TheGol denBeanPat ch
Ki m Yu-j eong
Tr ans l at edbyEugeneLar s en-Hal l ock
The Golden Bean Patch By Kim Yu-jeong Translated by Eugene Larsen-Hallock
Originally published in Korean as Geum Ttaneun Kongbat in Gaebyeok, 1935 Translation ⓒ 2013 by Eugene Larsen-Hallock
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 Kim, Yu-Jeong The golden bean patch [electronic resource] = 금따는 콩밭 / [written by] Kim Yu-jeong ; translated by Eugene Larsen-Hallock. -- Seoul : Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2013 p. ISBN 978-89-93360-25-7 05810 : No price 813.61-KDC5 895.733-DDC21
About Kim Yu-jeong
Kim Yu-jeong (1908-1937)’s stories portray, with a unique, folksy sense of humor, everyday people living out hardscrabble lives against the bleak backdrop of rural Korea. Kim Yu-jeong made his literary debut in 1935 with the selection of “The Rainstorm” by the Chosun Ilbo, and “The Bonanza” by the Joseon Jungang Ilbo. He then went on to publish prolifically during the two short years before his death in 1937, leaving behind more than 30 novels and 10 essays, and opening up a new horizon in Korean literature. Many of Kim Yu-jeong’s most representational stories—including “Spring, Spring”, “The Mountain Traveler”, “The Rascal”, “The Golden Bean Patch”, and “Camelias”—depict various aspects of life in rural Korea. Kim’s prose, with its liberal use of lively onomatopoeia, rustic dialects, and homespun colloquialisms, lends great animation to his subjects, providing us with vitality-filled sketches of the impoverished and miserable lives lived by the lowest classes in rural villages under Japanese colonial rule. The particular significance of Kim’s stories within Korean literature, however, comes from the consistent sensitivity of feeling which they evince in their telling. “The Golden Bean Patch” (1935) is a tale of the foolishness of man’s greed, and a reflection of the time Kim Yu-jeong spent around gold mines. Yeong-shik was a hardworking, simple farmer. But when Sujae suggests to him that a vein of gold runs beneath his field, he falls for temptation and digs up his bean plot in the hope of striking it rich and escaping from a life of poverty. Even as Kim describes lives of poverty and suffering in stories such as this, however, he never preaches or moralizes. Rather, even while he exposes the difficulties faced by rural towns, he uses laughter to soften the harshness that would come from a direct portrayal. As can be observed in the actions and conversations of his characters, even though many of his stories take place in an atmosphere of misery, they all possess a distinct levity. Of course, however, there is also a current of sadness and loss running beneath the surface.
The Golden Bean Patch
It is always dark and dreary beneath the ground. The feeble bluish glow of the headlamp. Fine at night, but hazy and dim in the day. A small hole surrounded on all sides, front and back, left and right, by walls of ochre clay. Filled with a sepulchral gloom. Thick with icy silence, the putrid stench of the earth and a repulsive chill. A pickaxe digs relentlessly at the earth, clawing off clods of soil. Thwack, thwack, thwack… The sound of it was almost vulgar, broken only by the occasional rustle of dirt sloughing off a wall. Yeong-shik set down his tools for a moment to wipe the sweat from his face with the end of his sleeve. Another day, and still no sign of the gold vein they were searching for. He picked up a handful of soil and brought it up to his nose. He broke it apart between his fingers. It seemed obvious, this was a different soil. But they hadn’t yet made it through the worthless crud that would be laying above the vein. There was a certain sort of clay, one that peeled off easily like the layers of an onion as you hit it, and when they saw that, then they’d find gold. Why was it taking so damned long? He hefted his pickaxe again. He was kneeling in the earth, hunched and panting. He brought his pickaxe down haphazardly, letting it fall where it would. The water puddled on the floor had soaked through his pants at the knees. Chunks of dirt fell from between the supports holding up the ceiling and tumbled across the nape of his neck. At times, one whole side would give way, bringing half the roof crashing down onto his back. But he wouldn’t even flinch. He’d dug up an entire bean field looking for gold. He was in it until the end now, and reaching the end of his wits. He spat in his palms and fixed his grip on the pickaxe. He couldn’t rest. Behind him, he could hear the scraping of dirt. He still hasn’t finished clearing those tailings? He working or just sitting there daydreaming about poetry? I’m going crazy, and he doesn’t have a care in the world. Yeong-shik turned and shot Sujae a murderous glare. Only then did Sujae reluctantly scoop a load of dirt into a carrying basket and take it up the ladder. The wall shook as though the supports were about to give. Dirt came tumbling down. Before, this would have made Young-shik’s hair stand on end and evoked images of meeting an untimely end in that pit without ever seeing his wife again. Now he almost wished they’d die down there.
If he was killed in a cave in, and took that ass Sujae with him, why, that might even be for the best. Yeong-shik just hated Sujae that much. It was Sujae and all his big talking that had led to them completely destroying a perfectly good bean field. And it wasn’t only the bean patch, the rest of it had been ruined, too. Yeongshik hadn’t even bothered to weed the three rice paddies he was farming, and clumps of grass now crowded the embankments. The landowner was furious when he saw the state the paddies were in. He stomped his feet and told Yeong-shik not to even think about farming on his fields next year. No matter how much Yeong-shik and Sujae dug, they couldn’t find gold. They must have already been more than five gil1 down. But Yeong-shik wasn’t sure if they needed to go deeper, or if they needed to push farther north. Actually, he didn’t know the first thing about prospecting. He’d been relying on Sujae for instructions. And if he wanted to find gold, he’d probably have no choice but to keep relying on Sujae in the future, too. But we wasn’t about to stoop to that. “Get over here. Come work this face for a while,” Yeong-shik sternly ordered Sujae to dig. Yeong-shik stood up, brushed off his hands and stepped back. Sujae submitted without protest. He knelt down on the ground where he’d been told to. He raked away the rubble and started to dig. Yeong-shik loaded the remaining tailings on his back and hauled his stocky frame unsteadily up the ladder. Emerging from the mouth of the pit, he dumped the dirt on the pile. Just then, who should he see but the land-manager coming down from the hillside. “You digging again? You’re a couple of lunatics, you are!” Yeong-shik stood in one spot awkwardly without saying anything in reply. He wondered what abuses he’d have to listen to today. “I told you before to knock it off. Why are you still digging?” The land-manager rapped the carrying basket on Yeong-shik’s back with his walking stick as he said this. Then, screaming so that the veins stood out on his neck, “This is a field, you’re supposed to grow things in it—not dig holes and go poking around down inside of it, you fools. Who in their right mind would believe there’s gold down there!” If the field were ruined, the land-manager would get the heat for not having taken better care of it. So every day he would come down and raise a stink, and forbid Yeong-shik from any more digging. But every day he came back to find that the excavations had continued nonetheless. “You need to fill that hole in today. I’ll have you arrested tomorrow if you don’t!”
One gil is 48-60cm. Five gil is thus about three meters.
The land-manager was so beside himself with rage that he spluttered as he struggled to get the words out. His fists were shaking at his sides as though he were ready to throw a punch at any moment. “We’ll just try for one more day and then we’ll stop,” Yeong-shik squeaked out, his face reddening. And then he started outright begging. The land-manager left without even acknowledging what Yeong-shik had said. Yeong-shik silently stared at the land-manager’s receding back. Looking at the field, however, it really was heartbreaking. What had once been a perfectly decent field was now pocked all over with holes. Mounds of tailings were scattered here and there across the field. The whole thing had a decrepit, overturned look to it, something like a public graveyard buried in a landslide. The bean crop had been shaping up to be a good harvest, but now the plants were half-buried beneath the piles of dirt, with only a few fluttering leaves poking above the surface. For Yeong-shik, the sight of this was worse than even if he were watching his own children die. He was sure to get kicked off the land next year. But, even before then, how was he supposed to pay the two-and-a-half seom2 of beans he owed as land rent for this year? Worse, he’d wrecked the field, so he really could end up in jail. When Yeong-shik went back down into the pit, his partner was sprawled on the floor, taking a break. Sujae sat puffing on his pipe without a care in the world. Yeong-shik asked him, “So when are we supposed to hit that vein?” “Should be anytime now.” “Anytime now, huh?” Yeong-shik scoffed. “You bastard,” he suddenly yelled, picking up a clod of dirt and smashing it into the side of Sujae’s head. Sujae groaned and fell over where he was. But he jumped right back up. He grabbed the first thing that came to hand—the pickaxe—and ran at Yeong-shik. But he was not even close to Yeong-shik’s equal in strength. Yeong-shik roughly flung Sujae away with his arm. Sujae crashed against the wall, where he collapsed. In that moment, Yeong-shik snatched away the pickaxe and aimed it for Sujae’s head. Sujae turned aside at the last moment, and the pickaxe dug into the wall behind him before bouncing back. The mere mention of Sujae’s name was enough to set Yeong-shik’s teeth grinding. He’d obviously been hoodwinked. Yeong-shik didn’t have any experience in prospecting before they’d started. He hadn’t been interested in it either. He spent his days diligently, crouched down in the rows of his field, sweating over his work. This year, the beans had been sprouting exceptionally well, and he had been feeling pretty good. 2
One seom is a traditional unit of measure equal to approximately 180 liters. Two-and-a-half seom is about 450 liters.
One day, he was out weeding by himself when he heard someone call out. “Hello there! Sure hot today. Why don’t you rest for a bit?” Looking over, it was Sujae. Sujae didn’t farm. Instead he spent all of his time prospecting for gold. Whatever he’d come for, he seemed to be in a jovial mood. Thinking Sujae might have had a bit of good fortune, Yeong-shik called back, “You strike it rich? Why don’t you lend a bit of gold this way?” “Maybe I did. I’ve been living it up a bit lately.” Sujae was a bit tipsy and running off at the mouth. He crouched down by the side of the field and continued rambling on, “Say, you wouldn’t be interested in making some money, would you? There’s some gold buried under this field here, there is…” “What?” Sujae explained that in a large valley just on the other side of the mountain there was a mine. They’d hit a motherload, and had three-hundred miners digging at it, carting out more than seventy nyang3 of gold a day. That much gold was worth seven-thousand won. Sujae claimed that the same vein that mine was tapping circled around the base of the mountain and ran right under Yeong-shik’s field. If the two of them dug together, they could hit the vein within ten days, and then they’d be able to pull out a tenth of a nyang every day after. Even if Yeong-shik only made thirty won, that would be enough to buy a cow and still have fifteen won left. But Yeong-shik didn’t pay any heed to Sujae’s blathering. Chasing after gold was as foolish as running with a knife in your hand. If you found some, great, but if not, you’d be ruined. Or at least that’s what Yeong-shik had heard people say. The next day Sujae returned one more time to try to wheedle Yeong-shik into going along with his plan. The third time, Sujae came to Yeong-shik’s house with a bottle of makkeolli rice wine to try and work at him some more. Sujae was back again and dying with impatience. He crouched down on the dirt floor and stared at Yeong-shik’s dinner, prattling on and on about how eating nothing but gruel ruins your health, and how hard-working men need to eat well, or about how this person and that are going around talking about the land they bought, and how if Yeong-shik didn’t do something he’d end up spending his life as nothing more than a poor farmer. Then, finally, Sujae passed the wine bottle to Yeong-shik’s wife and said, “Ma’am, would you mind kindly pouring some of this for us.” Sujae and Yeong-shik sat down at the table together and enjoyed a drink. After they’d had a few glasses, Yeong-shik’s thoughts about Sujae’s suggestion began to change. Having spent an entire year slaving away, Yeong-shik would have nothing to show for it other than a few seom of beans, if he was lucky. Digging for gold would have to be better than continuing on like that. He could make quite a bit more in a single good day of digging than he could from from an entire year of ceaseless toil in the fields. He was already strapped for the money he’d need to buy 3
One nyang is traditional unit of weight equal to 37.5 grams. Seventy nyang is about 2.7kg.
fertilizer, pay his farmhands, and repay the seven won he’d borrowed. It seemed like a real man would try to do whatever he could to get ahead, instead of just constantly scraping by like he was. Sujae egged him on, “Let’s start digging tomorrow. When you’ve got money, you won’t care about beans.” This time, Yeong-shik readily agreed, “Alright, let’s do it. If the damned thing doesn’t work out, so be it.” If Yeong-shik’s wife, who was sitting behind him slurping at some juk4, hadn’t nudged him in the small of his back with her foot, he almost might have been hesitant to agree. But his wife was rather savvy, in her own way. Mining was booming. If she and her husband just kept on farming like idiots, they’d end up beggars. Before long, all the mountains and fields would end up in the hands of prospectors, who would fill them with holes and strip everything out of them. Then what would be left for her and her husband? Just think. Almost as if they’d planned it, the farmhands have all run off to try their hands digging for gold, haven’t they? The whole village is in an uproar because there’s no one to work the fields this year. Even the farmers in this area who own their own fields have been throwing down their hoes and running down to the rivers and streams to pan for gold dust. And then when you see them a few days later, they’re all putting on airs like they’re experienced miners, with their rubber-soled boots and rough, muslin work clothes. Yeong-shik’s wife had never dreamed that there might be gold beneath their bean field. She was surprised and delighted. This year she’d finally get to taste that Pollack she’d only been able to salivate over before. She was beyond jealous of the way Yang-geun’s wife, from the house behind theirs, strutted around in those white rubber shoes her husband had bought for her with the money he made in the gold fields. If she just had some gold of her own, she’d get herself a pair of white rubber shoes and powder her face, too. Her husband was rather tipsy, and she encouraged him, “Well, why don’t you just give it a shot? You just listen to what this guy here says, and you’ll be sure to find some gold.” The very next morning Yeong-shik and Sujae were out in the field at dawn. Sujae rambled on and on about this and that, as though he were giving some profound advice. He ran excitedly from one side of the field to the other, as though he were able to sense where the gold vein lay in the ground. After wandering back and forth across the field, he suddenly came to a halt in the corner of the field closest to the mountain, held up a finger and explained. The course of a large vein of gold is typically governed by the force exerted by a mountain. Which is to say, large veins of gold can generally be found near mountains, running in circular courses around them. Since the vein they were looking for was a real motherload, it would undoubtedly be running at a slant in
Juk is a common sort of boiled rice porridge.
the direction of the very spot he was in. Thus, the very place he was standing at that moment was the place they should start digging. Yeong-shik had no idea what all that meant. But he fully believed that if he just followed the instructions he got from Sujae, who knew a thing or two about prospecting, than they would be sure to find some gold ore. Without another word, Yeong-shik dug his shovel into the spot Sujae had indicated and started digging. The beans he had worked so hard to grow might not have been gold, but they weren’t nothing either. They were almost fully grown and hung long and spindly on the plants, at least until they were crushed beneath the shovel and buried under piles of dirt. For Yeong-shik, this was a painful sight. At times, overwhelmed with pity for his plants, Yeong-shik would set down his shovel and bend down to brush the dirt off a leaf. Sujae teased him, “Look at this sap, worrying about a bean plant. We’re digging for gold!” Embarrassed, Yeong-shik made excuses, “No, it wasn’t that. My back was just a bit sore.” And really, if they struck gold, who would care about this silly bean patch? If Yeong-shik had some money, he could flood the field and make it into a rice paddy. Yeong-shik shut his eyes and blindly tossed shovelfuls of dirt over the plants. “What do you think you’re doing, digging all those holes!” There was an old man from the neighborhood who would constantly come by just to nag them. They’d already dug three holes in the field. And they were about to dig another. The old man couldn’t believe the two of them had given up farming for anything as ludicrous as digging for gold. For the old man this could be nothing other than a sign that the end of the world was coming. Any man that could dig holes in the precious ground of a field must be out of his mind. Enraged, the old man shook his stick and cried, “Damn you! Damn you both to hell!” “Don’t worry yourself, old man. Who knows?” Yeong-shik would rudely tell the old man off whenever the old man said anything. Yeong-shik would then throw his load of dirt out angrily, spit, and stomp back down into the pit. But there was always something about the whole thing that made a part of him feel uneasy. They had turned over the entire field looking for the gold seam. But they still had no idea when they might finally reach it. He hadn’t weeded his rice paddies, and he didn’t even know what might have happened to the plants there without any water. He could no longer sleep at night, and would lie in bed with a far off look in his eyes, worrying about the future. Sujae seemed completely untroubled and remained as cheerful as ever. He would sit hunched up on the ground, pecking away at the soil like it was a game. Yeong-shik asked him drily, “You think we’re close?” Without any hesitation, Sujae responded affirmatively, and said without any doubt, “If we don’t strike gold this time, you can have my head.”
Sujae’s confidence put Yeong-shik a bit more at ease. If there really wasn’t any gold, then what had they been suffering for? They were bound to find gold. And then, after they’d hit gold, they wouldn’t have to worry about making a loss. Thinking this, Yeong-shik’s thoughts of giving up would fade and the strength would return to his hands. It was a pitch black night. From somewhere came the sound of dogs barking noisily. When her husband came back to the house, he was covered in mud. Despondent and barely able to stand, he flopped himself down on the warm side of the ondol5 floor as soon as he came in. Seeing her husband come in like that, Yeong-shik’s wife’s last remaining hope was crushed. She could tell he had failed again. She’d been bragging to people that as soon as they found gold they were going to buy a new house, but that had all just been a fantasy. Now that she’d been knocked back down, she couldn’t even bring herself to show her face outside their house. As she brought her husband his dinner, she gave him a serious look and said, “This is the last of the rice we borrowed…” Without responding to her, he said in a low, unconcerned voice, “Tomorrow morning, I’m going to make an offering to the spirit of the mountain, so I’ll need you to borrow some more.” Then he lay back comfortably and pointedly shut his eyes. “We don’t even have the ingredients for juk! Just what are we supposed to put on the offering table…” “I don’t want to hear it! Don’t talk back, woman.” Yeong-shik’s wife was stunned to have her husband thunder at her this way. Recently, he’d been in a sorry state, and would fly into rages without any provocation at all. It was like he was going mad. He no longer slept at night, and would bark at her and try to pick fights. It had gotten to the point that if the baby so much as whimpered, her husband would launch into a tirade and threaten to throw the child out. Yeong-shik didn’t eat his dinner, so his wife simply cleared it away. Her husband was a difficult man to argue with, and she had no choice in the end but to go back to Yang-geun’s wife to borrow more rice. They hadn’t even managed to return the rice that they had borrowed before, and Yeongshik’s wife was at a loss as to what reason she was supposed to give Yang-geun’s wife for needing to borrow more. Unable to think of anything, Yeong-shik’s wife abandoned the last of her self-respect and set out once more for Yang-geun’s house. As soon as she saw Yang-geun’s wife, she blurted out,
Ondol is a type of underfloor heating which is still employed in Korean homes. In older homes, the floor would be heated by a furnace beneath the floor, with the side closest to the furnace being the warmest and most desirable spot.
“He said he wants to make an offering to the mountain spirit tomorrow morning, so we’ll be needing some more rice.” Luckily, Yang-geun and his wife were exceptionally kind people. Yang-geun smiled jovially as his wife said, “Why… yes, you will, won’t you? If the mountain’s out of sorts, you’d better cook up some juk for it.” Yang-geun had struggled himself for so long at prospecting that he was more than a little understanding when it came to these sorts of things. He personally brought Yeong-shik’s wife five doe6 of rice and even offered her some advice, “Well, if you’re going to make an offering to the mountain, you’d better do it properly. Mountain spirit can get mad as hell if you aren’t careful.” Returning home with the rice, Yeong-shik’s wife was thankful, but, even more than that, she felt sorry for imposing on Yang-geun and his wife, and her face reddened again. She was also thoroughly jealous of the life Yang-geun and his wife had. Yang-geun would go each day and dig through the tailings for the discarded, low-quality ore from just above the seam. He would spend all day pounding the rocks he brought home on the grinding stone, and, if he was lucky, he might find two or three won worth of gold. Even on a bad day, he’d still find seventy or eighty jeon7, and it all added up. So they could buy rice, and they could buy fabric, and they could make ddeok8, and they could give loans—just thinking about the straightened situation her own family always found itself in was enough to make Yeong-shik’s wife’s chest tighten and elicit from her a long string of sighs. Yeong-shik’s wife came home and set some rice to soak so she could make ddeok. But what were they supposed to put in the juk the next morning? She crouched down on the cold side of the floor and glared disapprovingly at her husband sprawled out on the other side of the room. Other people find plenty of gold just lying around, but that fool couldn’t find a single speck of gold even after tearing up an entire field to look for it. Ah, why couldn’t he be more like other men! Without even realizing it, Yeong-shik’s wife let out two deep sighs in a row. Late in the evening, Yeong-shik and his wife went outside to make ddeok. Yeong-shik pounded at the rice in the mortar with a large wooden hammer. But they didn’t have a sieve to strain the rice. Yeong-shik’s wife ran around the neighborhood until her legs cramped, looking for one she could borrow. “Why’re you just sitting there? We need to build a fire,” she said, disgusted by the way her husband just sat by dumbly, winded from pounding ddeok. How can that bum just loaf around while I’m busting my ass like this? Yeong-shik’s wife wordlessly nagged at him to help, throwing dry kindling branches at him as she chopped them off the tree. When the rooster crowed for the second time, the ddeok was finally done. 6
A doe (rhymes with ‘way’) is equal to approximately 1.8 liters. Five doe is thus about 9 liters. In the past, a jeon was a unit of money equal to 1/100th of a won. 8 Pounded rice cake. 7
Yeong-shik’s wife lifted the rice pot on top of her head, and her husband tucked a mat underneath his arm. Then they set out up the dark mountain path. A ways up the winding path the bean patch spread out before them. It was hemmed in by dark, soaring mountains, and at the far end willows and date trees spread their bowers. Just before they came to the field, Yeong-shik came to a stop and turned to his wife, “Give me the pot. Wait right here.”9 Taking the rice pot in one arm, Yeong-shik continued on alone to the bean field. Mounds of dirt were piled in front of him. As he walked around them, Yeong-shik stumbled over what seemed like a rock. Yeong-shik’s wife saw his body jerk forward and it looked as though he would fall. Startled, she ran to him and caught him beneath the arms. “What are you doing up here! Women are bad luck!” Righting himself, her husband screamed at her and slapped her across the cheek. He went on grumbling nastily to himself as he stepped into the field. I wish she would die. Just die. That bitch jinxes everything. He spread out the mat in the middle of the field and placed the rice pot on top of it. Then, he gave two deep, kneeling bows before the rice pot with the greatest formality possible. “Oh, mountain spirit! Take pity on us. If you will not come to our aid, we face certain death.” Bringing his hands together in supplication, Yeong-shik prayed to the spirit of the mountain. Yeong-shik’s wife could feel the gall surging up inside of her as she watched this. Since her husband said he was taking up prospecting, he hadn’t found any gold, but he’d certainly found some bad habits. One of those habits was a new tendency to beat his wife whenever the slightest breeze blew, which was something he’d never done before. I wanted him to find some gold, not hit me around. If he’s going to be like that, I hope he doesn’t find any gold. Bitter about being slapped, Yeong-shik’s wife cursed him every way she knew. And her curses came true. More than ten days passed without even a peep in reply from the spirit of the mountain. Day and night, her husband’s eyes looked about ready to bulge out of his head, and he spent all his time buried in his hole. On the infrequent occasions when he would come down to the house, he looked like an invalid; his face was pale and hollow, and his shoulders drooped. Without saying a word, he would flop his massive frame down on the floor. Sometimes he might mumble bitterly to himself, “That fucking woman. If only she’d just die already…” Yeong-shik’s wife loaded his lunch into a basket, which she carried on her head as she left the house. The baby kicked and giggled on her back.
Traditionally, ceremonies of offering have been believed to be masculine affairs in which the participation of women only invites bad luck.
At this point, she’d given up any hope of wearing white rubber shoes or of eating dried Pollack. And if she even heard the word gold, a bitter taste would fill her mouth. She’d be happy if they were just able to pay back the food they’d borrowed. The orange glow of fall had settled over the paddies and fields of the town. All the farmers looked pleased, and made merry jokes whenever they met each other. But her husband had destroyed a perfectly good bean field for nothing, and had even let the rice crop go to ruin, so there would be no harvest for her family to celebrate. She was so embarrassed to face the other townspeople that she took out-of-the-way paths through the hills to avoid them. Emerging from the pine forest, she saw that both her husband and Sujae were up out of the pit. It looked like they’d had another fight. They were sitting on rubble piles at opposite sides of the field and smoking on their pipes without looking at each other. “Why don’t you eat,” she said setting the basket down in front of her husband and quietly surveying the situation. Her husband’s shirt was ripped and he had scratches across his face. He was sitting with his arms crossed over his chest, staring silently at the far off mountains. Sujae looked as though he had been buried in the dirt. Mud covered his face and even filled his ears. Blood had dried beneath his nose, and a few drops were still dribbling down. He seemed embarrassed to see Yeong-shik’s wife. He lowered his head and turned away from her, wetting his lips anxiously. He came out here to dig gold, but instead he’s fighting. Here I am, dying from worry about all our debts, and he’s wasting his time like this. Yeong-shik’s wife narrowed her eyes disapprovingly. “So when did you say we’d be able to pay back what we borrowed to make that offering to the mountain?” she asked her sulking husband, her voice rising pointedly at the end. Her husband didn’t even twitch an eyebrow. Then in a slightly louder voice, she asked again, “Why’d you tell me to borrow something you knew we couldn’t repay?” Her husband had not quite calmed down yet from his fight with Sujae earlier, and his wife’s prodding just rekindled his anger. He jumped up with his fists clenched and struck his wife in the face hard enough to send her reeling. “Ill-starred bitch…” She could deal with his temper, but his fists terrified her. She knew that if she was stupid enough to pick a fight with him, he’d bash her skull in. Choking down her loathing, she reached with trembling hands to take the baby from her back. She thrust the child into her husband’s arms, and it began to wail. Then she turned around, and said as if talking to herself, “Fool’s so stupid he couldn’t tell beans from barley—and he says he’s going to find gold in the bean field, humph!”
At this jab, her husband flew into a rage. Running up to her, he gave her another wallop to the side of the face. The least that woman could do is give me a bit of support, but all she does is come out here to fume and shout at me. Fuck it. She’s just too much. “I can’t live with you anymore. I want you gone today,” he shouted as he gave his wife a hard shove. She fell onto the embankment at the side of the field, and her husband gave her a hard jab in the side with his foot. Yeong-shik’s wife opened her mouth wide in a gasp. “Remember that time you poked at me with your foot telling me I should do this? You’ve ruined us, woman,” he said before giving her another jab. And then another. Seeing this, Sujae started to feel uneasy. He could tell that if Yeong-shik continued on that way he himself would become the next object of his fury. And if that happened, he’d be dead. Sujae took the first opportunity he could to slink quietly back into the pit. The sunlight carried the soft, warm scent of the fall. Abandoned by their owner, fat, round beans rolled in the dirt. At the base of the hill across from the field, joyous farmers sang of a bounteous harvest as they reaped. Sujae came running out of the pit wide-eyed and hollering. He had a heaping fistful of clay in his hand. “What is it?” Yeong-shik asked him. “We found it! We’ve struck gold!” “Ah!” Yeong-shik exclaimed and shot straight down to where Sujae was. Yeong-shik took the handful of clay from Sujae and examined it carefully, crushing it between his fingers. It was a dark, ruddy clay, the likes of which he’d never seen before. Tears began to gather in his eyes. He asked, “Did we find the main seam?” “You bet we did. With this sort of red clay, you can figure on getting five don10 of gold from every sack,” Sujae replied. Yeong-shik was so shocked he forgot to be happy. He didn’t know whether he should laugh or cry. He just stood staring dumbly at Sujae with his mouth half-open. A moment later, he called his wife over, “Get over here! Sujae says we found gold.” His wife grumbled about how she had told him so, and how she had said from the beginning he should just give it a try. But she seemed more beautiful to Yeong-shik than ever before. He wiped away her tears with his thumb, and then bound off into the pit. In her happiness, Yeong-shik’s wife was already dreaming of eating dried Pollack and living in a palatial house the size of a whale. She turned to Sujae, “There’s really gold in that clay?” “Sure is,” Sujae said blithely, “fifty-won’s worth in every sack.” 10
A don is about 3.76g, so five don is about 18.8g.
As he said this, he thought to himself that he’d better get while the getting was good. That very night even. Lies don’t last very long, after all. And once the truth came out, it’d be tough to escape with his skin. Running was simply the only sensible thing to do.
Published on Sep 16, 2015
Kim Yu-jeong’s prose, with its liberal use of lively onomatopoeia, rustic dialects, and homespun colloquialisms, lends great animation to hi...