Eastern Sentiments

Eastern Sentiments

Translated and with an introduction by JANET POOLE
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 208
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Eastern Sentiments
    Book Description:

    The Confucian gentleman scholars of the Choson dynasty (1392-1910) often published short anecdotes exemplifying their values and aesthetic concerns. In modern Seoul one scholar in particular would excel at adapting this style to a contemporary readership: Yi T'aejun.

    Yi T'aejun was a prolific and influential writer of colonial Korea and an acknowledged master of the short story and essay. He also wrote numerous novels and was an influential editor of cultural news. Born in northern Korea in 1904, Yi T'aejun settled in Seoul after a restless youth that included several years of study in Japan. In 1946, he moved to Soviet-occupied northern Korea, but by 1956, a purge of southern communists forced him into exile. His subsequent whereabouts cannot be confirmed, though rumors claim Yi returned to Pyongyang, only to be exiled once more. It is believed Yi T'aejun passed away between 1960 and 1980, but his works were not made available until 1988, when South Korean censorship laws concerning authors who had sided with the north were eased.

    The essays in this collection reflect Yi's distinct voice and lyrical expression, revealing thoughts on a variety of subjects, from gardens to immigrant villages in Manchuria, from antiques to colonial assimilation, and from fishing to the recovery of Korea's past. Yi laments the passing of tradition with keen sensibility yet, at the same time, celebrates human perseverance in the face of loss and change. Most important, his essays recount the author's attempt to re-experience the past and keep it alive against absorption into the Japanese nation.

    Janet Poole faithfully reproduces Yi's complex craft, retaining his idiosyncratic tone and narrative. A brilliant introduction to a remarkable prose stylist, Eastern Sentiments eloquently complicates the historical, political, and aesthetic concerns of Orientalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52053-9
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-24)

    Eastern Sentiments is a collection of anecdotal essays and not short stories, yet as essays the writings gathered here are, if anything, more partial and fragmented than any short story, suggesting a connection between their form and the environment of late colonial Korea. The anecdotal essay had been enjoying a surge in popularity when Yi T’aejun was writing in the late 1930s, and his collection is generally considered a masterpiece of the form. An eclectic selection of thoughts on anything from fishing to stone gardens to the melancholy of immigrant life, Eastern Sentiments made fragmentation both its strength and its...

  2. (pp. 25-25)

    Upon visiting someone’s home, there is nothing I envy more than a room with a fine wall. Tall and wide, receiving only indirect sunlight, a wall as silent as if it were underwater … how calm it feels to sit alone before such a wall and gaze upon an old picture; to saunter beside a wall while pondering one’s thoughts; to gaze upon that wall with several friends, partaking in conversation of no import as night stealthily falls; and sometimes to replace the picture with another. What support we can find in such a wall each day and throughout our...

  3. (pp. 26-26)

    I am watching the water.

    As it flows by, the water is beautiful.

    It seeps out from the earth and flows over the earth, but it is not dirty; it is as clear as when poured into a clean glass. It glides past the grass, raising ripples against the pebbles and happily singing as it flows beneath the blue sky.

    The water is beautiful. The form and sound of its flow are beautiful, but even more beautiful is its pure virtue; it possesses that gentle virtue of not dirtying others and even cleanses them of their dirt. When we encounter...

  4. (pp. 27-27)

    Whenever I returned from Tokyo to Korea, I experienced the night anew.

    Of course day and night exist there too, but, having accustomed myself to the well-lit stations in Japan, I would discover night again once the train had left Pusan and began to stop from time to time in the most unlikely of dark places. I would look out, wondering if the train had broken down, only to glimpse station employees flitting back and forth like bats, and then a closer inspection would reveal the flicker of an oil lamp in the distance.

    Night, the true dark night! It...

  5. (pp. 28-29)

    A friend returned from the field with a pear he had picked for me, saying,

    “Look, I found one already ripe.”

    I asked when he usually picked these pears, and he replied that it was only after the first frost. But, as he was walking along, he had found just one that had ripened early and fallen to the ground.

    I took a bite, but it did not taste as good as it looked. It was tough, watery, and gave off a scent somehow lacking in purity.

    As I tasted the salty water of this fruit that had ripened before...

  6. (pp. 29-30)

    The day before yesterday was the most beautiful morning we have seen in Sŏngbuk-chŏng this spring. Azaleas and forsythias hung their smiling blossoms over every fence, apricot and cherry buds fattened themselves in preparation to bloom, and sparrows twittered among the forest of flowers as if they were the only ones to notice that the morning was so perfectly clear. And then, from a house across the other side of the stream, there arose a wild wail.

    When I walked out my door this morning, a hearse stood in front of the house across the stream, which had been the...

  7. (pp. 30-31)

    When I asked the child beneath the pine tree,

    He replied, “The master has gone to gather herbs.

    He must be somewhere in these hills,

    But who knows where in these thick clouds.”*

    I did not understand this poem when I read it at the schoolhouse. But the more I grasp its meaning the finer it seems.

    Mountains evoke sorrow.

    In Kangwŏn Province there are many large mountains. When I was ten or eleven years old, several times I walked the seventy li path from the village of Yongdam in Ch’ŏlwŏn to a village known as Moshiul in Anhyŏp. It...

  8. (pp. 31-33)

    Every morning and evening he would bring his grandchildren to water the plants and spread some fertilizer, but, despite the meticulous old man’s great efforts, it seemed as if nothing could be done for the dying flowerbed.

    The broad leaves of the hydrangea and plantain lilies, which had once trembled in such an appetizing fashion, were beginning to yellow and curl up as though burned in a fire.

    “There shouldn’t be any difference between rainwater and pipe water … ”

    The old man looked sad as he sauntered around the flowerbed after watering it each day.

    Then the rain came....

  9. (pp. 33-35)

    Last spring I bought a banana plant in the neighborhood. Before that I had been given two or three cuttings, but they had just been pulled off a main root, and I could not help but sigh each time I wondered when they would grow large enough to gaze up at from where I sit, or whether someone as tall as I would ever be able to stand in their shade. Finally, I went and bought the striking, tall banana plant that I had admired at my neighbor’s house each time I passed.

    It was already a fair size, but...

  10. (pp. 36-36)

    One thing that struck me as I lay bed-bound on the floor was the strange appearance of healthy people’s feet as they shuffled back and forth. Five heads, with neither eyes nor nose, stuck on the end of a body striding around … it was as if I had encountered some monster for the very first time.

    “So those ugly things are people’s feet!” I thought to myself.

    Feet truly are the ugliest part of the human body. However good-looking people may be, their feet never rival their faces, nor their hands, chest, waist, or legs. There is no doubt...

  11. (pp. 37-37)

    It is as unpleasant as an insult to come across some poor child in the street who begs, “Can you spare a penny please?” It makes no difference whether I have no money on me or whether, unable to bear the situation, I pull out a coin. Each time this happens I am reminded of Shevyrev, the hero of the story by Artsybashev.*

    … A landlady tries to evict a destitute family for not paying their rent, but a student, who lives in the room adjoining theirs and has seen this starving family trembling in their room for several days,...

  12. (pp. 38-39)

    The umbrella that sheltered me from the cold rain last night. When I came out this morning there were two small leaves, still wet, stuck on it.

    They must have fallen from the date tree that I brushed by as I came through the gate.

    I wondered why leaves would fall so easily, but then I noticed that these leaves were already spotted with yellow; they were autumn leaves!

    Autumn! The morning was cold enough to make that wet umbrella feel like ice to hands that had just emerged from indoors.

    I stepped down into the yard and stood before...

  13. (pp. 39-41)

    The sea!

    Some people have never seen the sea.

    When I was in the slash-and-burn mountain fields of Kapsan last summer, I asked an old man whether he had ever seen the sea, to which he replied that he had grown old without doing so. He said that almost all the people in that village would die without seeing the sea. A young boy at our side asked what the sea was. I told him it was a place where a large, in fact almost limitless, amount of water had gathered and met the sky. His eyes opened wide.


  14. (pp. 42-43)

    Each morning I step up to the inner yard, with toothpaste on my toothbrush, and turn around to find my eyes drawn toward the hill across the way. The clusters of the city wall follow the shape of the ridge, sometimes rising above it and sometimes falling short of it. With the high parts of the old city wall as its first target, the sunlight in Sŏngbuk-dong radiates out and down from the wall on the top of the hill. If you gaze up for a while, you can clearly see the gaps between each stone and the shadows cast...

  15. (pp. 43-45)

    I can hear the insects hitting the paper doors as they fly toward the light. Now that the rainy season is over, these past few days the paper has begun to stretch taut. When I find some time, I will be able to experience the joy of pasting on new paper.

    When we were young we did not use plain paper. I remember pasting on the most transparent white paper we could find so that we could pick the leaves of China asters, chrysanthemums, and cockscomb and arrange them in flower shapes to one side of the deerskin-cord door handle....

  16. (pp. 45-46)

    At Pulguk temple we waited impatiently for the long summer day to draw to a close. This was partly because of the heat, but also because we wanted our first glance of the stone Buddha to be of Him rising out of the dawn rather than in daylight or at night. We had walked up T’oham Mountain in the dark and by the time we reached the Sŏkkuram hermitage midnight was fast approaching. From there it is a short distance to the stone grotto, but we suppressed our curiosity and spread out our pillows for the night.

    The silence of...

  17. (pp. 46-47)


    Under the eaves the wooden fish strikes the brass bell from time to time.

    That sound always seems so distant, even when it comes from nearby. It is not the only sound I hear. On the hill, in the garden, even indoors, the insects buzz like rain falling.

    The sound of insects! Are they crying? But that sound is too pure to be a cry!

    Whoosh … a breeze passes by. The brass bell rings out again.

    I gaze at the lamp. It hurts my eyes. On nights like these, I wish it were an oil lamp that I...

  18. (pp. 48-49)

    I have returned home late several times during the past month because of work, some gathering or other, or simply because I was talking with friends in a tearoom as the night grew long.

    Usually my wife and children were already asleep. The only sound to be heard was the wooden fish striking the brass bell with the breeze, but when I entered my room a narcissus, placed on my stationery cabinet, would greet me with a beaming smile, as if lifting up its heavy head on my account.


    “Where are you from?”

    I whispered to it suddenly as...

  19. (pp. 49-51)

    If there were no yesterday, today would not feel this new. When we forget yesterday and are aware only of today, then we are no more than dumb animals. Of course, the fetters that restrain us because of yesterdays are large and heavy. Yet the path and ideals that yesterdays bequeath us form a beautiful spring, sometimes swelling to a river, that can flow brilliantly toward that faraway ocean of life.

    When the way forward is blocked, looking back on the path that has brought us to this point can teach us as much as any textbook of ethics. In...

  20. (pp. 51-55)

    A few days ago we held a memorial service for our friends Kim Yujŏng and Yi Sang. Considering their disdain for the secular world, we felt rather apologetic to be holding such a ritual, but we, the friends they left behind, were unable to cast off our ties to the mundane world. We would have been left with regrets had we not passed at least one evening in that fashion.

    It must have been the saddest ritual in the history of our literary circles. It is painful enough to lose one person, but for two to leave at once, and...

  21. (pp. 55-57)

    Recently the relationship between writers and critics seems to have become quite problematic, but in truth this is no great cause for worry. Notwithstanding personality clashes, is it not rather natural that they should oppose each other? No part of society pits individual against individual in the way that literary circles do. There are inevitably clashes between writers, and between critics too. Still more to be expected are clashes between the writer and the critic, who confront each other from their own respective positions. If both sides are sincere and offer each other due recognition, whether for a work or...

  22. (pp. 57-59)

    How many times has the moon entered the dark blue sky?

    I put down my wine cup and wonder.

    From people of old to people today, a flowing river.

    They all look up at the bright moon; it has always been so.*

    There is nothing but wine, the moon, and time passing like flowing water. It is that state of mind that has long been resigned to the fact that we cannot stay here forever and there is nothing to which we can form lasting attachments.

    The myriad birds high in the sky have flown away;

    A lone cloud floats...

  23. (pp. 59-63)

    I once wrote the following in some journal:

    “When describing life, we can draw a circle containing lines at many angles: the round whole is a novel; what is less than the whole is a novella; just one slice is a short story; and a fraction of an angle with no surface can be called a conte.”

    To state the obvious, the characters for “long,” “medium,” “short,” and “palm of the hand” [as used in the words for novel, novella, short story, and conte respectively] refer first of all to the length of a work. Of course qualitative factors come...

  24. (pp. 63-66)

    One of the joys of fatherhood is coming up with two possible names upon discovering that your wife is pregnant and still not knowing whether it is a boy or a girl. It is exactly the same with creative works. A title comes to mind even before the ideas have been organized, and, in fact, deciding upon the title helps to draw a silhouette around that boundless world of ideas. There is a particular joy in writing the title at the top of a blank piece of manuscript paper when it is nothing other than a wonderful picture. Even if...

  25. (pp. 66-71)

    At present, various kinds of fiction are being read in Korea. There is the old-style fiction, which does not carry an author’s name and is usually divided again into old novels and new novels, and then there is contemporary fiction, which the author publishes as a literary act and under a signature of responsibility. This latter, too, is divided once more into the novel, the short story, the novella, and the conte. The novel is divided further into the serial novel, which comprises by far the majority and differs in nature from the original novel because of the particular form...

  26. (pp. 72-73)

    There is no particular law as to how we should read fiction. But even when eating a fruit as simple as the watermelon, we use the phrase, “licking the surface.” If we do not read well, there are times when we do not manage even to lick the surface of the work.

    When pondering whose words to heed for a shortcut to a full understanding or appreciation of a particular work, our first answer would probably be those of the writer of that work or a first-rate critic. But neither of them seems to know as much as we the...

  27. (pp. 74-75)

    Let us say that fiction records people’s lives with dramatic content and a beautiful form. But the writer himself is human and thus material for fiction. He is himself buried in daily life, making it fundamentally difficult for him to transcend his situation and deal adeptly in his work with human concerns and everyday life. That is why some say one has to be at least forty in order to write fiction. If we take such a pessimistic view, only the gods would qualify to be writers, removed from everyday life as they are. Yet there are many fine writers...

  28. (pp. 75-79)

    Given the choice between two people of equal familiarity, it is always more refreshing for a man to meet a woman rather than another man. No long explanation is required in order to understand this. What comes first to mind is that people of the same sex are just too similar: they dress and speak the same, walk in a similar manner, their expressions and behavior are all but prints of each other, and, as they grow older, they yearn secretly for the opposite sex. The reproduction of the same cannot but be monotonous.

    For a man, nothing is as...

  29. (pp. 79-81)

    Classical Chinese did not only exist in the East, but in the West too. There it was called Latin. The priests and upper classes transcribed their records in Latin sentences with Latin vocabulary. Documents both sacred and official were written in Latin. In the West too, the common people needed storybooks in their daily lives in addition to sacred books and official documents. Only the storybooks were written in the everyday languages of the people (although these were all derived from Latin), and so Italians wrote them in Italian, and the French in French. In place of Latin, with its...

  30. (pp. 81-82)

    In general, we can enjoy The Tale of Ch’unhyang in four forms: as a book, as a film, as a play and as a sung tale.* Everyone has their own favorite, but for me I still find the most excitement in listening to the story sung. In other words, the other forms of expression do not yet seem to evoke the taste of Ch’unhyang as deeply.

    The Tale of Ch’unhyang was not written down by one individual in a set period of time, but was refined over the course of several hundred years by the eloquence, gestures, and ideals of...

  31. (pp. 82-88)

    Recent introductions to Korea never fail to mention the kisaeng, alongside the Diamond Mountains and ginseng. The old shape of the Diamond Mountains has barely been worn down, apart from the appearance of many new paths, and the flavor and attraction of ginseng is the same as before, only in new wrapping and with labels attached. What has changed are the kisaeng.

    It was some ten years or more ago. I had just returned from three years in Tokyo when I went to Myŏngwŏlgwan one evening.* Nostalgic as I was for a Korean atmosphere, it was the first time I...

  32. (pp. 88-89)

    There is a saying, “Live not in one place.” It refers to a life of infinite harmony, where each place at which you arrive is your home and each person you meet is your brother.

    Yet, as a mere student who is not enlightened, it is hard not to feel attachment for my own home, having divined its auspicious location and fallen in love with it.

    It has already been seven or eight years since, after several years of planning, I built a small grass hut, arranged some books for study and hung some paintings and calligraphy, along with a...

  33. (pp. 90-91)

    The tendency seems to have decreased recently, but for a while writers were abuzz with words such as behaviorism and the spirit of voluntarism.

    It was around that time that I read Saint-Exupéry’s Night Flight, as it was so famous.

    The translation was by Horiguchi Daigaku, and, although I know nothing about the original, I was astonished by the adjectives in the descriptive passages, which spun off an air of classical beauty of the likes of Shakespeare.* Perhaps I had been too hopeful in expecting some kind of new touch in the sentences themselves. Anyone could produce the rhetoric that...

  34. (pp. 91-93)

    The only case where I prefer the Chinese character to the han’gŭl is with the character for book (冊). It somehow seems more beautiful and more bookish than ch’aek (책).

    Is the book something that we read? That we look at? Or that we touch? In truth, it is all of these. To say that the book is something that we can only read is far too cruel and primitive an evaluation. We are already past the time when clothing and housing served purely for warmth. If we have already done this for the flesh, then what about the book,...

  35. (pp. 93-95)

    I am writing this now with a fountain pen. I will probably be indebted to the fountain pen until the day I die, but no matter how often I repeat the word mannyŏnp’il 萬年筆, I cannot come to like this name, which means, literally, a “brush of ten thousand years.” No doubt it is a translation of the English term fountain pen, but I cannot imagine why, instead of quickly transcribing it literally as ch’ŏnp’il 泉筆 [fountain pen], the words ten thousand years leapt out from somewhere. The convenience of having only to remove the lid in order to write...

  36. (pp. 95-97)

    At the mention of Wandang I followed the duke Sŏnbu, who spends his time rummaging around scroll-mounting shops, to a certain house in order to take a look at Wandang’s calligraphy. It was an eight-part folding screen in semicursive style mounted onto a scroll, and as we unfolded it bit by bit a heavenly elegance filled the room, removing all doubt as to whether this was the real thing with the writer’s seal affixed or not. Reluctant to leave just like that, Sŏnbu borrowed some thin rice paper and copied two of the screens in pencil. One screen read, in...

  37. (pp. 97-99)

    The saying “Ten parts heart and one part words” refers to the emotional situation where our heart is overflowing with love, but we are unable to put all those feelings into words.

    It strikes me that this situation is not limited to the passions between men and women, but is true of all forms of expression. There are all sorts of situations, and not only states of embarrassment, when we fail to clarify what we mean and are paralyzed by an inability to find the right words.

    Atop my stationery chest I keep a ritual dish from the Chosŏn dynasty...

  38. (pp. 99-100)

    Why does nature exist? I do not know. It is an eternal mystery.

    Why is nature so beautiful? I do not know. That is also an eternal wonder.

    Why can nature not speak? I know not this either. But that is its eternal silence and its character.

    We know nothing about nature. We will never be able to dig up its origin or its history. Faced with its sacred being, all we have is a pious intuition and hearts that are like blank pieces of paper. Beyond intuition, it is not possible to either see or hear the essence of...

  39. (pp. 100-103)

    Yesterday I took the train from Kyŏngsŏng Station to Sinch’ŏn. A group of young girls, holding book bags on their shoulders and under their arms, were chattering away like a flock of sparrows, while one of them buried her face in her lap and sobbed. The other children threw glances at their crying friend from time to time but otherwise made no attempt to comfort her and kept chattering on about what exam would be held or not and when and making bets among themselves. The back of the crying child’s patched-up jacket was heaving. I wanted to ask why...

  40. (pp. 103-105)

    From time to time I cannot help but wish my writing could be as easy to correct as other people’s. In my own writing I fail to pick up on mistakes as obvious as incorrectly used verbs, but in other people’s writing even a slight mistake with an adverb immediately leaps out before my eyes and is not easily passed over.

    “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

    These words of Jesus are a good lesson for those dedicated to the way of...

  41. (pp. 105-110)

    Sometimes when daily life grows monotonous I think, “If only I were a little sick.” Occasionally I catch a cold, but it feels like a common illness that anyone can catch, rather than a proper malady. It is messy too. Whenever I think it might be nice to take to my sickbed, it is malaria that I have in mind. While I was in Tokyo, now some eight or nine years ago, I suffered several bouts of malaria over the course of two or three years, and in my experience it was one of the most pleasant sicknesses, having something...

  42. (pp. 111-113)

    One summer, a few years ago, I visited my hometown and came across two old books. They were written in Chinese and titled Collected Writings of Taesan and Collected Writings of Kyŏmwa. A quick glance at both front pages taught me that Taesan was the nom de plume of a man named Kangjin and that Kyŏmwa was Sim Ch’wije, but there was no way of knowing just who these people were. Moreover, as the collections were not dated according to the Western calendar but marked “the year of the red sheep” and “the year of the yellow dragon,” I could...

  43. (pp. 113-115)

    I can only be thankful for the interest, or should I say kindness, of those who read my unworthy works and then go so far as to send me their impressions, even if they are critical. In the past I have been so moved by a letter that I have read it through two or three times and written a reply on the spot. That was how genuine and simple I was back then, or was it that I had more time? Sometimes I push to one side letters that even arrive with a stamp for my reply or that...

  44. (pp. 115-118)

    There is a kind lady in our neighborhood who tells our family fortune each year. According to her, my new year’s fortune this past year was that of a fish going into the sea from a stream. When I asked whether that meant I might die in moving from freshwater to saltwater, she said it meant that I would move from an impasse to somewhere wide and abundant. We all laughed merrily. Not because we particularly wanted to believe her words, but because, after all, something good is better than something bad.

    I have forgotten last year’s fortune, but I...

  45. (pp. 118-122)

    Our garden is only a few p’yǒng in area, but how grateful I am just to be able to stand amidst the trees!* Apart from some dozen cherry trees that form a kind of hedge, there is a persimmon tree, apricot tree, date tree, and peony as well as one or two white birches—these are all precious guests for whom my family must care.

    They provide us with flowers, fruit, green shade, and fragrant air, and in return they receive nothing from us. When there is a drought, we give them some water, and when it is cold we...

  46. (pp. 122-124)

    When my wife says we still must beat our starched clothes though it makes them feel more chilly, when the cold air penetrates even the closed shutters, and on those days when it is so cold outside that the soybean soup brings a welcome fragrance to the dinner table and the frozen narcissi lift their heads in the steam from the scorched-rice tea, that is when I feel the onset of winter. When my wife’s red hands pluck chunks of ice out of the jar of cold radish soup, I can feel how cold it is without eating even one...

  47. (pp. 124-126)

    It is a fine thing to read through the new translations published by Paeksu Publishing Company, but sometimes it is also good to rifle through the moldy leaves put out by Sinmun’gwan or Hannam sǒwǒn. I sometimes hear of people who only read Western books, but then, amidst all the cries of “our classics, our classics,” try to read our Korean books for one evening only to express their disappointment that very night. It is hard to believe one could sample even one tenth of a classic’s nature with such a rushed reading, even if it were a classic from...

  48. (pp. 126-128)

    “Please don’t drink,” would be the earnest request of those who care about me.

    “Please learn how to drink,” would be the polite request of friends who know me well.

    “You should neither force yourself to drink nor not to drink,” is the advice given by some of my most trustworthy friends.

    I have not really been torn between these different opinions and only regret that I was not endowed with a strong liver. I have no problem with “passing by the barley field without stopping for a drink,” as it were, but if I do drink I turn bright...

  49. (pp. 128-131)

    Now that materials are at their most expensive, we have finally begun to build our house that has been so long in the planning. All through the dog days of summer we have watched the trimming of timber and flattening of the earth, so that now I can actually feel in my bones just how precious a house is.

    Of our five carpenters, four are in their sixties. One of them, known respectfully as Sǒndanim, always wears a horsehair skullcap and could not be far from seventy. Apparently there is no carpenter in Seoul who does not address Sin Sǒndanim...

  50. (pp. 132-135)

    With the recent development of sports, even fishing has been included in the category and is now spoken of in the same breath as baseball or golf.

    This may well be the result of the naturally lively tendency of sports to socialize, but the profundity of fishing actually lies more in its spiritual than its physical nature.

    A green mountain rises up in the foreground, with a stream flowing at its foot. This hilly spot possesses a certain calm, and one’s footsteps loiter on the rocks.

    When a quiet gentleman takes up a spot here for the day, it is...

  51. (pp. 135-138)

    I am a little dissatisfied that people in the East are more drawn to painting in the Western style than in the Oriental style. If I could only hang a single painting in my home, it would have to be an Oriental one. It is not as if they are so rare that they are hard to find. Recent works by our Oriental-style painters, however, seem like sketches, so far removed are they from art. Anyone who knows even a little about the fine arts, takes pride in himself as an artist, and thinks about self-expression almost certainly paints in...

  52. (pp. 138-141)

    Our elders do not always brandish their authority. Sometimes a quiet withdrawal to the lowest seat can be a beautiful form of humility.

    There is no elder in our home. Sometimes I become arrogant. The only thing older than me is the water dropper that my father once used. I only have to gaze at it in a quiet place and think that it was once used by my father, and a scene of which I have only heard, of my father who enjoyed calligraphy, permeates the room along with the fragrance of ink. Adjusting his sleeves to sit in...

  53. (pp. 141-144)

    When objects are no longer of any use, we usually refer to them as koltongp’um, “antiques.” This playful manner of speaking is not only used to refer to objects but to people as well. We jokingly refer to those old-fashioned people, who appear to exist at a remove from the present, as antiques. Koltong is used as a substitute for “useless” or “worthless.” Sometimes this substitution is extended in meaning to refer not just to the antiques themselves but also to those lovers of the past who treasure antiques. The somewhat groundless expression arises from the idea that those who...

  54. (pp. 145-148)

    This happened some years ago. I met the father of one of my friends from the countryside for the first time in several years.

    “They say that you’re making quite a name for yourself recently with your writing. What kind of writing is it that you do?”

    When I hesitated, not knowing how to answer, his son answered in my place,

    “It’s called fiction. They say he writes pretty interesting stuff.”

    A frown passed over the old man’s brow, as if this was unexpected,

    “Fiction? You mean those storybooks?”

    He asked, and I replied,

    “That’s right.”

    He was a little...

  55. (pp. 148-152)

    This happened back in the countryside when I was still in middle school. I had gone to pay my respects to a certain old man. He sat on the wooden bed near the fireplace, holding a fan in one hand and fingering his beard with the other. I bowed quietly on the spot where I stood just outside the sliding door. And then I retreated without saying a word.

    The next day I saw the old man in his yard.

    “When did you get here?”

    “Yesterday, sir.”

    “You rascal, and you didn’t come and say hello … ”

    I received...

  56. (pp. 152-155)

    A long time ago, a man named Kuo took some of his poems to Wandang and asked for a title upon which to compose more poems. It appears that in Wandang’s title were included the words “Make the two poets Feng and Li the focus of your efforts.” He was referring to Yushan Feng Minchang and Erjiao Li Jian, both new poets of the Qing dynasty who would not have been well known among the Yi dynasty literati, immersed as they were solely in the poets of the Tang and Song dynasties. Kuo was unable to find the writings of...

  57. (pp. 156-165)

    At five o’clock on a drizzly morning in Anbyŏn, we disembarked from the train headed for Ch’ŏngjin when, with no time even for a glance around, the train for Kansŏng pulled in.

    Hemp-skirted women with white cotton towels tied around their heads stepped on and off, chatting in Wŏnsan accents. Old grandmothers carried wooden bowls stained with fish scales; from their conversations wafted the smell of freshly gathered oysters. A couple of stations later the ocean appeared. The ocean! I wanted to clap my hands. The East Sea was stained a deep indigo, but in the mist it seemed as...

  58. (pp. 165-190)

    I took a night train to Pongch’ŏn, after spending the day in Pyongyang at the instigation of friends I had met on the train.*

    It was my first trip north of Pyongyang in more than twenty years, and the first time in my life that I had gone north of Andong Province. Anju, Chŏngju, Sŏnch’ŏn, Ŭiju … these are all places in my memory that I would like to see again, places that I had passed through on foot after my money had run out in Andong Province as a boy. But, as it was the night train, I had...