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Thr eePat hs

Ch’ aeMan-Si k

Tr ans l at edbyJ ami eChang


Three Paths By Ch’ae Man-Sik Translated by Jamie Chang

Literature Translation Institute of Korea 1


Originally published in Korean as Segilro in Joseon Mundan, 1925 Translation ⓒ 2014 by Jamie Chang

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 Three paths [electronic resource] / by Chae Man-sik ; translated by Jamie Chang. -- [Seoul] : Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2014 p. 원표제: 세길로 Translated from Korean ISBN 978-89-93360-57-8 95810 : Not for sale 813.61-KDC5 895.733-DDC21

CIP2014028984

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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 Jung-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.

About “Three Paths” A young student comes across a lovely young woman and her mother on the train bound for Seoul. As he watches them eat bento and watermelon, he notices that another young man in the train car is also taken by her beauty and is attempting to approach them. “Three Paths” is a tale of a young man’s confidence rising and falling at the mere glance of a beautiful girl, the subtle dynamics between passengers in a train car, and depictions of train travel in Korea during the Japanese Occupation.

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Three Paths

I climbed on board the last car of the train in search of an empty seat. Passengers pushed and pulled hurrying to board the train first as the station porter shouted: “The train will stop for five minutes! All passengers bound for Jeonju must transfer…” through the megaphones, everyone crowded the platform by the black train with anxiety – flowers were exchanged – and confusion was contrasted with people alighting from the train, their carefree gazes, their casual demeanor, and the calm boredom of the passengers looking out through the windows. When I stepped into the car at the tail end, I spotted a female student dressed lightly in bright colors sitting not far from the door. She wasn’t particularly pretty, and she was not the only woman in the car, but ours was a society in which “female students” attracted attention – while this did not apply to everyone, it was especially true in the countryside – and besides that I found her lovely and can’t say that others in the car didn’t also look at her with curiosity. She had a broad, chubby face, her body and limbs were also big-boned, and even the way she looked out the window saying, “Where are you?” sounded so ripe that a buxom air hung around her. She had on a white blouse, a white skirt, white bloomers, white knee-high socks, and white face powder, with only her pumps and hair neatly braided down her back in black. In country peoples’ terms, she was a perfect candidate for “the eldest daughter-inlaw to a rich family.” She was sitting on the right side of the train facing the forward direction, and in front of her was an older woman of about fifty – I knew instinctively that the woman was her mother – who sat facing her. Just behind the woman was a man in his twenties with a conniving, calculating face – he wasn’t wearing a uniform, but he seemed to be a student at a professional school or a training school – giving off a pompous air. The seat across from him was empty. At first, I thought the man was accompanying the girl to Seoul – a cousin or at the very least someone from the same hometown. But the shifty, cunning way he looked at her soon told me that they did not know each other. I went over to the seat across from him, put my luggage on the shelf above my head and sat down for a moment, then got up again to take off my jacket and tie, then looked at her squarely from the front. She must have been looking at me, for our eyes met. I turned my gaze and thought, Why is she looking at me? Well, why does anyone ever look at anyone else? I was unsatisfied with the answer I’d come up with, but was happy that she’d looked at me at all. Then, the older woman also turned to look at me, followed by the man sitting across from me, followed by a middle school student on the other side of the aisle, and a country gentleman. I was a little bashful but felt something like the joy of the victor. 4


More passengers boarded the train and scanned the car for empty seats; there was still chaos on the platform. Vendors selling bento, tea, and other goods pressed on toward the windows pitching their goods. The girl whispered something to the older woman and then picked up her purse and went outside. The man jumped up from his seat and followed her. Moments later, the girl returned with two bento and the man returned with nothing, and sat back down in his seat, throwing furtive glances at her. The bell signaling departure rang, and the whistle of the stationmaster also blew a few times, then the train slowly began to move forward with a deafening whistle and the hiss of escaping steam. The train creaked past a few rail intersections and then picked up speed as though it had let go of everything that didn’t matter. The scenery outside the window never stopped changing and the loud noise coming from the train made me glum, but the familiar coziness inside the train car comforted me. The girl and the older woman opened up the bento and started eating. I stared for a long while at the cute way she was chewing her food, and then looked away when our eyes met. I turned and pretended I was looking elsewhere, but was quite happy to imagine her glancing at my profile. Stinging sunlight came in through the window on my side of the train, and smoke and coal dust flew in as well. I left my hat on my seat and got up to find myself a seat on the other side of the aisle. From my new seat, I was able to look at the girl from the side without any obstacles. The train stopped again before long. When the wheels stopped turning and the train came to a complete stop, the people inside all began to chat casually with one another as if on cue. There was a brief stir as a few got off and a few got on, but even that was absorbed into the familiarity and stuffy air inside the car. The man who was sitting across from me before came over to my side of the aisle, sat down next to the middle school student – he was sitting three or four seats away, facing me, and seemed to be traveling with the man – and stole a sidelong glance at the girl. He sat for a moment and then got back up again to borrow a pencil from the country gentleman sitting behind him – it seemed he was traveling with him, too – and borrowed a piece of paper from the middle school student, then started to quietly write something, wetting the tip of his pencil with his tongue. He must be writing a letter to that girl. I got up and stole a look at what he was writing while I pretended I had business on the other side of the car. There were numbers – 7.5, 0.5, 1.5, 0.3, 1.8, 0.7, 0.3 – written on the paper. He seemed to be doing some arithmetic. He must have been calculating the amount of money he’d spent on the journey. I suddenly felt somewhat unhappy and discomfited. The man crumpled the piece of paper between his hands and threw it out, then pulled out a cigarette and started puffing away. The middle school student also started smoking. The man slapped the boy 5


on his back and said in a timid Neungna (present day Andong) dialect, “What? a middle school student smoking?” loudly enough for everyone to hear. The man smiled and stole long glances at the girl. The boy also looked at the girl and then turned to the man and said, “Hmph, middle school students are people, too.” He stuck out his bottom lip in protest and smiled mockingly. They chatted for a long time. Their gazes never seemed to rest in one place for long. The man got up, walked down the aisle past the girl, stepped out of the car, came back in, and while looking at the girl sideways, said, “The crops here have also had a terrible year” as he sat down next to the boy again. He seemed like a cock dancing around a hen. The girl, of course, looked at him at times, and I assumed that was his plan. Or perhaps he was after the joy simply being closer to her, or even direct interaction. But to me, the way she was looking at him seemed different from the way she was looking at me. The girl produced a watermelon, cut off the top, and started to eat it with the older woman. The watermelon looked delicious. Sweet juice welled up from the soft, ripe meat, and rings of black seeds were studded in the red. My mouth watered even though I didn’t really want any. The way she ate the watermelon – cutting out slices that seemed to melt in her mouth, making an “o” as she spat out the seeds – was very delicate. The man watched her with his mouth hanging open, and then suddenly rose to his feet, went back to his original seat, and stuck more than half his body out the window and began to sing. His hoarse voice, like the sound of clay pots shattering, was heard faintly amidst the sound of the train. The train pulled into Ganggyeong Station. There was a racket inside the train as people got on and off. A woman of about fifty – she didn’t seem like a lady from a middle-class family, but she was dressed smartly and wore a gold ring and a gold stick hairpin – sat down next to the older woman who was traveling with the girl. It seemed she was looking for someone to chat with since she sat down next to them despite all the empty seats in the rest of the car. Surely enough, the woman started stuffing her pipe with some tobacco she’d brought wrapped in cloth and began her story in a rustic Yeongnam dialect. “You can’t trust anyone in the world these days!” She looked at the older woman as though seeking her approval. Like a crowd hungry for a new distraction, the bored faces of those around all turned to the lady. “Oh?” the older woman feigned interest. [Twenty-three lines deleted here] … but he glanced sideways at the girl and flared his nostrils.

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Her mother must have been moved by what he’d said, for she turned around to look at him and asked, “Where are you going?” The man’s angry face instantly dissolved into a docile one and replied gratefully, “I… am going to Seoul… What about you?” “We’re also going to Seoul. We’re supposed to transfer in Daejeon?” “Yes, Daejeon. We have Nonsan, Yeonsan, Dugye, and Gasuwon left.” He counted them on his fingers and said, “Only four stations left.” A glow of satisfaction radiated from his face. He looked at the girl more frequently than before with unabashed desire and anticipation. The girl sometimes looked at him with curiosity. As the train approached Daejeon Station, I went back to my original seat and gathered my belongings. The girl looked at me again. I avoided her gaze and then regretted not looking straight at her. But each time our eyes met, I was the one who always looked away first, too shy to meet her gaze. And each time I turned away, I would wonder with regret, “What if I’d held her gaze?” When the train stopped in Daejeon, the man whose services had been recruited by the mother went about busily, hiring station porters and moving things for her. I watched intently as he bought express train tickets for the mother and the girl, and found them seats on the Gyeongbu Line. Once they were settled in, he sat down near them. I did not get in the same car as theirs. It was a shame that they were in another car when there were so many empty seats in mine. I peeked into the car where they were seated. The man had left his seat and was having a friendly conversation with the mother. I looked at the girl. She looked at me and then looked away first. I felt her gaze had gotten cold compared to the warmth in the way she looked at the man. The man looked at me as well. I saw gloating and sneering on his face. Disappointed and angry, I forlornly returned to my seat. When I was seated again, I felt as though I was waking up from a dream, and was able to regain my detached smile. In the dusky evening light, I made my way out of the chaotic turnstiles of Namdaemun Station, stood in a quiet corner, and watched the girl and the man leave the station. The girl and the mother left before the man and headed through Namdaemun Gate in a rickshaw. The man rushed out and stood for a long while watching the rickshaw drive away, and then got in a Chinese man’s carriage with the middle school student and headed in the direction of the Seodaemun trolley tracks. I alone caught the trolley to Yongsan. The next day, I ran into the man on the street. I acknowledged him by smiling. He also smiled as he walked by.

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Three paths  

Ch’ae Man-Sik (1902 – 1950) was born in Okgu, North Jeolla Province in 1902. His pen names are Baek-reung and Chae-ong. He produced works th...

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