in reality, in other words, if it is not followed by action, it is merely a guest at someone else’s house, a mere vagrant… Reality is so severe, you can hear the wind roaring to your left and your right, but in front of you is only impenetrable fog, while behind you old-fashioned castles slovenly line up one after another… Dae-yeong becomes unbearably lonesome and pounds the pen he holds in his hand down on the manuscripts so loudly that the others are startled. He rises abruptly and walks right up to Sumiko with long strides. “Want to go outside? Down to the street or…” Sumiko raises her head from her book and peers up at Dae-yeong who is standing close to her blocking her view, and says, “Already? Is that alright with you?” And she quickly shakes her sleeve back to glance at her wristwatch. “Well, tsk!” Dae-yeong sits right next to her and he too looks up at the electric clock on the wall facing him. Four and then, finally, thirty. Sumiko earmarks the page she was reading, closes the book, and looks towards him. The scent of her facial powder seeped in serenely and it was not unpleasant, and Daeyeong, not knowing what to do with his previous bout of depression, says to himself, ‘Damn it! I don’t know!’ This is why he came right up to her, and why he chose to sit unnecessarily close to her even though there was a seat across from her. He didn’t know whether to grin or snigger, ‘Hmph!’ And he could not immediately decide what to do. “But…” Dae-yeong asks what she wants to do as though talking to himself. “Where shall I take you?” The woman, for an instant, remains looking down in front of her, and then says, “You know what? I… I…” Then begins to speak rather specifically. “I… wish you wouldn’t treat me as though I were a guest. I’m just a… a…what should we call it?” “A comrade? A friend?” “Well yes, of course, treat me like a comrade or a friend. But even comrades or friends can be treated differently depending on whether or not they are guests, right?” “So you mean like a family member?” “That’s what I meant!” The woman feels relieved and looks straight back at him and laughs gleefully. “Like family… don’t think of me as a guest…” “Like family… don’t think of you as a guest!” “Is it too much to ask?” “I’m for it!” 19
Dae-yeong answered thinking that she was referring to him alone. But… The woman gladly nods her head, saying, “Thank you!” And continues with the rest… “And… yes, that is what I would like from you… for instance, but also everyone at Spring and Fall, I don’t want you to allocate any time for my visit or give me a proper reception. Don’t worry about showing me around. That would mean you still think of me as a guest, right? And since I am a woman and an etranger, you might find me difficult to deal with, and if you do I will always be a guest no matter how many times I come by, and I would float around in an orbit as though I really were some sort of etranger, is that not true? It’s true, right?” “So?” “So treat me as though I were someone who lives here in Gyung-seong4, a friend you interact with all the time who was just walking by and popped in for a second, very simply and without any reason, alright?” “And?” “Doing so will make me feel at ease… and means you will comfortably incorporate me into your normal lives. That way I can learn on my own what Joseon is all about…” “What Joseon is all about! And after learning that?” Dae-yeong asked this to continue the conversation, but having said it, it seemed unnatural and rather cold-hearted, and he felt embarrassed. “There’s nothing else to it! I just hope that I can find some peace of mind and make a life for myself here.” “Understood! I will do the best I can… but…” “And I also…” “But I wonder how many people will understand your feelings on this matter correctly and give you what you desire!” “Well I don’t care for more than one or two people like that, and those in the literary and artistic world are relatively…” “Did Kim Jong-ho introduce you to a lot of people?” “I forgot all of them!” The woman laughed a soundless little laugh (as though she had something else on her mind), and said… “I think I was introduced to every single person in the film industry. And people from theatre. Oh, and Moon Ye-bong! She was even prettier and nicer than in the films.” “And who else? Other than film and theatre people?” “Two newspaper journalists… and a person in the arts, umm, a Mr. Nam…” “Great guy! And that reminds me, did you always know Kim Jong-ho?” “I have an acquaintance in Song-jook. I told them I was worried about being in an unfamiliar place, so… well there was another person who knew a Joseon gentleman in Tokyo…”
The name for the city of Seoul during the Japanese occupation. 20
Dae-yeong nods, thinking to himself that her relationship with Kim Jong-ho must be just as he suspected, but then the woman says, “Oh, that reminds me, before…” And lowers her voice. “Those two sitting facing each other were debating about something, right?” “Yes… So?” “I was pretty sure that was the case, but I couldn’t understand a thing! I was happy to just be able to guess the gist of it the way it looked!” Right at that moment, the office boy answers the phone and asks Dae-yeong to take the call. Dae-yeong nonchalantly answers the phone, “Yes.” To which his mother-in-law answers in a voice loud enough to blow the receiver off, “Hello! Is this Dae-yeong?” She says, making a great fuss. The thought occurs to Dae-yeong that maybe his wife had given birth at home or that there was perhaps some other accident, so he says once again, “Yes!” And his mother-in-law repeats, “Hello! Is this Dae-yeong?” She says this yelling into the receiver again. “Yes! This is Dae-yeong!” “Ah, OK! Get back home, son! As quick as possible!” “Why?” “What do mean why? Come home right now!” “Well, I’ll go, but I’d like to know what for!” “Oh, oh, right! I’m so scatterbrained! He-he-he-he! She had the child! The child…” “OK!” Dae-yeong could only imagine the young thing that had been birthed and his wife bedridden next to it on the mattress. He was feeling pretty nonchalant about it and did not feel this or that way in particular. Not even the thought of becoming another person’s father crossed his mind… “Hurry home now, eh?” His mother-in-law keeps rushing him from over the phone. “I will… is the midwife there?” “Uh-huh, she’s here alright but she ain’t needed. Your wife pushed it out all by herself! He-he-he-he! Ah, but she gave birth to a girl, a girl. He-he-he-he! But what if it is a girl? Well. Now let’s stop with this phone business and come soon, alright? If you take the trolley and the bus it’ll take you an hour to get here, so take a car, alright?” Dae-yeong thought that she must be elated that her only daughter gave birth to her first grandchild, but wondered how such an aggressive and clumsy woman gave birth to such a mature, serene daughter. He wondered how she was able to raise her so well. He hung up the phone and turned around, to find Park and Kim waiting with big smiles on their faces to say, 21
“She’s given birth?” “She’s delivered?” They ask all at once. “Tsk! They say she has.” “Well then, go along?” “Where to? I’ll get there eventually…” “Ha! Come on now!” “But that reminds me…” Kim becomes impatient and says… “So what? A son? Daughter?” “Women are inherently mean creatures, they always want to make things in their own likeness if they can!” “It’s a daughter! Darn, tsk!” Park sympathizes and Kim slams his fist into his palm and says, “Dang it! I was going to have you treat us to something big if you’d had a son!” “No matter, anyway! They say daughters are much cuter to raise, right? So now…” “Cute?” Dae-yeong repeats these words, and gazing out the window motionlessly, he contemplates the fact that he had finally become someone’s father. Park continues his sentence and adds, “And now, who knows, maybe she’ll become a great woman in the likes of Madame Curie?” Then he laughs, Ha-ha-ha. “Madame Curie? Sure!” Kim initially agrees with Park, but then tilts his head a bit, and says, “Madame Curie might have had glory for sure, but she wasn’t what people would call happy!” “Hah! Having glory is being happy, is it not?” “What’s so happy about working yourself to death?” “What she toiled for brought her glory, and glory is happiness, no?” “It is glorious, but the people who reap the benefits behind this glory are in fact the rest of humanity and not the woman herself! Who in the world is benefiting from radium now anyway?” “You’re wrong! In place of the benefit she gave them, the world confers respect and gratitude to Madame Curie forever, does it not? Therefore that glory is the same as happiness, no?” “You stubborn mule! Think of who is supposed to be happy in this case! Is it happiness if the person is not even aware of it? She toiled until all her bodily functions gave out, so you think a cold, stone monument erected in front of her grave is somehow happiness?” “Then, those that do nothing and are complacent are the happiest?” “Happiness and glory are different, you goon…” “That is the sophistry of a heinous materialist!”
“Reaping the benefits of someone else’s hardship, and arguing that they were happy because they obtained glory is really stretching it! It is cruel!” Dae-yeong finally turns around to face them and says as though talking to himself, “Hmm! Happiness? Glory? Children? Affection?” Then nodding his head unwittingly, “In any case, if it’s human nature for a person’s father to want his kids to be happy… I’d rather have a daughter. I’d be relieved if I had a daughter. Right now I can’t really know since I don’t have a realistic perspective on it…” “Why is that?” “Because women and men are different. In general…” Dae-yeong was answering the question when his eyes met Sumiko’s. Sumiko had been studying the mood of the room with a face full of curiosity, wondering what the three had been boisterously discussing. Dae-yeong was just about to explain that women might be less unhappy than men and why this was the case, when it struck him that this very woman seemed to be the living proof against this theory and shut his mouth. Then in a loud voice, he said, “Sumiko-san?” As he called her, he walked up to her. The woman lifts her head up straight and answers with her gaze. “In general, when comparing men and women, which is unhappier?” “Unhappier? Which? Sumiko thinks for a while blinking her eyes, then asks, “Well… qualitatively or quantitatively?” “Qualitatively or quantitatively? But qualitatively speaking, how can a woman suffer through pain and unhappiness as significant or serious as that of a man!” “Do they?” “Huh! Women often cry at the drop of a pin, so it seems they might suffer more quantitatively?” “I suppose happiness and unhappiness are all subjective matters, no?” “I suppose people do say that, but…” “But women are much more subjective, so…” “But they are less exposed to the harshness of the world!” “But instead they are mistreated for being weak push-overs, no?” “Aren’t they strong? If they are confident…” “If they’re strong, they too must face the world just like men, as you were saying now!” “Huh! That’s another inconvenience, I suppose!” Dae-yeong turns around abruptly and says, “Well, today we’ll go out!” And puts on his hat and coat from the coat hanger. With Sumiko behind him, he was exiting the elevator when he ran smack into Byeong-soo, who was just running in at that very moment. “Ah, older brother!”
Byeong-soo was officially the owner of the company, but this didn’t matter much. Since he and Dae-yeong shared the same hometown and were separated by only four or five years of age, and because Byeong-soo respected him, Byeong-soo called Dae-yeong “older brother.” Byeong-soo knew nothing of anguish, had a liberal family and was well off. He was always jolly, but today in particular it seemed as though he had a particularly pleasant experience from somewhere and was smiling ear to ear, saying, “Taking off now?” But before Dae-yeong could answer, Byeong-soo (unsurprisingly) cuts him off and continues, “Look at the five new orders I got for ads today after a bit of hounding, full-page spreads no less!” He is pleased with himself, squinting his eyes. “Hmm! That’s not bad! You’re doing well as the new sales representative…” “Ha-ha-ha-ha! How could they ever say no to me when I insist like that? They know what’s in their best interest…” “Look, but people are going to talk about how the owner of Spring and Fall is going around shamelessly soliciting advertisements!” “Ha-ha-ha-ha! Whatever, I’m the owner-cum-advertisement representative, and what else, servant? Ha-ha-ha-ha! It’s alright, it’s nothing! Oh and that reminds me, you won’t be late?” “Plenty of time! Go on up and hand it over to Mr. Park, alright?” “Well then…” “Well…” As they are each going their separate ways after saying what they had to say, “Oh, older brother!” He calls him back again. Dae-yeong turns back, and with ulterior motives, Byeong-soo stares closely into Daeyeong’s face, and says, “Do you want to have a few drinks tonight?” “Drinks?” “How about an end-of-the-year party?” “We’ll have one once we’ve published the New Year’s edition. We’ll have the office host it.” “Then how about just the two of us? Later…” “Forget about it!” “Why? You think something unseemly will happen again? It’s good to howl a bit, isn’t it?” “Come on, man!” “Look here, brother!” “Forget it!” “Brother, it suits you better when you have a little drink and let it out! It’s much better than when you’re all scrunched up like that…” “…” “Don’t be like that, buck up!” 24
“…” “Lately you’ve been walking around with such a gloomy look on you face, why is that? You must have had supper. It’s not like you’re a ghost-mother…” “Go on up now!” Dae-yeong turns around and walks down the stairs, but Byeong-soo persists… “Where ya going later?” “Don’t know!” “Probably to your house. Well, I’ll send the car over, so be sure to come, alright?” “I won’t be home ‘til later.” Sumiko had stepped out into the street and was standing and waiting on one side of the exit. It was already five o’clock. The swiftly ending winter afternoon had already darkened to the color of lead, and it seemed as though white snowflakes were about to come fluttering down, making it even more desolate. It was sunset, and maybe because it is high season, the streets are bustling with busy people, making it particularly crowded. “My apologies!” Dae-yeong walked side by side with Sumiko heading towards the four-way intersection… “That was the company owner.” “Company owner?” “Company owner might sound unfamiliar to you, but it’s a little different from the president…” “He looked to be a young man. Is he a literary…?” “No.” “Well then! … I heard people say that he was constantly in the red?” “That’s why we’re grateful to him. In Joseon, without a partner who is willing to disregard all matters of financial interest, a decent magazine can’t be sustained! Hmph! It’s pitiful!” “Well, isn’t it more enjoyable than selling stuff? Instead of selling you’re giving… if that sounds too much like a sermon and makes you uncomfortable, then maybe a better way to put it is that it’s like enjoying something together…” “Well I suppose so! I too once considered this enjoyable, but…” Dae-yeong had never confessed this fact to any close friends or anyone else of his own accord. Moreover, he didn’t know why he was pouring his heart out to a woman he had just met and whom he didn’t even know, someone who might never be anything more than a passer-by. But on the other hand, despite these musings, he thought that this was not particularly awkward or trivial, and he gradually let it out. “Literature or magazines, doing literature doesn’t give me any sort of enjoyment whatsoever, and so it’s not any fun for me.” The woman turns her head around and looks at Dae-yeong’s face as it hangs low over the pavement. “Literature was something fun, and I was proud that I was enjoying myself with others who recognized my art, and of course it seemed fulfilling… And during this time 25
literature seemed majestic, and it was more fun than my own life… that’s what it used to be… and now!” Dae-yeong lets out a light sigh, walks on solemnly without a word for a little, and then continues on, “In a nutshell, my life just isn’t like it used to be! And now literature seems like a ghost! It has no realistic elements, and it’s meaningless… Being so meaningless and useless, literature has become a burden! Seeing this, it seems like there is nothing as foolish and wasteful as human habit! I probably should have made a clean break with it. It’s not that I still have any attachments to literature, but it might be because I’m still attached to some small piece of life! Well, whatever it may be…” Dae-yeong, as though abandoning himself, raises his voice and spits out… “It’s like this whole goddamn planet could explode at any minute. Everything is stretched to the limit. We’ve got Junkers jet fighters flying at six hundred kilometers per hour, zoom swish, so what’s a literature geek like me doing in a world like this! One should at least have enough power to cognize the immensity of the situation and understand the essence of it!” They had just turned south at the four-way intersection and were passing by the Boshingak bell pavilion. Like the African aborigine exhibition at the International Exposition, Boshingak pavilion stood side by side with the current, throbbing century, poignantly reflecting a bygone era that was long extinct and gathering dust in a revealing close-up. It was natural that people from other places might take note of the pavilion’s pitiful, hunched over appearance, but every once in a while even people who knew exactly what it looked like, and who went by it at least once or twice a day were duped (really, duped) into looking at the stupid thing. “Let’s see, how does that look?” Dae-yeong turned his head around, brusquely pointing at the pavilion. The woman however, looks down at the ground and keeps on walking, as though she is not willing to pay attention to it. Her face seemed to say: I know what you’re talking about without even looking at it. Dae-yeong then started speaking, as though mumbling to himself… “The old era lives along the new, see how pitiful and shabby it looks! Hmph! I used to laugh cruelly at that thing, but with very different feeling than right now!” At that point the woman (after they had almost completely passed the pavilion) suddenly raised her head and kept looking backward. She almost stopped in her tracks and called to Dea-yung with a nod. Dae-yeong walked back a few steps half-heartedly. He put in an aside, as though he was still in that indifferent state of mind, “The only solace is that it hasn’t given up on its beliefs! Like a hibernating amphibian waiting for spring, subsisting only on air…” It was not clear whether she was listening to him, but Sumiko waitsed until Daeyeong came to stand next to her, and sayid, “If it were up to me…” And then started going off on a tangent of her own. 26
“If I were the mayor of Gyeong-seong…” “Gyeong-seong doesn’t have a mayor. He’s a regional head!” Dae-yeong corrected her, but she continued without even nodding her head… “Is that so … Well anyway, if I were that person… I would never leave this here like this. I’d tear it down to the ground!” As though she couldn’t deal with the unpleasantness, she turned back with her face all scrunched up. It was clear that her view of things was completely different from the way tourists looked at things with curiosity-filled eyes, and Dae-yeong could swiftly surmise the truth behind the woman’s secret animosity. But he said facetiously, “Well, it’d be nice to renovate it…” And the continued on the way they were walking. “There’s absolutely no political danger in it… and even when there were glimmers of that sort of possibility, they were given very lenient treatment, so you can imagine how it would be now! It’s all due to the magnanimous authority of the mayor of Gyeong-seong. Mayor has a nicer ring to it, doesn’t it…? Why would the mayor of Gyeong-seong have reason to do anything so drastic, even in opposition to the principle of preserving relics of the past…” The woman was in her own head, and she didn’t respond, as though she hadn’t heard hear what he was saying. Dae-yeong ended to what he was saying and walked for a long while. As they were crossing Gwang-gyo Bridge, he called back to her, “Sumiko-san?” The woman, instead of answering, started as though to lift her head up, but then didn’t. “That bell pavilion from earlier, I wanted to say…” Dae-yeong looked ahead and let out thought after thought, word after word… “That old, haggard pavilion. Let’s say that’s a mirror… and you go up to that mirror. And you see your face… your eyes are congealed with sleep… remnants of makeup stain your face here and there… let’s say that’s what your face looks like in the mirror… Looking into the mirror and seeing that face looking straight back at you, is it unpleasant? Does it make you want to completely destroy what you saw?” It was a confident, surefire bait. He finished and turned his head around. The woman’s eyes, which had only been following the path ahead, sensed the man’s gaze on her cheek, and she quietly lowered her long eyelashes. They walked on wordlessly for a while. As they walked, she suddenly looked up to the sky and said, “Doesn’t it look like it’s about to snow?” “That wouldn’t be a bad thing! At this point…” And then they walked some more without speaking to one another… “Boon-san5?” “Yes!” 5
“Boon” is the Japanese pronunciation of Dae-yeong’s surname, Moon (文)
“I uh, some time ago… your people referred to XX as opium, right?” “Mm-hm!” “But nowadays, you know, those who used to call others opium have become opium themselves!” “Have they!” “At least I think so…” “…” “…” “Sumiko-san?” “Yes?” “How old are you, Sumiko-san?” “…Three…” “Twenty-three! Hmm! You’re still so young! Younger than I expected!” “…” “…” “And you, Boon-san? How old are you…” “Three as well…” “Thirty-three for a man, that’s just…” “Ah! It’s a lifetime to me! Come to think of it, I have no clue what I’ve been doing for those thirty-three long years! The days have become so boring lately!” “Whenever I saw them in movies, or heard about them in stories, or read about them in books, they always seemed rather romantic, I mean those white clothes. But why do they worry me so much when I see someone wearing them now?” She might have been starting up a completely unrelated topic of conversation with the aim of disarming and confusing her interlocutor. “Does seeing someone wearing white clothes look disquieting to you as well?” She asked again. “I don’t share your nostalgia for white clothes, Sumiko-san… Instead, I’d like to give all the people who still go around wearing white clothes a good punch!” “What are you talking about?” “It doesn’t look good for the city to have people sleepwalking on the streets, and it’s a hindrance to traffic…” “But they’re not the only ones! What about us?” “I suppose that’s true!” “…” “…” “I thought I’d come here to kick the habit! Doing something or whatnot, living and changing, in order to kick the opium habit…” “It was probably due to your beliefs!” “It’s long been since I’ve forgotten those things…” “If so… since you’re at a ripe age…” “Useless, worthless leftovers…” “It’s clear that you must have had it easy…” “Who knew poison would be so tenacious!” 28
“Also, Sumiko-san, you come from a lineage that…” Talking like this, they were like friends who had known each other for over ten years: there was nothing obstructing their conversation, and neither of them felt awkward at all. 4. After they got something to drink at a coffee house near Myeong-chi (Myeong-dong) Station, they had a little supper, and then went to see a movie. Dae-yeong, as usual, enjoyed watching the fresh newsreels from the front, and they were showing Krauss’ Burgtheatre. Purely artistic films like that had become harder to come by those days. About thirty minutes before the turnover, at around nine thirty, they left the theatre since they had already seen the ending. The snow wasn’t too thick, but flurries were whirling around, covering the streets in a fragile layer. The snow was falling and the night was still young, and because they were directionless, their footsteps lacked direction as well. Leaving the theatre and huddling in front of the door for a second, “What shall we do?” “Shall we walk?” “Tsk! Whatever…” That alone was enough, no more dialogue was necessary. They were almost at the top of the dark hill where the Catholic Church stood, when, “You say life is rich?” As though it suddenly hit her, Sumiko finally opened her mouth and recited a line from Burgtheatre. “While others are dying of boredom?” Dae-yeong reposted, to which the woman replied, “Tell me about it…” And then in a bit… “But you know what? If you think about it, the charms of living are so great and abundant.” “The charms? Of living?” “Whether good or bad, it’s your own life… A serious life where you have concrete beliefs and pour all your body and mind into them so there’s no room to think about other things. That kind of life seems beautiful, albeit tragic… So I’m envious of it…” “Envious…” “I’m not envious of their life itself. The ability to live like that, what’s it called, the attitude, is what I’m jealous of. Watching Burgtheatre had me thinking about it all of a sudden.” “You don’t think what you’re feeling is merely the product of going to the theater?” “Perhaps it has something to do with that… But living all his life without ever knowing a thing about dating, he lived heart and soul for theatre alone… And in doing so, if something went wrong he became despondent, then tried again harder… Then after all those years later, at an old age, he falls head over heels for this young girl who was already spoken 29
for, and then he is humiliated and suffers tremendously. And, oh my goodness, has a door shut right in his face, while he stands outside and sighs… He slapped that guy’s face not because of hypocrisy or to teach him a lesson, but because of real fury, don’t you think?” “It seemed real.” “Everyone is so serious, and they are so concentrated on what they do, struggling in a way in which their lives and the main agents are pitted against each other, aren’t they? Of course, it’s undeniable how touching it is…” “What if you, Sumiko-san, were that person?” “That would be far better than now. Now, I have I have nothing.” “In fact, at the office before, the two young men were fighting up a storm about a similar issue… Do you recall Madame Curie?” “Oh! And?” “They were arguing about whether Madame Curie’s glory was happiness, or not…” “You don’t say!” “Right, didn’t you say so yourself? Happiness and unhappiness are subjective matters… In the world there are people like you, Sumiko-san! You are better off than I am… but perhaps there are people out there who take the life of someone like me and consider it beautiful, right? Like how drawing an ugly rendition of a woman calls forth artistic beauty, or how naturalistic authors like Zola describe the dirty, dark facets of life and find so-called artistic beauty. They can find a sickly, decadent aesthetic just like that!” Conversing with one another, they ended up by a large street of Hwang-geum Jeong where streetcars roared by. The snow came down fairly heavy, veiling the two people’s heads, clothes, and street with white. “That’s good for now, you should go home. I’ll walk you back…” Dae-yeong turned toward the four-way intersection, and the woman seemed to hesitate for a bit, as though something was unsatisfactory, but she followed behind eventually. “It’s a nice night with snow falling and all, but there’s nothing worth seeing around these parts to warrant walking around all night.” As he reasoned with her, Dae-yeong thought to himself that there was a certain charm in walking along that paved street, already emptied of people, with that melancholy woman as they listened wordlessly to the sound of their footsteps, walking on the snow and the snow falling on them. Almost back in front of the government building, the woman asked, “Boon-san,you drink, right?” “I do. Can’t drink too much, though.” “Shall we have some?” “Would you like to?” “What does alcohol even taste like?” “Bitter…” “And?” “It stings…” “And?” “Your stomach hurts, your heart expands…” 30
“And?” “It’s an anesthetic…” “That’s it?” “You become paranoid, and conversely, you become honest…” “That’s it?” “Part of your senses become excited and you can become ferocious like an animal…” “Don’t they say that drinking and smoking help you forget your troubles?” “In some senses… But people often drink to forget pain or worries, and even more because they’re angry. But those are excuses. To me, it seems more like lashing out. Similar to how a servant that’s been whipped the master kicks the dog…” “I might seem tough, but I still haven’t tried drinking or smoking. My mother and father were so strict…” They went into an old coffee house across from the government building, found seats in the corner and sat across from each other. He thought of ordering absinthe, but it seemed like that would be way too strong for her, so he ordered whiskey. The shop boy, recognizing Dae-yeong as a regular, smiled broadly, and gingerly poured the yellow, agate-colored liquid into each tiny glass before retreating, leaving the bottle on the table. Although the label had a dashing white steed on it, he prepared himself for the headsplitting hangover in the morning characteristic of Santori. Dae-yeong lifted his glass, shot it down, and said, “This is how you drink it.” He then washed it down with a cold glass of water. They weren’t really drinking: he was teaching her how to drink, so there was no other way than to show her the proper way of doing it. The woman put the glass to her lips, and used her tongue to dip down and taste the liquor. She furrowed her brow, and put it back down. Dae-yeong looks at her amicably, then poured himself a glass and drank it. The woman, as though envious, pretended to drink a little sip, but then she scrunched up her face and covered her lips with her handkerchief instead of the glass. Looking like she’s spit it out, she rinses her mouth with cold water, and said, “How can it taste so bad…?” “Like I said, that’s what liquor tastes like.” Dae-yeong lets his guard down laughing, and drank his third. “How can you drink this stuff so well? You don’t feel anything?” “As you can see.” “It doesn’t sting?” “Nope.” “It’s not bitter?” “Nope.” The woman, still worried, watched him with a frown on her face, before breaking into a grin and asking, “Oh, how I’d like to drink it as well… Do all liquors taste this barbaric?” 31
“Barbaric? Nonsense! There are civilized ones as well.” “Then can I have some of that…?” “But that stuff isn’t even liquor…” Dae-yeong thought of peppermint liqueur, but abandoned that thought since it would look too unseemly. They had run out of Curacao, so he had them bring wine. “Let’s see…?” The woman lifted the pretty, crimson-tinged wine glass, and, remembering how she had had her wits shaken before, tasted it carefully. She smiled, took a sip, and then gulpped down the whole thing at once. “This is so good! Why didn’t you get me this before?” “It’s not worth the price.” “But it stings, too! A little…” “Tsk? Well maybe that’ll be more appropriate since it’s your first time.” The woman poured herself another glass. She drank three in a row. “Um, this drink, let’s buy a whole bottle and leave.” “What’s gotten into you, little miss?” “I’m a broken clock anyway, forget about it!” “A broken clock? That’s nice, too… I’m an old calendar myself.” “An old calendar? Is that right? An old calendar? That’s even more accurate than a broken clock.” Albeit mild, wine is still wine, and since she had never had it before, and since she had three glasses back to back, the skin around her eyes turned red and her cheeks flushed, looking as though she was completely out of breath. Dea-yung had had about five or six glasses, which was just about how much he usually drank. In other words, he had just reached that point where it was pleasant to chat. “Come on, let’s go.” Seeing as there was no way she could have learned the etiquette of drinking, when she was through with her business, she got on her feet and scurried to the counter. When he caught up with her to stop her from paying, he found out that she was in the middle of paying and negotiating her way into buying another bottle. Leaving the coffee house after appeasing her by telling her that he would buy her a bottle from another store, they saw that the snow had really been coming down in heaps so that the whole street was filled with it. As though she’d reached her wits’ end, she clung onto his arm, almost hanging on it, following him, pestering him, “Let’s walk around the streets some more. Please?” “Go home.” “But I don’t want to.” “Here it’s a little different from Tokyo. When a man and a woman walk around late at night like this, it startles the police and they prohibit it.” “Well, so what.” “Is there a reason to be pestered for something so worthless?” “I see you’re quite an innocent man!” “Look. I’ll buy you a bottle of wine instead, so…” 32
“In a state like this… with a heart so inconsolable, I can’t bear to be by myself tonight!” “Just as you were able to objectively judge people’s lives in that movie from earlier, try and look objectively at yourself, Sumiko-san. You’ll feel a little better… it’s as though you are observing…” “You’re going to laugh at me because you must be wondering where all my pluck went, but women are different from men. They are more prone to being sentimental, isn’t that right? And on top of that, I’m nostalgic… no one forced me to come here, but here I am, in a place where the night is so unfamiliar, and so are the people…” “Why don’t we go to your place? I’ll be your conversation buddy until you’ve calmed down and fallen asleep” “In reality, you’re not completely free from blame, so to speak.” “Blame? I am?” Dea-yeong, under a certain presumption, could not help but think that she was being a little too easy, and in turn could not help but feel a slight disdain for her. But the woman continued… “To say that you are to blame might be whining, but women are weak for men who understand them too well, and this is why they behave like a spoilt child in their womanly ways. Because they trust them in an instinctive, passive kind of way… and if you don’t get over that bump in the right way, it develops into a whole other thing…” “And the alcohol in your system pours fuel on the fire, I suppose?” “It seems that way.” “So next time don’t even think of drinking liquor!” “I’ll just drink with you… since you already know my weakness. Alright, now buy me wine, you promised…” Sumiko’s room was located at the edge of the first building in an apartment complex that consisted of several buildings. The heat of the steam heater was cozy, and although it was a small room, there was a little bed and a little wardrobe, an old coffee table, and those seemed to have been the original furnishings that came with the room. But the huge sofa with its silk cushions, the down duvet covering the bed, the little shelf on another small table, and the two stools: all these things were new, luxurious accouterments, which the woman had clearly purchased. “Bringing everything in and arranging it took all day yesterday and a half the day today.” The woman took off her coat and hat and shoved it into the wardrobe, then turned around and said, “Boon-san, your hat, and your coat…” She extended her arms, wiggling her fingers toward Dae-yeong who was standing vacantly in the middle of the room. Wide green lines crisscrossed the gray fabric dress that clung to her body, making it look even lither. The muscles, arms, and legs beneath were taught.
It was suspect for Dae-yeong to take off his coat, but insisting on some incorruptibility seemed as though he would be admitting to his guilty conscience, so he complied with everything she asked without resistance. “Make yourself comfortable and have a seat on the sofa…” Sumiko didn’t treat his clothes as roughly as she had her own. Instead, she took the time and effort to hang them and fold them neat and nicely. “Seeing as I don’t know how long I’ll be calling this place home, and I don’t have concrete plans for now, I don’t know why I bought all these furnishings. Maybe what they say about women and cats being similar is more than just a stupid joke, am I right? Like how they want to make the place they’re staying in seem familiar…” The woman seemed to feel more at ease and comfortable since Dae-yeong came all the way here to be with her. She kept bustling around, until she finally closed the last door to the wardrobe and came back to him. “Now, I must be a good hostess.” “You should put up a couple of paintings on the walls.” Dae-yeong looked around again to see nothing but a plate on the coffee table, with nothing else on the four, gently sloping walls. The woman followed his gaze and said, “I thought about decorating, but as for now, there’s nothing else to do but to live in this little cage house, and there isn’t anywhere to put up paintings…” “I have a nice little painting, but it doesn’t go with such a Western-style room. And now it’s something of an antique, so it probably won’t fit your taste…” “We have a lot of old paintings at my place so I’ve looked at them all my life. What is it? By whom?” “It’s Heo So-chi, you wouldn’t know him, Sumiko-san. It’s an original drawing by him of a peony.” “Bring it to me.” “Tsk! It’s a darkened old black and white ink drawing, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.” “I’ll hang it up nicely and look at it while I’m here and I’ll send it back just as neatly as well, alright?” “I can give it to you as a keepsake.” “Then I should give you something when I leave. What should I give you?” The woman was about to leave the room with the tea things. She looked back while turning the doorknob, and asked, “Right! If you’re feeling hungry I could make some toast.” Dae-yeong nodded his head and said, “Sounds good.” “But… how about some eggs? Soft-boiled?” “You can have some, Sumiko-san…” “I’m not hungry… oh, but wait, what is this? Ha-ha-ha!” The woman laughed exuberantly for the first time, but Dae-yeong didn’t know what was going on and was flabbergasted. “It’s like we’re a couple playing house, ha-ha-ha-ha!”
Before he had time to respond, the laughter ebbed from her face like moving water. A crease appeared on her brow, and she slowly turned her head around to go out, pushing past the door. Undoubtedly, some remnant of an unpleasant memory that she had lived through had been called up by the expression of playing house with a grown man. Come to think of it, the way she took the man’s coat and took care of it neatly like she did earlier, and the way she was paying close attention to him, offering toast and eggs to snack on—those were the mannerisms of someone who had been someone’s woman. She wasn’t some naïve, clumsy daughter belonging to some family or other. In that case, Dae-yeonghad been wrong to assume that the anguish emanating from her was as simple as that, and concluded that the affairs of the heart surely had something to do with it. When he came to this conclusion, he could guess more or less specifically what had happened to her, and he sat there thinking about that. A short while later, Sumiko opened the door and entered in mysteriously with a steaming teapot. It seemed her thoughts had multiplied while she was at the gas stove: her demeanor had flipped back to what it was earlier, and her face had resumed the previous gloomy expression. He assumed she wouldn’t be speaking for a long time, but for some reason, she said to herself, “How the snow falls!” And pulling the coffee table right near the sofa, she let her eyes fall to it and quietly started making tea. The fragrant smell of black tea filled the room, and the sound of her making tea was the only thing that could be heard particularly loudly. Then it stopped. Fittingly, from the tip of Dae-yeong’s cigarette several blue ribbons of smoke drifted upwards. It was a moment in time where tense grief prettily colored the serenity of the room. Finally, in neat little porcelain tea cups, she laid out two amber-colored, strongly brewed cups of tea. She remembered the chocolates in the pantry and put them in a dish, and then, “Thank you for waiting! Now please…” And offers it to her guest, “Put as much sugar as you see fit…” “Sumiko-san, what are we to do if this keeps you up?” “Never mind that!” The woman puts a cushion on the armrest on the other end of the sofa and sat herself toward Dae-yeong’s side. With hot tea in their system, they were once again gripped by the force of liquor, and their faces lit up anew. “There used to be… a rotten, wicked man!” These few words abruptly rolled out of her mouth after they had been drinking tea for a while. During the time their conversation was interrupted for a second, Dae-yeong, as if he had known beforehand that the (or some) story would start up again soon (the mood of the 35
occasion made this seem likely), put the teacup down, put a cigarette between his lips, reclined comfortably, and finally looked up at the wall in front of him and concentrated his nerves to his ears. At that time, the woman put down her tea as well, and for a second, looked at the man with her full attention. After her gaze slowly came to rest upon his profile, she began speaking slowly, “There was a girl who had just finished day school… just about eighteen…” And she continued her story, which slowly began to be revealed. “What could she have known? She knew nothing of the world, filled with curiosity and overly sensitive. She was a girl whose breath still smelled of breast milk… and taking this girl… seeing as she came from a prosperous family, without male heirs, only sisters, and the youngest, no less… spoiled and wild-eyed. She was no different from a tomboy, and taking a naïve girl like that… a girl like that… How savage…That awful person let her have opium. At an age when even dating would be considered too much, too early, to have opium… It may have been called dating, but it was no such thing… There wasn’t even passionate affection, and I never once felt any sort of intimacy for that human being, just for the opium he had, I fell head over heels for its exotic allure… But I went along with it, no, in my mind, it was a relationship without any doubt at all that… Tsk! That fierce passion was enough to swallow the sun!” Thus, gradually, she let herself be immersed in her past memories, and the tale unraveled neatly like a spool of yarn. With her calm voice, and its low, monotonous timbre, her dreamy, vulnerable face, and her unmoving body, she looked like a conjuring vessel possessed by the spirit of another, sitting there complaining about the dead soul’s regrets. There was a sort of mysticism about her, as though she were possessed, or a young shamaness. “Well anyway that was six years ago from today, six years in time…” Sumiko suddenly paused. As though Dae-yeong was the conjurer, he sat there in the same pose, and distractedly said, “Six years ago… If it was six years ago, then…” Adding to the chorus. “At that time, hmm… At that time, opium was no longer in such high demand anymore, I think? It was after its heyday, it must have come back like a wave…” “There was no way for me to know that, and even if I did, it wouldn’t have mattered…” The woman shook her head quietly and continued on with her story, “He used our so-called relationship to feed me those drugs, I didn’t care whether I lived or died and took whatever he gave me. It was about a month… No, no, at most a fortnight… I lost my mind to the point that I couldn’t see straight… One fateful morning I abandoned everything, ran off and started living him, in a tiny room in the slum of Nagaya, cooking off of a piece of broken pan, completely covered in flour. But it was joyous… What a ridiculous little girl I was! Anyway, I continued on like that for half a year. By that time, I had become an out-and-out opium addict, and so this man, finally, saying that it was the right thing to do and that he was following the natural course of things, went off on his own to train and meditate… Having nowhere else to go I was fortunately able to my parents who 36
cared for me deeply and sheltered me… I waited two years and a half after I returned, and during these two years and a half I audited classes at a private university. It was a safe and quiet environment, where I could read a lot regularly. Because of that, the disease finally entered my marrow. Finally, I was an independent opium addict. But being bookish, I was also an opium addict who didn’t take opium. I don’t know how to describe it… Well anyway, I spent two years and a half like that, and that’s when I met him again.” The woman, let out a sigh, “When I saw him…” And then she stopped talking for a bit, but after a long while, “Up until that point, I didn’t know that I wasn’t waiting for love. I was only waiting for the opium. I didn’t even know it myself. But when I saw him! I felt such a strong disdain, the man was completely irrelevant, and there was nothing that could ever connect the two of us. He was completely meaningless, like any random passer-by. He had completely washed off the poison of opium and become a complete man. But when he came back like that for the first time, I felt that he had become a… a stranger… a complete stranger who meant nothing to me. First he had gotten me addicted to opium, then he made me wait for such a long time, while he wiped his hands clean of the whole thing. The way he looked at me, he looked so innocent and facetious. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me when I realized I’d been played. At last, I realized there was no love between us, and since our relationship was not sustained by love and since he no longer possessed the allure of opium that had initially knotted our lives together, I came to an obvious conclusion… If the man himself had been intoxicating to me, I would have accepted him just as he was, whether he had changed or not. But when the mask of the opium was removed, I could see he was the wickedest scum alive! He was colluding with a thug called Okada, and they harassed me to no end. They lured me out and held me captive and threatened me, and when the threats didn’t work they lynched me. My parents had their fair share of grief in this matter. This was the way they extorted money so they could continue to live in debauchery. Just like the storyline of some vulgar, paperback novel. Sumiko stopped herself mid-sentence, shivered and let out a sigh. It looked like she was returning from someplace far away, and her expression and demeanor became more relaxed. She reached over with her arm to pick up a piece of chocolate, and said, “Hey… Boon-san?” In a voice that was completely her own. “Yeah?” Dae-yeong responded in a far away, distracted voice. “Boon-san, you don’t really like sweet things?” “Well…” “Hey… Boon-san?” “Yeah?” “Do you know who it was?” Dae-yeong shook his head side to side as Sumiko unwrapped the foil from the chocolate and brought it toward her mouth. She stopped, looked over at Dae-yeong for a long time, and then said, 37
“He shared the same blood as you.” She quickly bit into the chocolate. “What did you say?” His voice came out unexpectedly loud, Dae-yeong reflexively sprung back and stared at the woman’s face. “You startled me! Was what I said that bad?” After hearing that, Dae-yeong thought, Why did such a small thing startle me so much? He felt awkward and sorry and had a hard time controlling the stern expression on his face. “Boon-san?” “Yes!” “What I said earlier, was it rude?” “Don’t worry about it!” “But why are you so… snappish?” “It was completely unexpected…” “Well in that case… But Boon-san are you sure you’re alright?” “To tell the truth…” Dae-yeong got up, folded his hands behind his back and began pacing back and forth in the small room. “I just felt mortified for a second, but…” “But?” “I suppose that’s the reflexive prejudice associated with ancestry… But why? Why should I be concerned about some good-for-nothing going around starting trouble?” “That’s what I’m saying!” “And moreover, Sumiko-san, you are the victim here… Sumiko-san, you don’t have hostility towards or want to humiliate the general public because of or based on that, it’s not that kind of prejudice, am I right? “If I did that, I imagine I’d get licked properly and be banished from Gyeong-seong!” Dea-yeong stood in front of Sumiko with a broad smile on his face. He looked into her eyes as she looked straight up at him, laughing and waiting. “Now…” The woman patted the seat next to her with her hand, and then waited for Dae-yeong to come sit next to her as she suggested… “Would you like more tea?” “No…” “Then, this?” The woman lifts up the wine they brought back earlier, which was sitting forgotten on the coffee table. “I completely forgot! Let’s have some?” “It fills you up and it’s bland.” “Why not have your fill? And I’ll have a bit as well, alright?” Using the teacups as glasses, they poured themselves some wine. Dae-yeong sipped at it as though tasting it, while Sumiko drank it all in three or four gulps. “When a woman drinks and makes a habit of getting drunk, it’s not attractive and it looks loose!” 38
“That’s why I said I’ll only drink with you, Boon-san!” Dae-yeong didn’t know how to interpret the “Boon-san” in the woman’s “With you, Boon-san,” and was curious to know where its boundaries lay. “There, and now back to the story?” “Yes!” “I’m going to continue my story from before, alright?” Dae-yeong nodded. “There’s only a tiny bit left, alright?” It was before the effects of alcohol could have taken effect. The reason her voice and tone were a little different were probably because, due to her one experience beforehand (the very first experience is always the most effective), she had convinced herself that alcohol naturally excited your mood. “So… For about a year I submitted to that sort of tempering, but I was lucky in the end.” “Did you mange to escape him?” “He roughed up someone somewhere and he really ended up going to prison! For about ten years…” “Hmm!” “Oh, but just when I was finally able to relax a little bit, who should start pestering me but my family!” “Obviously, they were telling you to get married!” “You said it! The dowry was a whopping fifty thousand won! It was initially set at thirty thousand, but since the girl was spoiled goods, they stacked on another twenty!” “Tsk! Certainly not cheap!” “It goes both ways I suppose. Oh, but I wasn’t going to stand for it at all. There were lots of people who stepped up because of the fifty thousand won alone, but there were plenty of others who were not at all lacking to play the part of a decent groom. But more than anything, I didn’t want to marry. Even if I were to get married, if the bride is an opium addict and the groom is an upstanding citizen, the marriage obviously wouldn’t last more than a few days. It’s like a butch bride with a third-dan judo belt and a skinny new groom who weighs less than a dozen gwan6… What would it look like if they practiced judo night and day and the husband got pinned? Ha-ha-ha!” Dae-yeong laughed with her unbeknownst to himself, and looked into her laughing face for so long that she blushed a bright pink. While watching her, the impulse to steal a kiss from her lips gradually reared its head, but he suppressed that urge and turned his face away from that challenging obstacle. At that same moment, his face must have assumed a suspicious expression. When he turned his head back around to look at Sumiko again, the careless laughter of her face had suddenly been wiped off, and her eyes seemed tense. It looked as though he had really gotten caught. The side of his face that was turned towards her could not help but feel embarrassed and awkward. “Wouldn’t this be bad for both parties?” 6
A gwan is about 3.75 kg, so about 45 kg. 39
The woman was merely continuing her story from before, but Dea-yung, just like the guilty always assumes others are talking about him, was almost startled because he thought she was chastising him. “I couldn’t do that to some young man… and when I knew it would end badly I couldn’t just go along with it. That would be stupid… And if I ever ended up messing up something like that for the second time, wouldn’t that just be grand? Oh, how they tormented me without understanding how deep my concerns were! My mother pestered me, my sister pestered me, my uncle pestered me, my father terrified me with his chastisements. Last fall they were going to marry me off through a matchmaker to a medical scholar at the head of a lab department in Tokyo University! I sprawled out on the floor saying I’d rather die. That went on and on until this spring, when my father got really furious and cut me off! ‘You bitch. You ungrateful child. You traitor to your country. I cannot forgive you,’ he said… ‘The food you eat and the clothes you wear all belong to me and the nation. Why in the hell should I house, feed, clothe, and care for such an ungrateful bitch?’ And then he cut me off, so I left. It was actually better than being pestered night and day at home… And I didn’t suffer much, either. Mother and sister, the two of them…” The woman picked up the bottle of wine instead of the chocolate her hand had been reaching for, and asked, “Look here, I’m having more of this, okay?” “There is a saying in Joseon: a thief who learns to steal later in life will spend the whole night thieving!” “Just a tiny bit? I’m really thirsty!” “Just be prepared to deal with an upset stomach later…” The woman poured herself half a glass of the crimson liquid in the teacup, and then sucks it in with her red lips as though it were some sweet nectar. Dae-yeong thinks (makes excuses) to himself that the cup is distracting, and then abandons that thought. “So anyway, that’s how my mother and sister…” The woman pushes the cup away and starts her story again after moving herself closer to him. “The two of them they would take turns coming to my apartment, giving me heaps of allowance money. They were not stingy, and I didn’t have to live covered in flour like I had before… Oh, and right, that’s when I first heard of you, Boon-san!” “What do you mean Boon-san, you mean me?” “Yes! Well I don’t mean it like that…” “But we just met the day before last.” “There was a Joseon couple who were students who were living right next to me, and I knew them… That couple were so wise and kind, we got pretty close and spent quite a lot of time together, oh, and that’s when I my prejudices against Joseon people changed! Anyway, the husband and wife, they both went to Japan University together. And they were both passionate, aspiring literary minds. So I heard from them from time to time about Joseon literature. I’ve always had an interest in literature, so I became curious. When I asked about this and that they would always answer me kindly. And they had magazines and periodicals, I looked at them like a blind man looking at colorful tiles. They told me all about who’s who in 40
the literary scene, and there was a part about you, and sometimes they would bring out a piece of work and translate it for me out loud, haltingly, word-by-word. To tell you the truth, I forgot every last word of it except you, Boon-san. But you stayed remained in my memories.” “Just like that, huh! The young aspiring author of today who explained these things to you, there’s no way he said anything good about me, so I’m guessing he ripped me a new one?” “You got it! But for me, it was more than that, ha-ha-ha! Don’t be mad at me, alright? But your piece was so halfhearted! Ha-ha-ha!” “Instead of ‘His great name prevailed over the four seas,’ it’s more like his ugliness spread across faraway Tokyo, I suppose?” “It’s mean of me to say halfhearted. But it would have been better to deem it a research paper than a novel!” “Which was it? Well I suppose they’re all alike so there’s no point in saying which one it was.” “I forget what it was called … But even though it was stiff and bland like a research paper, it spoke to me! By chance, you had impressed, and I remembered you. When I came to Joseon this time, I was thinking of coming to you first and foremost to be my point of contact, but the student couple next door moved just a few days before I took off, and I had no idea where to find you. In fact, they most likely didn’t have any connection with you, either. So, I was in a hurry, and that was when I met that person in Song-jook. I ran into him in the street and after a few words I told him my concerns, and he said he knew the perfect person for the job. He wrote Kim Jong-ho’s information on his business card, and provided me with an introduction. He also said he would send him a letter of introduction himself…” “It looks like it’s in your destiny for Joseon to be a place where you make peculiar connections? Sumiko-san, you…” “It looks that way! Really, if there isn’t such a connection, whether good or bad, there would be no reason for these relations to continue building, right?” “That’s not what I’m saying, Sumiko-san.” “Yes?” “That’s not it, but perhaps an ancestor of yours… Way back during the Im-jin War, Bunroku no eki in Japanese history… you know Bunroku no eki, right? The Joseon expedition of Toyotomi Hideyoshi…” “I learned it in a textbook and also read about it in Ga Deung Cheong Jeong by Jang Hyeok-ju.” “Well… you know back then… one of your ancestors must have come over to Joseon with the expedition… and fought here, right? By mistake, he might have murdered an innocent civilian, right? These things often happen during wartime…” “Maybe… but I haven’t heard of anything like that? Why do you say so?” “It must have been! And this grudge has finally reached you, Sumiko-san, his descendent!” “Really?” The woman’s eyes widened with a ferocious question, almost as though they were interrogating him. Then, seeing Dae-yeong break into laughter… 41
“You’re lying!” Still half in doubt, she seemed to be scared and looked intently into the man’s face. Sitting next to a woman whose actions were not all repulsive, scaring her a bit after coming up with a story by chance, and then feigning sincerity and poking fun at her was an unexpectedly interesting pastime. “Women! They generally don’t seem to be immune to superstition!” “Who won’t be? You really got me! Feigning ignorance like you believed in that… and since it’s based on actual history…” “It’s my revenge for you calling my novel halfhearted!” “A-ha! Here I thought… so are we even now?” “Tsk! Although I got the shorter end of the stick…” “Damnation! Now, let’s call it even. And now we have to continue on with the rest of the story, huh? Whatever, it’s digressed onto numerous tangents, and the beginning and end are all mixed up… Ah, yes, so anyway, I had gotten kicked out of my house and I was living in an apartment. Spring, summer, and fall went by alright. Then when winter rolled in once more, I contemplated my life, and it didn’t seem to be working anymore. I wouldn’t be in harm’s way for a while, but there was no way I could keep living that way for the rest of time, right? Maybe it’s because I was getting older, but at some point I vaguely started worrying about my future. A broken clock… like you said. Boon-san, last year’s calendar. I have no idea how such a useless object as me got to thinking about these things! So since then, well, after that I decided I should probably get my life on track. But that time, I had the idea that it would be best to leave the place where I’d been living, right? And at the same time, a thought flashed through my head, What in the world does this Joseon even look like? What the heck, why not! I summoned the courage to think these things! And then there was no looking back. Just two days before I left, my mother and sister heard about my plan and were appalled. My mother said, ‘My girl, I’ve heard that Joseon is still teeming with tigers. Why would you ever go there? Doesn’t the name of it just make you quiver with fear, Joseon?’ As often as she cries, I still didn’t know what to do when I saw the tears streaming down her face… My sister also tried to stop me, saying, ‘They say it’s so cold in Joseon that your ears freeze and fall off in the harsh winter. Why would you ever go to such a place…?’ After a while, on the day of my departure, they both come out to Tokyo station, and mother cried her eyes out, saying, ‘Take a good look at your mother’s face, this is the last time you’ll see it.’ And then she gave me this… this ring…” The woman’s voice gradually shrank as she lifted up the ring on her left hand. It had a thin white-gold band, and a stone too big to be elegant. Still, under the light the slightly yellow diamond looked ravishing. Dae-yeong couldn’t help but want to caress the little hand that was far prettier than the precious gem. The woman also looked down to her ring for a long time and reminisced quietly before she let out a little sigh, and continued, “And well, she puts this on my finger and says she hasn’t been able to prepare as much money as she wanted to, so I should wear this and exchange it for money If I’m in need… She had had it made for three thousand won when she got married, she had been meaning to give it to my younger sister when she got married. Mother had no idea it would 42
come into use at such a sad occasion. Then my sister saw that I was wearing a thin wool jacket, and said, ‘They say that Joseon is so cold your ears fall off. How are you going to get by with just that little thing?’ So she took her coat off and wrapped it around me… And they implored me to come back as soon as I’d thought things through… ‘How will we make it through the days knowing we have sent you so far away,’ then said before crying some more… For the first time I started crying, too! … It must have been because I was going far away to a foreign land. But I really profoundly felt their love seeping into me, and it was painful. I cried with them because I was moved! To tell you the truth, it was certainly not the first time there had been that sort of deep affection between my parents, my sister, and myself, but it was the first time that I really, actually felt it!” The woman then stopped talking again and let out a sigh, and then with a little more strength in her voice and in her intonation, she said, “And then! There was something I felt so sincerely at that moment… Look, my mother loved me so much… My sister, too… And so did my uncle… and I felt that if father just saw that I respected his wishes a bit, he would love me just like before… Ah, so all around me there is deep and profound, abundant love, you see? It’s not an exaggeration… And also, my family’s well off… and pretty well educated… Not too bad, right? Even me, it may not be much to speak of, but even I’ve done a bit of studying… I’m twenty-three, young as can be, and healthy… I’m not that pretty, but I don’t have pockmarks, and I don’t look awful. It’s all good, right? So that’s what I’m saying… No matter how you look at it, there’s nothing lacking in my background or current situation. I’ve only got one disease, opium. If I can shake that off… Someone who can’t live with the times, someone who has left reality and has become a legend, nothing but a good-for-nothing idol… That’s what I think an idol is! And, I mean, if that’s not an idol, what is? So if I could just shake off that idol, that opium, then you’ll see… I’ll finally return to that good environment, live to my heart’s content, and really enjoy my youth and my life, right? How nice that would be! Right? Yes? Boon-san… do you think I’m being foolish? Do I want too much? Am I being greedy? Yes? Boon-san! Am I on the wrong track? Am I being greedy? The woman wasn’t being thrashed around by alcohol. She wasn’t trashed or acting drunk, and the way she became heated and heartfelt carried a sort of sincerity. Dae-yeong had said as much himself at sunset outside. He knew then that it was her most desperate cry, and while sympathizing with her completely natural desire, he couldn’t help but feel a lingering, hurtful distance from this woman who was flapping so vigorously. He didn’t even have the energy to answer in any way, and he sat staring ahead like an idiot. Night was creeping by ever so secretly… The woman, at that point, sighed frightfully as though all the tension that had been cooped up in her had been released all at once, and said, “That reminds me!” In a voice that was completely dispirited, she thoughtlessly put her body against his arm as though she were being swept away (without thought or hesitation, but in a natural manner). She rested her head on his arm, and draped her arms around his shoulders. “Right, Boon-san…?” “Yeah!” “I’ve been thinking!” 43
“…” “Why do people… why do they sometimes act differently from what they think? Sometimes they are spliced into two or three parts, you know? Why are they so tormented and go through so much painful hardship? Huh? Boon-san!” “…” “You have to explain this to me!” “…” Dae-yeong had by then completely let go of himself, and with the help of the sympathetic compassion that was blooming all around, he could just as well have swiftly patted her on the back, saying, ‘Gimiwa sukuwareru! Nangekawasotodenai! Imani sumuwareru gimiwa (You’ll be saved! Don’t worry! You will be saved soon…)’ He deeply wanted to console her, but if he did so, it seemed like he was going to have to feel the distance between them once more. And he couldn’t bear that. “Aha…” The woman sighed and sat upon again after a long time. “If you think about it, what good is it? Go with the flow wherever it may lead you, just like that…” And after reminiscing alone some more, she suddenly said, “Oh, I’m so hungry! What time is it, anyway?” And she looked at her wristwatch. Startled, she said, “Oh my goodness! It’s three o’clock! Hey, Boon-san…” And she shook Dae-yeong’s arm. “It’s already three o’clock!” “Hmm, really? Already…” Dae-yeong was about to stretch out his limbs, but he got up from his seat instead. “Mister, what are you going to do? Do you live far from here?” “Close or far, whatever… Sumiko-san, you should try and get some sleep, what are you going to do. You’re as awake as a doe!” “Don’t worry about me! There aren’t any taxis at this time of night, right?” “There aren’t, but…” “Is your place far from here?” “It’s about twenty li7 from here.” “What should we do? You’re going to have to walk that?” “No…” Dea-yung had no intention of exerting himself to get home by walking all the way to Hoegi Station, which was past Cheong-nyang-ri, at this time of night. Instead, he was thinking of spending the night at an inn or at a friend’s place like he always does. Well, since his wife had given birth, it might be somewhat different from other days. But even then, it felt as though he had left her that morning in bed with a common cold, and he didn’t feel any more remorse than that. “What do you mean, no?” 7
A li is 420 m, so 20 li is about 8.4 km. 44
The woman got up facing him with a frown on her worried face, saying, “Then sleep here instead! I’ll sleep on this sofa here…” “You shouldn’t. Don’t make such a fuss about it!” “Oh no, I’m such a fool! They’re waiting for you at home, aren’t they? Your wife… you have a wife at home, right?” “Nominally…” “See! You’ve got to go! But then how will you get there? Is your wife at home all by herself?” “These days my mother-in-law is staying with us, and…” Dae-yeong was about to add that the wife had delivered today, but he thought that it might cause another uproar, so he let that thought go, and said… “And I’ve trained her like this from the beginning, so even if I don’t go home for a few days, there’s nothing odd about it… She doesn’t even wait, ha-ha! Don’t worry about a thing, dear!” “Really?” “Why would I lie about this?” “Can husband and wife really live that way?” “We’re an exception… My wife is unflappable. And I just think of home as a laundry-cum-inn! I’m going off on a tangent, but my wife and I might only fight once a year, if at all! Ha-ha!” “Wow! I wish I were as easy-going as your wife!” “She’s really laidback, like the Chinese say, manmandi!” “You don’t say! So she’s the type that doesn’t react even when lightning strikes next to her…” “She might even go pick up some cannonballs!” “Ha-ha-ha! You don’t really think that, do you?” “It’s just a saying!” “So really, you don’t think they’d care at home?” “Naturally!” “Then, you’ll sleep here?” “That’s not going to happen!” “Why not? Decorum?” “Well… something along those lines, I suppose!” “Don’t worry! You’re an old calendar anyway, ha-ha-ha!” “Right! I suppose there’s a place for an old calendar!” The woman opened a trunk that she pulled from underneath the bed. She took out a cozy, fleecy comforter and carried it in her arms over to the sofa. “This is all I need to sleep here… Boon-san, you go to the bed… I just bought the covers and only used them once last night, so just put up with it this once, alright?’ “Instead of that, if we’re doing this, here…” Dae-yeong took the woman to the bed, pressed down on her shoulders and sat her firmly on the edge. “Sumiko-san, why don’t you sleep here? It’ll be more comfortable.” “But I’m supposed to be the host!” 45
“I’m going to go over there. I’d rather you were comfortable…” “But you’re the guest!” “If you want to get into the decorum involving host and guest you would be right, but how can I condone that as a man? It’s not right to make a woman suffer, and it’s wrong to invade a woman’s empty bed, am I wrong?” “You are so nice! And such a gentleman!” “And I don’t see sleep coming to me right this minute, either! Let’s chat a little more, huh! If you’re sleepy, I’ll pretend to sleep for a little bit, it will be light out soon…” “Oh! And tomorrow? What about tomorrow? I can’t bear to be alone anymore because I’m scared. I’m scared to be alone, I can’t bear it!” “Sleep tight and why don’t you come to my office in in the afternoon?” “Will you walk around and spend time with me, just like today?” “Of course!” “Alright! Thank you, Mister!” The woman nodded and kept smiling, as she asked, “And the day after that?” “The day after that as well…” “And the day after that?” “And the day after that as well.” “And then after that?” “Then as well!” “Ah, now I can relax! You mean it, right?” “Of course!” “Alright! Well then I… I’ll do whatever you tell me to do, ok? Now, go over that way and turn around for a second.” “Well, now this is torture!” Dae-yeong went over to the window as he was directed and looked out, pushing aside the curtains. He couldn’t see clearly, but snow was falling, just as Sumiko said earlier. Standing there, he thought, I’m not a twenty-something child like her, I’m a mature man. What sort of childish and stupidity is this? How can I be so immature at this point in my life? How can I be so unrefined…? It was so ridiculous. He saw himself in a new light, and he couldn’t bear it anymore. The woman closed the transparent drapes of the bed’s canopy. After changing her clothes, she covered her pajamas with a nightgown and sat the edge of the bed with her feet dangling. “Now I’m done.” “Yes.” “Come here!” “Yes.” “Boon-san?” “Yes?” “Ah, you seem like such a nice gentleman, but…” “But…?” 46
“How can you be so cold to your family? I mean, to your wife?” “I’m not cold to her, I just ignore her!” “Well, let’s say ignore then…” “She’s a pushover… and I’m busy with other things…” “That doesn’t seem nice, does it?” “Sumiko-san?” “Yes?” “If you think that I’ll be nice to you forever, you’re gravely mistaken!” “Oh no! Are you going to eat me alive?” “We’ll see what happens when we get to that point!” “Come here! Don’t stand there with your back to me…” Dae-yeong finally turned around and came back slowly, noticing how much more feminine she looked now that she had changed. It was feast for the eyes. “And listen a little more, alright?” “If you spill all the beans, what’ll we do next time?” “We’ll figure that out then…” Dae-yeong sits down leaning on the sofa, and seeing this, the woman scurried across the floor and sat herself right next to him. “We’re so far away. It’s lonely sitting up here all by myself!” “Don’t you want to get some sleep?” “If you live without sleeping away the time you’re supposed to sleep, isn’t that the same as extending your life? Ah, why waste such a beautiful night!” At times, what she was saying seemed rather provocative, but her facial expression remained completely ordinary… Dae-yeong guessed that perhaps her emotions were even calmer and more sophisticated than his own. 5. Hunched up in the cold, early morning wind, he ran smack into his mother-in-law coming out the front door with a broom in her hands. “What in the hell have you been doing, son!” The mother-in-law, half-jokingly and half-seriously interrogated him right off the bat. Dae-yeong smirked a little and asked, “Is she eating her first meal ok?” “How could you not come home on a day like yesterday…? I called over ten times, you know!” “If it was such an easy delivery, what difference does it make if I’m around?” “What is that? Just listen to this! I was about to take my daughter and the child back to Pyongyang! I was fuming mad …” “Please stop saying things like that!” “What now? What would I do with them, anyway? A washed up young mother and that little thing that won’t stop crying…”
Dae-yeong thought to himself that, with that sort of irrational reasoning and gumption, had she been born a man, she might have been what people call a “social broker” and have made a nice little living. Thinking this, he looked at his old mother-in-law’s face. Sitting up at one end of the mattress, which was not concealed by a folding-screen, the wife was about to have her meal in the disheveled and tired manner typical of women who have just given birth. Next to her was the young one, looking so squished that you couldn’t tell the head from the feet. Dae-yeong felt ill at ease and poked his head into the room like an on-looker. Seeing the pitiful way in which he entered the room, his wife could not help but laugh when she heard his footsteps and saw him at the door. Her gaze followed her husband’s to their young child, she smiled broadly again and lowered her head. Perhaps due to her humble instincts, the woman’s heavy conscience could not withstand the guilt she felt toward her husband for having given birth to a baby girl. “Are you alright?” “I felt guilty having the midwife over…” “Tsk! Fortunately, there is nothing to worry about… Just make sure you don’t go out in the cold too early!” “The broth and rice were nice and warm… Are you going to sleep a bit? Or have a bite to eat and go to work?” The wife worriedly knit her temples as gazed at the husband’s haggard, pale complexion. “Well…” Hesitating, Dae-yeong took his watch out of his breast pocket. It was already past eight-thirty. Last night he had barely gotten two hours of shuteye on that uncomfortable couch at around four o’clock in the morning. His head hurt, his body felt stiff, and he would have liked to have a comfy nap, but he couldn’t get the work that had to be done at the office out of his mind. Although Dae-yeong looked like he didn’t care one bit for work, he always wanted to do better and improve, and these desires and attachments took up a big part of his attention and made him care, even though he had no way of explaining this. “I have to go!” Dae-yeong turns around and opened the sliding door into his room, which was located across from the living room. “Have a little nap before going to work! How will you manage?” “I’m fine!” “Did you drink?” “Yes… no…” “I was going to tell mother to prepare some spicy stew for you, but I completely forgot!” As Dae-yeong left the main room and crossed the floor, he thought, ‘What a good wife!’ But in the end, he thought, 48
‘Too good!’ And shook his head. And then finally, ‘Her goodness is just a burden to me! Just like the way she feels sorry to the midwife for having had an easy delivery. Even good luck can become a source of worry.’ And he laughed to himself bitterly. He left the house carrying the peony painting by So-chi he had promised to Sumiko wrapped tightly in a newspaper tucked under his arm. It was already well-past ten. When he got to the office, there was a stack of manuscripts to proofread up to his neck. It was enough to make him nauseous. After gulping down two packets of stimulants at once, he was busily working on the edits. When a phone call got transferred to him, he picked it up thinking it might be Sumiko, but it turned out to be the XX company, pushing him for the novel they had been asking for since the past month. He told them he hadn’t gotten around to writing it, and that there was no chance of him ever writing it. He felt pestered and he argued with them, before hanging up the phone without a definitive end to the conversation. Kim kept looking back at him, and then he finally said, “Mister Moon, you’re not writing novels anymore?” Wanting to begin a conversation. “Not much, no!” “Why not? What’s the reason?” “There’s no reason why.” “What now! How can you be that way?” “Ninety-percent of the time, the reason I wrote was to make ends meet… Now that I secured an income for a while, I don’t have to worry about putting food on the table… there’s really no reason at all for me to write!” “Isn’t that a big deal?” “What is?” “First of all, the literary world…” “Bah! As if you couldn’t conduct Buddhist rites on account of one missing monk. A monk who couldn’t chant the prayers properly, a useless monk at that…” “If they start dropping off one or two at a time like that, what’s going to happen eventually?” “There is no way in the world that everyone’s going to do that… In fact, it might be better for all the monks to disappear so that there are no more rites at all! There are a lot of other pressing needs for wood pulp than literature nowadays…” “Now you’re really deep in it!” “Well, Mister Moon, what gives?” Park, who had up until now been listening, chimed in out of frustration. “I said there’s no reason why!” “Hey! Don’t be that way! Come on, let us hear it!” “In one word, eh? When I’m gone and no longer here, who will be there to write literature?” 49
“Now that’s sophistry! How is that an argument at all?” “Mr. Park?” “Yes?” “Along the lines of the Louis the Fourteenth screaming out, ‘I am the law,’ can’t this be a truth, in other words, a theory?” “But fact and theory are clearly different, aren’t they?” “Well! That makes sense!” Dae-yeong rested his chin on his left hand, and tap-tapped the middle of the table with the end of a pen, then said, “If that’s the case, theory can come from truth, am I right?” “Of course it can!” As though when one person yawns, the rest follow suit. Park and even Kim were supporting their heads on their hands pitifully, just like Dae-yeong, sitting and looking at him forlornly. The office boy alone was smirking as he looked on. “That’s where I am…” Dae-yeong calmly continued, “As you say so yourself, Mr. Park, it might be nonsense! The fact that I’ve gone somewhere and no longer here, that is… I don’t want to make excuses for myself saying it’s not the way I feel. But you know what, can’t you see this nonsense as a truth of its own? Can’t you?” Park and Kim couldn’t understand what he was saying and sat there blinking their eyes. “Don’t you know what that means? That is the sophistic epistemological attitude of one man, the man named Moon Dae-yeong. And that attitude—that’s a truth in and of itself, is it not? I’m not denying that it’s unhealthy… But, what can I say, even if a man is a cripple, the fact of his disability itself still has its own independent worth… It’s a similar truth to that…” The two finally nodded their heads in understanding, Dae-yeong continued on with the rest… “So what I’m saying is… let’s first just assume that’s true, alright? And not only that, you should be able to recognize a theory in there as well. You don’t have to demand an explanation from me. Even if you heard it, it still wouldn’t fit your views. It would just be another sophistic conclusion. So you old men should come to your own independent conclusions, eh? and let go of sophistic, unhealthy things… What am I saying, you old men are those responsible for the reality of today, and you already consider my attitude toward life diseased and nonsensical, don’t you? That’s fine by me! But it’s no good to look at facts just as they are, or accept them purely as facts! That makes you the slave of common sense in a literary sense, and it’s the act of a vulgar conman. Or, at the very least, it is not the direction to take for people who are the supposed vanguard of their generation!” Dae-yeong suddenly thought he had spoken too harshly and that the topic had veered off course. He stopped himself, slowly took out a cigarette and put it in his mouth. After he had calmed his nerves, he began again,
“But I’m getting off track… Anyhow, you know how medieval Japanese samurais would commit seppuku? People only think of seppuku as a technique by which you cut open your stomach a bit and commit suicide, but it is in fact the sheer power of will! A great will… and that willpower has come down to the present day to form the courageous spirit of the Japanese nation… Just look at how we go to war as Japanese soldiers and are rarely taken as prisoners of war? Like in the war against China. If their planes malfunctioned on the way back from bombing an enemy case and they had to crash-land somewhere, they would just blew themselves up! Isn’t that so? What that shows is a courage not to be captured pitifully with their weapons by enemy soldiers. That is the Japanese military spirit, is it not? To look at the significance of this on a deeper level, when the plane malfunctions, it means it has lost its fighting ability. As a soldier, if you enter into a battle and lose your ability to fight, isn’t it the same as having already lost your life and meaning as the soldier who went out to war? And then what’s left? What’s left is a soldier without life or meaning, the body and humiliation of a prisoner! They blow themselves up so that they don’t have to submit to the beggarly humiliation of a prisoner just to sustain a piece of lifeless, meaningless meat… This has the effect of not only avoiding vulgar humiliation, but by blowing oneself up, they can put emphasis on the life and meaning of a solider at war. They emphasize something that you might call principles.” For a while, Dae-yeong puffed deliciously on his cigarette, which was close to going out. He changed his tone of voice to say… “There’s no reason to be beggarly! There’s no reason to be! It’s like squaring the circle. Quibbling over how you go about is idiotic, and only ends up causing harm to the world in the end. You must let the vanguard of the generation take care of the new generation and if you sit there and play dead, it isn’t so desperate anymore because you’re not dishing out your own problems to the world. It’s better all around that way, is it not? Why should I do anything else? What would possess me to? Although the metaphor doesn’t exactly fit, I was just thinking about that Mr. XXX!” Dae-yeong smiled broadly and Kim and Park smiled with him, guessing what he was about to say. “That gentleman serialized a heinous thing in the paper, claiming it was a novel, remember?” “XX?” “OO?” Kim and Park both shout out titles of Mr. XXX’s novels. “So what I’m saying is, what kind of grotesque humiliation is that? Well, when I heard the backstory later, I guess there was some gossip about how he had done it to make ends meet, and I had a spoonful of compassion for him… And not just that, when I think about it these days, it’s almost as though I’m thinking about myself! Completely the same! Ha-ha!” Dae-yeong laughed one last lonesome laugh, and then said, “Now, shush! Let’s finish up this conversation. Now get back to editing! Edit!” And he turned back to his work before anyone else. At that moment, the door swung open and Kim Jong-ho’s hulking frame came waltzing in. 51
He was carrying a handbag at his side and looked as though he had been extremely busy. He was breathing heavily with a loose smile smeared across his face. He slammed the door shut with a bang, and took off his hat to bow in greeting, “Good morning, Mister Moon!” Dae-yeong reluctantly replied, “How are ya?” But he remained seated and pretended to busy himself with work. Despite this, Jangho asked, “Mister Moon, have you seen Sumiko?” And Jang-ho scuttled across the floor towards Dae-yeong. “Yes, she… uh, came by yesterday…” “Well done!” Kim Jong-ho almost sat himself down on the edge of the table (being so tall), and stood right by Dae-young as though crowding him on purpose, and then he started speaking. “You should, well, show her around and all that!” “Well…” “You know, she came all the way here to look for us from faraway… Isn’t that a good thing? So we should all welcome her with open hearts and treat her with the utmost hospitality… And for that, I think you, Mister Moon, are the best person to take a lead in that…” Frankly, if one were to take his words at face-value, Dae-yeong could not help but feel as though he had done something wrong. He felt a little tingle at the back of his head, and he could bear it no longer. Indeed, if one were to speak honestly, he despised this vulgar man who called himself Kim Jong-ho, with his constant blabbering and scheming. It was unbelievable, the way he would produce a film just to fulfill his ambitions, and even go so far as take advantage of a woman just to market it… And to think that Dae-yeong himself was now dominating this woman behind the scenes, after Kim Jong-ho had brought her to him and put her under his care and guidance out of trust… Things were neither aboveboard or respectable, and he felt slightly guilty. He also couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. It was shameless, almost as though a teacher from a girls’ school had fallen in love with and eloped with one of his students… “So what I’m saying is…” Kim Jong-ho kept blustering on (without goal or purpose), and kept busying himself… “So don’t be so indifferent, alright? Please look after her. You can do that, right, Mister Moon…?” “How could a person like me possibly guide anyone?” “Don’t be so humble! I’m so busy I really don’t have time to do that sort of thing, so you can take care of it for now, huh? Take her to museums and the ruins whenever you have some time on your hands.” “Well… She’s not a tourist, and seeing as I’m not the tourism bureau…”
“Well sure, that’s true! But she needs to enjoy Joseon’s ruins and nature to their fullest…” “…” “Yeah, anyway… Mister Moon?” “Yes.” “I…” “Please go ahead!” “I have something I really need to ask you, Mister Moon!” “You sound like a baby who wants me to buy him a big old lollipop. What is it?” Dae-yeong finally lifted his head and the room filled with peals of laughter. Kim Jong-ho’s hearty laugh had of course been the loudest and lasted the longest of any of them. “It’s nothing new, Mister Moon.” “Go ahead, I say!” “Could you publish the screenplay we were talking about the other day? In the New Year’s edition of Spring and Fall, I mean. How ‘bout it??” “Screenplay?” “Yes… It’s the piece I’m going working on, the one I mentioned before. Weep Not, Youth! Sumiko will be making a guest appearance… Ah, I’ve been tied up for the last few days writing if, and it’s only today that I…” “Well… modern objects like screenplays don’t really have a place in our magazine …” “You think it’s impossible?” “You could either say it’s impossible or out of place…” “But you publish scripts from time to time, don’t you?” “Plays are a genre of completed works of dramatic literature, so naturally…” “What are you saying? Screenplay literature is not literature?” “If there are significant exceptions whose value is immediately recognizable then it would make sense to approve it temporarily, but… Joseon’s screenplays must be developed more on paper! Isn’t that right? Look, Mister Kim…” Dae-yeong leaned back in his stool, and looked up smiling at the man with the disappointed face… “Screenplays might have gotten sophisticated, but sophistication alone is not enough… if it were to become a nobleman, it must receive much more literary sophistication and guidance…” “I don’t care for such picky theorizing, but we need to advertise, eh? Advertise…” “You could put up some fliers?” “Hah! Come on!” “Or run serial advertisements in the newspaper?” “Now you’re just teasing!” “It costs about twelve to fifteen thousand won per talkie, so that kind of money should be nothing…” “What are you saying?” “Nowadays specialized movie magazines seem to have sprung up, haven’t they? And they’d welcome you with open arms in hobbyist magazines as well…” “Those magazines don’t have any sway!” 53
“Listen to what you’re saying! You’ll get a good beating from them talking that way… Their readership far surpasses ours!” “What’s the use of all of those readers? Dingy, lowly masses!” “I see! And the readers of Spring and Fall are high class?” “Why are you asking me?” “Fine, let’s say Spring and Fall’s readers are high class… So you think these high class readers are remotely interested in Joseon’s screenplays or even film itself?” “That’s exactly what I’m saying the problem is! Oh, Master Moon, I wish you would support film more enthusiastically. We’re all pursuing artistic endeavors here…” “Look, Master Kim?” “What’s this master?” “If a certain book seller sold books like the ‘Beauties of Fall’ or ‘Legendary Beauties’ and grumbled that the literary world or society did not seem to support them although they were also works of art, what would you think of that?” “Be that as it may, how can you even say that Joseon film is on the same level as trash like ‘Beauties of Fall’ and ‘Legendary Beauties’?” “Because you insist on it not being trashy. And because you don’t know how trashy it really is, it’ll take over a hundred years to make anything better. You’ve got so little going on upstairs, you always go on and on about the improvement of Joseon films, but really all you’re talking about is technical proficiency. And there’s nowhere to go in that regard except the way of bastardly American films!” “Is it wrong to be concerned with the audience? Do we need to make a loss every time? Who would ever commit to such a business?” “But I’ve yet to hear that Na Woon-gyu’s O Mong Nyeo did worse than The Village Across the River. The other night I went to see Burgtheater and over two-thirds of the audience was Joseon people. It was packed… Did the film Heartless bomb because the original was bad? When they staged it as a play, maintaining the integrity of the original, the theatre was packed!” “Forget it! It’s all…” “Stay put and listen even if you don’t want to! Look, Master Kim, there is no better medium than film to feed the intellectual needs of the masses! There’s no way literature or theatre could ever do that! That said, Joseon film up until this point has been an unworthy son! Even if we accept that this is due to underdeveloped technique, we at least need the will to feed the intellectual needs of the people. But that desire, that direction… does not exist! Even if the arm is too short to reach all the way, it should be extended. But these thoughts never even cross your mind! Therefore, it can be said that Joseon film has betrayed the people, and as your punishment for your betrayal you need people like me to give you an earful! Alright?” “I don’t know! I’m leaving, goodbye…” He turned around and let himself out dejectedly and limply. He looked funny but also somewhat pitiful. After that, Dae-yeong held his head between his hands and thought, ‘People should only be judged after you get to know them personally. That Kim Jongho wasn’t a merciless villain. He was, rather, something of a fragile and good-natured person.
So isn’t all the pointless disdain and hate I feel towards him is the result of my twisted personality alone?’ Contemplating quietly, he even went so far as to feel some sort of regret. It was already three in the afternoon. He and Sumiko hadn’t necessarily decided on a specific time, but curiously, she hadn’t called or come by yet, so he was wondering about her… Then coincidentally, he got dragged to a nearby coffee house by an acquaintance from the arts and science department of a newspaper who had come by for an interview for the New Year’s edition. They spent close to an hour there talking about this and that, and when he came back, he was told that Sumiko had just come by. They said she had sat there and waited alone for about thirty minutes. He assumed she would come back or call, but there was no word from her even after five when it was time to leave the office. With So-chi’s peony painting stuck under his arm as he came in that morning, he hesitantly went up to her apartment, but found that, as predicted, the door was locked. After pushing in his business card beneath the crack in the door, feeling encumbered, he left the painting with the apartment guardian and told him to give it to the occupant in Room X, and headed to the main street. Sifting his way through the used bookstores, he ended up going all the way up to Maruzen. On the way he slowly sipped at a bitter cup of coffee from Myung-gwa, then he once again returned to the woman’s apartment. The door, however, was still closed. It was already eight o’clock. It’s not like he didn’t feel like going to a coffee house again to wait and then return once more or send a messenger, so he stood there hesitating for a bit. But he felt physically exhausted, and if they got together they would naturally spend most of the night awake. That seemed a bit too exhausting, so he finally scribbled a couple of lines on another business card and then turned around slightly disappointed. The next day early in the morning a little after ten… The office boy handed over the telephone, saying that it was the same Hara-san. He answered in the national language, but then became conscious of his surroundings, and said, “Sumiko-san? This is Moon.” He answered the phone politely, as though he were speaking to someone he wasn’t close with. Impatience came blurting out of the other end of the receiver, “Ma-ah! Yato sukamaetawa, Boon-san-o… (Ah! I finally got through to you, Boonsan…)” And she greeted him with unmistakable glee. Yammering, she continued on, “…Demo hidoiwa, Boon-san-tara! (...But come on, Boon-san!)” “I apologize. Last night was really…” “Why, you sound a bit different!” “Hmm, well… Where are you calling from now?” “From the public phone right near your building… Oh, right! Now I get it! But since I’m calling from a phone booth, it’s ok for me to misbehave a little, right?” 55
“It’s better than frowning! But, how should we do this? Would you like to come by now?” “Is that alright?” “Of course! But it’ll be at least four or five before I’ll be able to catch my breath. It’s all fine and good to learn the Joseon way of life, but it wouldn’t do for you to sit here and stare, wondering what others are saying and guessing what they’re feeling all day, now would it?” “You’re right!” “So for the next five or so hours why don’t you go see a movie or pop into Deoksugung Palace, which is right next door, to look at the paintings…” “So, I’ll do what I want until then and come over in the afternoon? What time would be good?” “Four or five…” “Alright, let’s do that… but there’s a problem. A big problem!” “What sort of problem?” “I’m dying of boredom! Yesterday all day and all night it was already enough to make me sick! I’m so bored I feel like I’m going to die from suffocation any minute! But the real problem is that it’s not specific to yesterday or today!” “Well now, that is a problem, isn’t it?” Dae-yeong sincerely felt for her, but it seemed like there was nothing he could do immediately (or in the future). As she was saying, it’s not just a matter of a day or two… But the fact that the pain of spending time by herself was more than she could bear would a precursor to the significant occurrences that would arise in the near future. But, like Sumiko, Dae-yeong thought it was merely as an unfortunate event in and of itself, and he did not have the foresight to see how the situation would unfold in the future. “Ah, even yesterday…!” The woman finally recounted what had happened the day before… “…Ah, when I woke up it was already noon so I went out to have a quick bite for lunch…” “You could have called before you left!” “That’s because I thought I’d be over soon! And seeing as I was already out, I figured I might get myself an afternoon dress and stopped by at Ganebo… oh, right! I picked a couple of fabrics out yesterday. Will you go with me later and choose one for me?” “Tsk! Whatever… But I really don’t have an eye for that sort of thing at all…” “Good, then after that… ah, then it was already three o’clock, so I got myself on the trolley and came to see you, but they said you had just left!” The rest of the story went as follows: the woman went back out into the streets and ran into Kim Jong-ho with whom she went into a teahouse, where she sat and listened to the plot of the script he was producing until six o’clock. Then, when she was finally released, she called the office but no one picked up. When she went home to her apartment around seven, she found the business card. But instead of sitting there and waiting, she went back out and looked around without knowing where he might be found. When she returned, another calling card was there with a message bidding
her goodnight, and because of that she couldn’t get a wink of sleep. She was just too impatient. She also said she had received the painting in good shape just a while ago. Dae-yeong said he felt bad for what happened. To make up for it, he would take her out to a meal so good it would bring tears to her eyes, and then he hung up the phone. Sumiko came by the office around four thirty just like they had agreed. After keeping her waiting for a while, they left the office with Kim and Park tagging along as well. If he wanted to treat the woman to a meal, it would have been awkward to exclude everyone else. He also wanted them to have the opportunity to get to know each other so they would be closer. He left with the gang, but he had no idea where to take them. On the phone he had promised her something so delicious it would bring her to tears, and now she kept pestering him to tell him what they were having. He told her that she would taste the good life of Joseon through her palate, and so he had to treat them to Joseon food, but that was where things became uncertain. Seollung-tang, bibimbap, a chophouse or a saloon all stank too heavily of Joseon-ness, so they might be a little too much (at least at this point). Restaurants were too big, and size was usually the only thing they had going for them. Unless they ordered a specially customized menu, as the saying goes, the monks of Non-san rely on the Eun-jin Mi-reuk for their business and that the servant-boy of a widow made a profit out of his big balls, so of all the food they served at so-called Joseon restaurants, only that of Shinseon-ro upheld any kind of meager standard for itself (and even then, the appearance and the flatware was more important than the content), while others were monstrosities exhibiting the poor façade of so-called pan-national food. There was no need to inadvertently tease the nostalgia of her taste buds that way while wasting money. The dongchimi at home had been fermented just right and the cabbage kimchi was superb as well, but there was no way he could go out of his way just to insult the women like that. Only the formal Joseon dining course at Hwashin remained, but he couldn’t possibly stomach having to sit there like a country bumpkin while he ate that showy stuff. It seemed, however, like going there to eat was the only viable option, something like taking a preventative vaccine for malaria. Walking towards the four-way intersection he contemplated his decision. He wasn’t the sort to brag about his pretty fortune or show off by buying a fancy meal, but it was regrettable to think that this was beyond his capacities when it was necessary to invite a guest from out of town to a delicious, local meal,. The promise of food so delicious that it would bring tears to one’s eyes, therefore, turned into her putting a piece of stinking kkakdugi into her mouth as the first bite, just as she had been told, without realizing that she was being pranked… As expected, tears welled up in her eyes. “Hidoiwa! Hidoiwa! (How could you! How could you!)”
Although she bitterly resented the joke, she couldn’t spit it out immediately because of decorum, and swallowed it. Her whole mouth felt like Siberia, and she suffered for a while without escape, causing the dinner to be merrier. After dinner the gang roamed around, drinking good tea from a place that had good music, spent time together without getting bored, and at last he came back to the apartment with her alone under the pretense of walking her back home. So-chi’s peony painting hung rather awkwardly in the room, her dresser was spotless, fruit crowded a large bowl pleasantly, and the wine that remained stood there half-full as they had left it. This last point made her seem honest and reliable. The conversation did not flow like last time, but even so, it was around three o’clock before they made any pretense of getting some shuteye. As they were going their separate ways at dawn, they decided on when and where they would meet at dusk. But Dae-yeong messed it up. After he got home and washed, trying to wake up a bit, he sat down on the warm part of the floor to have a bite to eat. Unsurprisingly, his arms and legs started loosening and he suddenly felt exhausted beyond the point of control. It was a feat for him to even bring himself to lift his spoon, let alone finish his meal. Moreover, it felt as though he was coming down with a cold or the flu: his back felt chilly and he didn’t feel well at all… Even if it hadn’t been for his wife’s concerns and suggestions, it didn’t seem like he was going to hold up. So he laid down, thinking it would be for only an hour or two. But the day passed him by, and he didn’t wake up until after the electric lights had come on. He was feverish, and groans escaped him inadvertently in his sleep … He finally came back to life after it was dark outside, but since he was already on his back, his body felt like it was stuck to the floor and he could not even think of summoning the courage to go anywhere at all, especially with the cold wind blowing at that time of night. Whether through a telegram or messenger, he had to somehow let her know of his whereabouts, but this would only be possible through the mother-in-law. But the post office was far away and he couldn’t bring himself to make her go on an errand at that time of night. The next day he wasn’t feeling quite up to snuff either. Even though he knew he was pushing his luck, he dragged himself out to the office at around one in the afternoon to scope out the situation. He was told she had phoned several times, but when he sent her a messenger to convey a few lines to her about what had happened, the messenger returned with the message, saying he found the door to her apartment locked. At that point Byeong-su latched onto him, saying, “Look here, That’s what happens when you go around drinking all alone; you get yourself a bad case of alcohol poisoning as punishment. Last night we had to cancel our endof-the-year party because you were out of commission, so we’ll have to have it today, no matter what…” And then he continued pestered him. Alarmed, Dae-yeong pleaded for mercy for just one night, and Byeong-su replied that he would forgive him for just one more day. Then, saying that they had to lock their plans 58
down then and there, he called the high-end Korean-style restaurant located far away on the outskirts of town to make reservations. He said that wherever they went, it had to be located outside of town so they could make merry all night long and enjoy the scenic snowy fields. Dae-yeong himself admitted that he was not a very strong drinker, but he loved drinking and never tried to avoid it. Moreover, Byeong-su, Kim and Park, even though they were young, knew how to behave themselves when drinking. They were not vulgar, and from time to time they would find a quiet place to drink with a gisaeng skilled in song and dance, and then party the night away. So going out with them was not an unpleasant proposition whatsoever. But by that time, the figure of Sumiko had taken a stubborn place in his head and she distracted him constantly with the thought that he must devote most of his time to her. It was as though he were an oppressed husband being nagged by his wife. He felt pressured and became more cautious about drinking. Although he sat at the office waiting for her, he had not heard a word, and since he was at the office, work occupied him. He pretended to help out until sunset, despite his rising fever and ensuing sluggishness. Then he went to the apartment but the door was still locked. Considering that he was feeling under the weather, he should have returned home to lie down and take care of himself. But, lying down the last time had been the wrong thing to do, seeing as how hard it had been to get up again. Since he was the type to always be out and about, maybe it had been a mistake to even leave the house at the very beginning (if that sort of thing can be deemed a mistake). Once out of the house, however, it wasn’t easy for him to get himself to run home because of a common cold or flu. Although it wasn’t on purpose, he had abandoned Sumiko completely for the past two days. Considering how she struggled to hold out on her own for a single hour, this was the equivalent to having tortured her. And, on top of that, he kind of missed her. On a business card he wrote that he would be back soon and told her not to leave again. After pushing it in, he went back to the high street like the day before and combed through the bookstores and drank tea. But on his way back, it felt like his body and mood would blossom back to life if he just had three or four stiff drinks of just about anything. Not caring about how awful it tasted, he popped into a place where he used to go from time to time nearby the stock exchange. There, he happened to run into the usual merry gang of the literary world. He did not dislike those friends, and having serendipitously run into them at a bar, the fact that a girl happened to be waiting for him was carelessly set aside… They were a mischievous crew, drink was an easy substance, they seemed to have had a few drinks already, and it became so raucous that God himself would have covered his ears to yell at them, Be quiet! Naturally, the gathering did not end quickly and they finally parted at around midnight. Dae-yeong was not inebriated (even though he had drank quite a lot), but he was slightly buzzing, and he barely made it to the woman’s apartment.
Without knocking on the door, based on his previous experiences of finding her door locked, he grabbed the doorknob first, twisted, and pulled, and the door listlessly turned on its own and opened wide. With that, there was nothing to do but to continue the arc of motion and barge in through the door… Sumiko was still in her coat, hat, and shoes, just as she dressed to go out, and her eyelids were swollen. She shot up from the corner of the sofa where she had been sitting and waiting, and then, as though every muscle in her body had gone slack, she flopped back down immediately with tears brimming in her eyes. When Dae-yeong came quietly up to her and leaned over her from close by, her eyes looked into the face that was looking down at her consolingly. She held eye-contact and finally said listlessly… “Shiranaiwa, atashi… (I don’t know, I…)” She was not pouting or complaining, but it was a sigh that trickled out absentmindedly. But this was so intense and pitiful, and the passion she had been directing alone toward the man for the past two days was filled to the brim. Her ardor was finally ready to explode, and she wanted to relinquish her body and everything else she had to his bosom and comfortably and bitterly complain without holding back. She wanted to caress him and be caressed by him. The urge was unbearable, but suddenly she ran into an unforeseen obstacle, and she could not do anything about it. She had long ago noticed the man’s desire towards her, and there was nothing that made her feel uncomfortable about him personally, but it was merely instinctual, feminine caution, and it was useless (temporary) self-consciousness. In that case, if the man had done a little more, for instance, if he had lifted his hand to stroke her head, or had quietly patted her on the back even just a little bit, the woman would have let herself be taken into his arms, and she would have been sufficiently bold against such obstacles. Dae-yeong could of course see the passion brimming from Sumiko’s (downtrodden) eyes, and he did not fail to recognize the profound desire on her lips. It was a justifiable opportunity, and a satisfying feeling. He did not dislike her, she had come into his heart, and he himself had wanted to steal a kiss from her lips. And now she was feeling the same way, so there was nothing more to think of at this point: it was a foolproof case. At that moment, through one particular formula that was universal throughout the world, their passion and desire could have been naturally and easily raised to another level called love. But Dae-yeong, suddenly straightening up his back, turned away and awkwardly paced around the room. What was going through his head was that, just as he had been meaning to let himself go and was about to take the formula that would realize their love into his own hands, he suddenly felt clumsy, and his elation and tension had completely dissipated all at once. ‘My heart’s pounding… all I have to do is pull her to me. We’ll embrace each other… and suck on each other’s lips as though they are syrup! Tsk!’ 60
He felt embarrassed about the way he looked, and felt like he was imitating the play of green youngsters. He couldn’t was to ashamed to bring himself to do it. The way he always tried to analyze and mock everything because he couldn’t get himself to concentrate on anything, no matter what it was, this so-called futility, was really something else. Sumiko, worried by the man’s unpredictable demeanor, forgot about her own dismay and sat starting at him, watching his mood. Dae-yeong walked around the room and rethought the whole thing, and this time he could not bear how pitiful he was. What a lackluster passion. Even now, just as before, he did not dislike her and she had entered his heart, and he wanted to revel with her in kisses and embraces. And it wasn’t that he didn’t want the love he would feel as he did so. And, whether it was now or later, he could do that if he wanted to. He had the ability to do so, and he was not opposed to it. But, on the other hand, he could not stop disparaging and mocking himself. This stopped his passion short, so that it did not burn more fiercely. A lukewarm passion. This was worse than nothing. It was mere bumbling. Even if you were eighty years old with white patches of hair and involved in a domesticated love affair with some pockmarked, deformed person—if you possessed a burning heart, there was no way things could be as lukewarm as they were for Dae-yeong then. He did not possess any sort of passion for anything, and he had no idea where the person he used to be had gone. In other words, having lost his soul there was nothing weird about his situation. But at thirty-three, the fact that he could not throw himself with passion into a love affair was nothing short of the desiccation of life. Dae-yeong contemplated and paced back and forth (avoiding the woman’s eyes and looking at one spot). He paced around the room several times, before finally letting out a phew and turning his back away once more. Sumiko, unable to restrain herself any longer, stood upright. She went behind him and tugged on his sleeve. Then she stood before him, looking up into his face. Her eyes were pleading, and in a little bit, she called, “Boon-san?” In a rather angry voice. Dae-yeong, knowing that he had just done something pointlessly cruel, felt embarrassed and thought that he should get control of himself so he could at least smile at her. But his facial muscles would not immediately obey his command, and his lips would not part. “Huh? Boon-san!” “…” “Are you angry with me? You were sick and I didn’t even ask you how you were doing… It slipped my mind, I was being pouty…” With that, Dae-yeong, out of nowhere, in an uncouth, harsh manner, pulled the woman into his arms and embraced her so hard she almost shattered.
But this was a self-destructive seizure and its reaction, not a sudden, hotter combustion of desire. But judging by the fierceness and incisiveness of it, it could be said to have been a climactic embrace. The woman could not restrain the violent desire she had been suppressing, and was content to interpret Dae-yeong’s action as a violent explosion. She was drawn in like a scarecrow and she embraced him back, tightly, tightly grinding, and for a while, only breathless gasps could be heard. And finally she lifted her head, tilting it back. There was an even more important event that was missing, and so her lips were even more glossy and blushing red in anticipation. Dae-yeong, despite the fact that the embrace had been a seizure-like opportunity, found that after he had actually gone through with the embrace, it made his blood boil more than he had expected. He saw the woman in a new light, and she looked even lovelier than before, and he found her rather to his liking. Dae-yeong brought the woman to the sofa and sat her down. He took her coat off and hung it in the closet along with his own, and then came to sit next to her. The woman embraced his back with one arm and put her hand on his forehead. “You have a fever! What shall we do?” “I’m fine! It’s only a trifle… let it go…” “But… Would you like to lie down for a bit?” “No…” “What are you going to do wearing yourself out like this? Because of me…” “What do you mean, Because of you? This isn’t forced labor, is it?” Sumiko thought that this was funny, and smiling slyly, leaned her head against the man’s bosom. “But you know what I mean, don’t you? Boon-san…” “Yeah?” “From what I’ve seen, you’re not in very good health, so what are we to do?” “Whatever happens… Tsk!” “But you know what I mean! If we keep spending nights without sleeping like we have been, you’ll always be tired and your body will wither away… Then we won’t be able to sustain this, will we?” “I suppose it’s inevitable!” “If so, this life of ours will be completely meaningless… Not meaningless, but nonexistent! If you, Boon-san, can abandon all your affairs and life up until this point and stay with me all the time, then our lives together could be even cozier, but that’s…” “If I worried about what would happen tomorrow, I would have drank poison already!” “My goodness! Even if you say that, Boon-san, I won’t be like that from now on, you see? And this is not about tomorrow, is it? It’s about today!” Although the lovemaking itself had been swept under the rug somehow, they became worried, and the two become lost in thought. In the end, Sumiko, as though she had realized something, said, “Ah, that’s right!” And turns her head around with her eyes ablaze. 62
“We… let’s go somewhere together!” “Somewhere?” Dae-yeong did not comprehend what she was saying, and when he realized that she meant they should run away for good, he willingly said, “Let’s go!” “Go? Really?” Sumiko, surprised, questioned him interrogatingly, and Dae-yeong replied without hesitation… “Really, let’s go!” “For real?” “For real!” “When?” “Whenever…” “Whenever? For real?” “For real!” “Where?” “Wherever you want to go, Sumiko-san…” “Really?” “Really!” “Ma-a, yokata! (Ah! I’m so happy!)” Breathless, she interrogated him and at last she let out a simple sigh, saying, Ma-a, yokata, and she was moved to tears, and clung to the man’s neck, rubbing her face against his cheek. “Thank you so much! My kind Boon-san! Huh, Boon-san?” “Yeah!” “Come with me, huh?” “I said don’t worry about it!” “I, I really can’t bear to stay another day in Joseon! How gloomy and disconcerting everyone’s faces are, it makes you feel worried, even if you don’t have anything to worry about! Especially when you leave me all by myself… huh, Boon-san?” “Yeah?” “Let’s go to Tokyo, huh?” “Tokyo? That would be nice… You came here to kick your opium habit only to return with an opium-addict on your back?” “It’s alright! Well… Father might be even angrier with me, but I’m willing to deal with that… But when shall we leave?” “How about tomorrow…” “Really?” “Really!” “Rea-lly?” The woman suddenly lost her energy and sat back. “But come to think of it, Boon-san, you can’t go!” “Why not?” “What about your family? Your wife…” 63
“Oh I was wondering what you were going to say… If I worried about my family or my wife and wasn’t able to do anything I wanted, how would that sit with you?” “But if you left right now, Boon-san, what would happen to your wife? Even if you say it’s alright…” “They could go back to my wife’s house, or even my father’s house!” “That’s what I mean by we can’t make them go through all that! Because of me…” “Tsk, if you don’t want to face that and want to give up, Sumiko-san, then that’s that…” “No! Let’s go! Together…” The woman curled back and threw herself into his arms, and said, “Let’s go together! But still, considering her child and all, isn’t it really an awful thing to do to her?” “I’ll worry about that and convey my regrets to her in the future if the opportunity presents itself.” Finally, they took out the train schedule and discussed logistics. The train left right in the middle of the night: the 3:34 Hikari to Busan. Dae-yeong said that taking a day train would be alright as well. But Sumiko insisted that, even if there wasn’t anything that needed to be taken care of, it wouldn’t do for him to leave so suddenly when he had an office and a family. She insisted they take the night train. Sumiko also said that she would return Dae-yeong to his wife until the time of departure. When they parted in the morning, they promised to meet at the train station at the appointed time. Dae-yeong had thought that he would write notes to his office and family later, but seeing as they had planned the end-of-the-year party for the next night, he thought it would be harmless to spend one last night together with the team and party with them before leaving. They finally, after much consideration, decided that they would send the woman’s furniture to Dae-yeong’s house, as it would have been wasteful to throw it out, but also too trifling and too much of a burden to sell. In reality, it was sure to end up being an inconvenience at Dae-yeong’s house as well, and they felt bad about it, but there was nothing else to do. The next night, she was going to call a deliverymen or messenger to send it off, and Dae-yeong even wrote down his address near Heogi Station. Even until long after they had concluded their deliberations on logistics, they peeled fruit, drank tea, and shared the rest of the leftover wine, and made merry until late into the night… At last, when they were about to go to sleep, Sumiko seemed unsure of what to do. She at first suggested that Dae-yeong should sleep on the bed (since he was sick), and she made to sleep on the sofa. It was apparent that, rather than her own volition, she was waiting for the man to decide for her because she didn’t know what to do. Dae-yeong, without a word, took the woman back to the bed (nonchalantly) and laid her down on the bed. 64
The woman followed him docilely, and finally said that he should sleep there as well if he didn’t mind being crowded. Dae-yeong retired, saying that he would take her up on her offer when they had a double-bed in Tokyo… As though it tickled, the woman giggled, “Jenryone! (How kind!)” She came to the edge of the bed and pointed at her side, “Come sit here for a second!” Dea-yung said to himself that this was definitely not kindness, but smallness of mind, cowardice, and vanity. In fact, there was no reason or circumstances that would have prevented him from sharing a bed with Sumiko this night. “Then, Good night, alright?” The woman gave her lips to Dae-yeong who came and sat next to her before going to bed, and whispered into his ear, “And, when we’re in Tokyo, I’ll be your good wife, alright?” “Why, Thank you! But is this sorcery? You’ll become a good wife, just like that?” “No! That’s not what I mean. Boon-san you are so well mannered and this makes Sumiko so happy… So now until we share a double-bed, we’ll be dating, and after that, Boon-san, you will be my groom… and Sumiko will be your bride, alright?” “In the end, whatever one might say is vanity and habitual hypocrisy! Hah, but rejecting that hypocrisy means resorting to evil! Humans are such a difficult breed!” “How can you be so kind and so heartless at the same time! And so cold!” And lightly nagging (quite well at this point), the woman shared her lips once more before letting his arm go. Dae-yeong came back to the sofa to sit and sank deep into thought with a cigarette in his lips. ‘Will I really be taking her—or, rather, following her—to Tokyo tomorrow?’ ‘Going… to Tokyo… following her… tomorrow…’ ‘Tsk! I’m going, that’s what!’ It was very easy. Tomorrow he would be going to Tokyo with Sumiko. That was all, in other words, an absolute. No matter what angle he looked at it, there was nothing to hold him back or make him hesitate about going to Tokyo with her tomorrow. ‘Then, let’s say I go… what will I do there?’ ‘What do you mean, do? You’re chasing after a girl, like they say, adrift on the wind…’ ‘Hmm, adrift! That sounds plain, doesn’t it?’ ‘Pretty lame…’ ‘Should I forget it?’ ‘Tsk! Forget it!’ This was just as easy.
No matter how hard he thought, there was no good reason or necessity to take that woman to Tokyo tomorrow. ‘Then, maybe you should forget it?’ ‘Tsk! Forgetting it is all and good, but what will I do if I give that up?’ ‘Then go!’ ‘But I don’t have to, either…’ ‘But you also don’t have to not go, either…’ Whatever he did, it was all the same. He would go because there was nothing to stop him from going. At the same time, he wasn’t going to go because there was no necessity or reason to. So, in the end, going was good in its own way, whereas not going was good as well. His conclusion, therefore, was to go to Tokyo with the woman tomorrow, but also to not go with her to Tokyo tomorrow. ‘You’ll lose her if you’re not careful!’ ‘And is it a big deal if I do?’ ‘There’s no particular reason to lose her, is there? That incredible creature…’ ‘You don’t think it’ll last forever, do you?’ ‘Tsk! Losing her and not losing her are all the same…’ ‘Going tomorrow and going the next day are the same…’ ‘Going two days after tomorrow and going tomorrow are the same…’ ‘Going and not going are the same…’ ‘Whatever happens, happens…’ ‘Tsk! Whatever happens, happens…’ 6. The next day. In the middle of the night closing in on two o’clock in the morning, in a faraway restaurant hear Wooyi-dong on the outskirts of the eastern gates, Spring and Summer’s endof-the-year party is taking place… Dae-yeong, Byeong-soo, and even Kim and Park, are there with two or three gisaeng serving them. It was, of course, a small gathering, but the food was plentiful and everyone was rather drunk. Out of all of them, only Dae-yeong had been careful to watch how much he was drinking. Since he had something beckoning him, his mind was clear as crystal. Since the night before, nothing at all had changed and everything remained the same. Going was good in its own way, not going was good in its own way, leaving today or tomorrow were just as fine… this was what was going through his mind. Therefore, this wasn’t indecision or hesitation. It was a clear-cut decision that it did not make a difference one way or the other. They had already gone through a few rounds of drinks, and each had taken a seat back from the table and started talking amongst each other… Dae-yeong sprawled out with his head on a gisaeng’s lap and took his watch out to look at it. 66
One forty. In an hour, he would have to hurry to Seoul Station in a car. In two hours, he and Sumiko had to catch the No. 5 express Hikari to Busan. Dae-yeong clapped his hands to call the helper-boy. He reminded the boy again of the instructions he had left earlier: the boy was to have a car up front at two forty, without fail. Then from afar, Byeong-soo called out loudly, “Ah, older brother!” Hollering at him. “What is it? Nobody’s dying here just yet…” “Ha-ha-ha ha-ha… You really have to go that badly?” “I’ve got to!” “Well now, what’s up with that? Let’s forget about the whole thing and stay here and have some more to drink!” “I can’t!” “Look, what kind of precious person is leaving that you have to see them off at the station at this time of night? Hey, older brother!” “It’s my lover!” “Hah! That’s not it… you sly fox. You would never say that they were your lover if they really were your lover!” “Useless when useless, practical when practical, don’t you know?” “No, no! In any case, you’re coming back, right? In two hours…” “Of course! You think I’d abandon someone as good as you?” He felt uneasy after saying those words. ‘So I guess that’s it for the night?’ ‘Tsk! I suppose it’s just as well…’ ‘Then I suppose leaving now would be just as well…’ It was boring to wait there without doing anything, and as the party wound down, they listened to a passage sang by two gisaeng accompanied by a gayageum. Seeing that it was already two thirty, he had Byeong-soo, Kim, and Park, the three gather round the table and (as though this was the last drink they would ever share) they a lonesome and awkward glass together. Soon after he was told that the car was ready. Just as he was about to get up, he figured that since there was plenty of time, he mightn’t as well take five more minutes to have one more drink with everyone. And then, just when he got up thinking that it was really time to depart for Tokyo, Byeong-soo held him down by the arm and sat him down, saying that he was acting suspicious. Byong-soo made him drink a big gulp as a token of his return. And then the next time he sat down on his own (saying to himself that not going was just as well) and picked up another glass. But then got up again. And then sat down. Again he got up. And again he plopped down.
Thus, after continuously sitting down and getting up, getting up and slumping down, and then pulling out his watch to look at it and putting it back in, it was already past three, then five minutes after, then ten, and finally fifteen… Three fifteen and the hour had finally passed permanently. When this final moment passed, and he realized that his plans for the day had fallen through certain, he felt inexplicably melancholy but also unburdened. He thought, ‘Damn it, then I might as well drink my fill.’ He called the boy and ordered some whiskey. Doing so, he couldn’t help but picture how Sumiko would look, having been stood up and wondering what had happened to him. He thought about how she would turn back without anything else to do, and he felt so sorry for her that he couldn’t take it anymore. ‘Alright, on my way back I’ll go to her apartment and console her nicely, and wait there together and leave on a day train the next day,’ he promised himself sternly. Now that he thought about it, her apartment must be empty by now, and it didn’t seem likely that she would return there. He felt like he had lost a fish in deep water, and that it was hopeless. But there was no way of knowing for sure. He had to stop by at least. That was the right thing to do. If she hadn’t returned home, she would naturally try and spend the night near the station and send some message to the office early the next morning… That was how he consoled himself in the end. He thought to himself that she was caught in a net with nowhere else to go, and a sort of drunken confidence swept over him… Now that his nervousness had subsided the alcohol hit him even stronger, and he became completely inebriated all at once. In the end, he was totally blitzed and let go of himself. Around five o’clock in the morning, sprawled out on the seat cushion of a car driven by a driver who had been given directions by his companions, he was carted off without a care in the world. The sun was already high up in the sky before he woke up and, finding himself in his own house in his room, the affair with Sumiko brusquely came to his mind. Thinking he mustn’t be late, he raised his head sharply and looked at the clock on his desk (it was already past ten o’clock), and he saw a pot-bellied envelope with a letter in it, sitting pretty on top of the morning newspaper. It was written fleetingly in pencil, To Mister Moon Dae-yeong, and through the tone alone, there was no need to turn the envelope over to the other side, which was of course blank. It was obvious that she was angry with what happened last night, and since she knew his address, he thought that she must have written down a few words of chastisement on her way home. Smiling broadly, he opened the envelope and started to read it, but instead of the usual greetings, there suddenly appeared before his eyes, “Please forgive me, Boon-san! Boon-san, I have left you to head off to the continent all by myself!”
Dae-yeong, immediately regaining control over his mind, read on as though tearing through the letter. “I thought about it a lot, and I still had no idea what I should do. But I, Sumiko, feel that love is so precious, so valuable, that even though I know this is a horrible thing to do, I’m sure this is the right way to go. Sumiko is almost twenty-three, and this is the first time she has ever loved. I was sincere without any reservations. That’s because you are so wise, Boon-san. Considering this, I was going to take you, Boon-san, to Tokyo according to plan. It would have only been right for us to enjoy our life together and our love, and I still want badly to do so. I’ll never be able to forget. But our life together is an impossibility. Of course, in the beginning, it wouldn’t be a problem, it would be joyful. But after we are together like that for a month, then two, then half a year, and, if we’re lucky, even one year, then what? After we’ve passed the initial blissful period, I feel like we will face the inevitable breakup that comes from the boredom of nothingness. It’s obvious: Boon-san’s gloomy face, Sumiko’s gloomy face, these two gloomy faces, they’d have to sit facing each other night and day. Without conversation or laughter, without emotion… Just the thought of it made me cringe, and it terrified me, and it nauseated me. We have to live! You, Boon-san, and I, Sumiko, are both opium-addicts who have lost their willingness to live… We are opium-addicts and lumps of meat with blood coursing through them. So how can these two lumps of meat then…? Love and affection can sustain life only in conjunction with a healthy life, and if two such suffocating and abnormal pieces of meat had to be together night and day, how could there be love between them? How could that be sustained? Just think about it for a minute, Boon-san… Your life can be said to be far superior than that of the two of us living in Tokyo together… Even now when you have a life, Boon-san, you are not thrilled or interested in your family, by which I mean that ‘old woman’, at all, are you? It seems your wife alone is wholesome… So therefore, if we were both useless and do not have any life at all, what will our futures hold? Necessarily, we would have forgotten everything about the joyful love we had shared for a moment, and instead retain nothing when we parted ways in the end but unsavory memories, isn’t so? If not, Sumiko won’t be able to bear it and will go mad or commit suicide… So I’m saying, just for the sake of a lust to be happy for one or two months, or even half a year, is there a need to drag this love that is so joyous and precious to us right now through the mud? Should we hold funeral rites for it when it ends? No, Sumiko does not want this! And, however sad it might be, it is happier and prouder to maintain this love as it is right now.
Just as Mitterer in Burgtheatre sighs and anguishes, he is still happy. Takayama Jogyu said, humans must anguish as humans rather than revel as pigs. If Sumiko took you to Tokyo now, it would be just as though she is a pig! So it’s no good. But, even though I know that, I want to be that pig! This longing is so strong that I would rather be a pig! Earlier when you left at dawn, I spent time thinking about this, and I couldn’t arrive to a conclusion. I even came to the station in the end, without any plans! I arrived here, and there happened to be a train heading to the Continent at three fifteen, thirty minutes before we had promised to depart for Tokyo! When I saw that, I made a decision. Fine, why not head to the Continent. Even if I’m sad and idiotic, it’s good that I’ll protect this love in pride and happiness. Maybe, at the same time, I’ll be able to kick my opium problem there, so there’s nothing to lose. As you were saying the other night, Boon-san, during the time of the war with Qing and the war with Russia, and during the time of Toyotomi Hideyoshi—and even before that—the dominion of the Chinese Continent has been the Japanese people’s eternal mission, that great historical movement passed on from generation to generation… No matter what anyone says, that seems to me to be the great explosion of human passion of this generation. Sumiko will make her way there, see it, face it, and experience it. The terrifying destruction that precedes new creation is taking place loudly all over heaven and earth in the Chinese steppes. It is a vast movement taking place on a vast stage… Those brave men who share the same blood as Sumiko, who are each and every one of them individuals, have appeared on the stage valiantly as bearers of a centurial truth. They have bled endless crimson blood and fallen. This is a sincere and solemn fact… When Sumiko sees it with her own eyes and experiences it, I will feel a sincere desire to a bandage around them. I am sure that I will feel a certain excitement and elation, and I will forget the opium’s poison. The loud speaker is announcing that the gates of the train to the Continent are opening! I will close this letter, drop it in the mail, and get going. But, how shall I leave! I can’t help but look back and tears are welling up. What am I to do? Right about now, if you, Boon-san, arrive early and barge in through those heavy doors—if you only do that—Sumiko will hastily hide this letter and immediately follow you to Tokyo! How could Sumiko not! Come to think of it, I regret that coincidences are not easy. Boon-san, please sit yourself down on the sofa every so often, drink tea out of those teacups, and think often of me, Sumiko, won’t you? Thinking of you doing so, my tears dry a little bit and I am happy! Sumiko will always keep that gloomy peony drawing by her side and look at it. And she will always love you, Boon-san. I’ve almost gone through the pack of letters I bought at the kiosk for lack of a better option, but it seems like there is no end to what I want to say. But time is running out, now, this is it… Please, please take care of yourself. 70
You are different, Boon-san, you can understand Sumiko’s heart and thoughts, and you also sympathize with me, and I strongly believe that you will not be angry because of my actions, or think them ungrateful! Once again, Goodbye. To my kind Boon-san From naughty Sumiko” After reading through the whole thing furiously from top to bottom, Dae-yeong all at once let out a sigh that he had been holding back. The tension in his body relaxed, and his arm, with the letter still in hand, slid down to the floor. And his eyes started closing… He felt like something as big as a fist had been buried in his heart, and his body felt as though a corner or a whole part had abandoned him. He felt so empty it was as though he would never be filled again. His head was a blur and he couldn’t exactly say how he felt. He remained lying down that way for a while as though he were dead. There was no way to get control of his heart, and a crushing sense of loneliness came from someplace unknown, gripping his heart and seeping in from all sides. This was different from the simple emptiness of a heart that had lost a lover… When he was young, he and his friends had once gotten lost in their play until late at night. Kids departed one by one until, at last… His closest friend had stayed out with him until the end, but then even he left without saying a word. He had disappeared without a trace, and he did not appear when Dae-yeong called out his name…. And so, alone, Dae-yeong went into the deserted alleyway and called to him. But all that remained was loneliness and the feeling that he wanted to cry… Dae-yeong’s emptiness now was similar to how he felt that late night when he was a boy. He had lost all his friends without even realizing it, and found himself left all alone, abandoned. It was the feeling of being at a loss with no idea of what to do. If he could really cry, cry to his heart’s content, he felt like he might feel somewhat refreshed. He was alone and lonely, and he felt a dogged, desperate longing that could not be tamed for the one who had left. Thinking about it, the situations that the two of them found themselves in made it hard for them to be together. So what happened was the logical denouement. It was understandable. Moreover, like Sumiko had said in her letter, their bliss would have been short-lived. And if it was their destiny to become strangers in the end, it would be better not to taint the pathetic picture they had made together, no matter how shabby. Although the picture of their love had been incomplete, it was better to preserve it as it was, instead of trying to finish it just to have it end in days of disdain and unpleasantness. The idea of preserving their love this was not entirely unpleasant to him. This relinquishment was a necessity, and its pleasures would only become apparent after a long time of yearning. But right now, he felt like going after her to the Continent, and the desire to chase after her sprang up over and over… 71
Chasing after the mirage of the woman, his heart raced toward the Continent, and the efforts he poured in trying to control and restrain himself were indeed painful. Just as it was easy for him to go off to Tokyo with the woman, there was no reason or prohibition that prevented him from going to the Continent. But in between leaving with her for Tokyo yesterday and following her to the Continent today there was an insurmountable difference of pitifulness. Even if it hurt, he didn’t want to be pitiful. The door slid open quietly, and his wife, who still bore the traces of labor, entered the room looking puffy. Dae-yeong started turning his head at the sound of the opening door, and thought to himself that she was going to go out into the cold air, but that it was of no use to tell her not to. He still did not have the energy or the presence of mind to nag her about it. He fumbled for his cigarettes. He lit one up and laid himself flat. His wife sat contentedly near the head of the bed, and said, “How did you end up drinking so much...!” And she put her hand underneath the covers. “Would you like something to ease your stomach?” To these questions, Dae-yeong just lay there as though he hadn’t heard, and without saying a word, puffed little clouds of cigarette smoke towards the ceiling. That was the way he always was, and his wife did not mind it at all. She just stayed put for a while, and then mentioned, as if it has just crossed her mind, “Oh and you know, we have to register the child with the authorities… why don’t you name the little girl?” Feeling as upset as he was, Dae-yeong didn’t have any interest in that sort of bothersome nonsense. He almost screamed at her, What does a little girl’s name matter? Why are you in here pestering me? But at that point he suddenly (truly suddenly) had an idea that changed his mind. “Even a girl has a father, how can a mother alone…” Seeing her husband frown and understanding that he found it distasteful, the wife made excuses to try and console him. Dae-yeong remained silent for a little bit trying to control his facial expression, and then said out of nowhere, “The character for clarity, jing (澄)…” “Jing, for clarity?” His wife, as though she had not expected this answer, rejoiced, and said, “Jing! You mean the character with the water radical (氵)and the character deung (登), meaning ‘to rise,’ right?” While saying this, she brought a piece of paper from the desk and wrote down the character for jing neatly. Dae-yeong thought he might feel sorry to the child for consciously borrowing the character for jing from Sumiko’s name. But, on the other hand, that wasn’t necessarily the case. It’s not like he wanted to commemorate her… Dae-yeong’s wife looked again and again at the character she wrote, and she tilted her head side to side, saying,
“Tsk! It’s pleasantly plain! It’s a little complicated to write, though… And the next character?” “What was that… is there a character for fidelity that might fit here?” “Well, there’s song (pine), jook (bamboo), and also seol (snow)…” “I don’t just mean chastity when I say fidelity… Hmm… Moon Jing… Moon Jing… Sang! Moon Jing Sang!” “Sang?” “Sang as in ‘auspicious’… You write it with the radical for ‘clothes’ (示) and the character that means ‘sheep’ (羊)…” “Oh-oh, sang as in ‘auspicious’! Moon Jing Sang (文澄祥)…” His wife wrote down the three characters, Moon Jing Sang, in a vertical column and looked at then carefully, saying, “Moon Jing Sang… Jing-sang… Tsk! I like it! Moon Jing Sang, Moon Jing-sang… It sounds familiar! But how does ‘auspicious sang’ mean fidelity?” “Having only gone to a girls’ high school, I’d be impressed if you knew that. Anyway, I know you’re looking forward to receiving filial devotion, so for your sake, you can interpret that sang as the sang in ‘Wang Sang’8…” “Thank you for saying so…” Dae-yeong’s wife had been carrying on, but then she sighed meaningfully, and said… “Now all I can do is raise children, and raise them well, so I can expect a little bit of filial piety from them. What else could I hope for in life?” His wife stopped what she was saying and sat there contemplating. Then she said to her husband, as though in passing… “Well now, let’s say I want filial devotion from her… What do you want in return for such a meaningful name? Do you want…?” “The frozen fish longs for the sea!” Dae-yeong, in his turn, let out a long sigh and says to himself, “What a joke! After giving birth to a common lass… She’s still just a little thing that’s not even a week old… Just look at how her mother and father are each trying to form her life after their own wishes, each in their own way! Tsk, how desperate!” Clicking his tongue dissatisfiedly, he lay down with his back to her. At the same time, the squeal of the child could be heard from the inner room. It was a welcome sound to the ears of Dae-yeong and his wife, but at the same time, it suddenly seemed too pitiful to handle. Each in their own way, they both fell into a weary sorrow so deep that even the mother momentarily forgot about the fierce cry of her child.
王祥 (wang sang). This is the Korean pronunciation of a Japanese word meaning great auspiciousness 73
Ch'ae Man-Sik is considered to be one of the most emblematic novelists of the Japanese colonial period in Korea. He produced works that auth...
Published on Sep 16, 2015
Ch'ae Man-Sik is considered to be one of the most emblematic novelists of the Japanese colonial period in Korea. He produced works that auth...